Every sport has its Golden Era: that time in a sport’s history before it has truly become entrenched in a broader culture, and lost its niche status, but at the same time remains popular enough to attract truly gifted athletes. That particular moment creates the opportunity for greatness, for the pioneers of what will become a modern sport to become legends.

The thing is… in hindsight, it seems no matter what the sport, no one can quite agree on when, exactly, the “Golden Era” occurred.

I think for most bodybuilders, the Golden Era was Arnold’s era: the 1970s, when the champions of the sport truly began to resemble comic-book superheroes. For me, though, the Golden Era was during the 1950s, before steroid use became widespread, when bodybuilding first entered the mainstream. These were the years ruled by Steve Reeves and his peers — the guys who stood out for their genetics, but also knew how to train hard and train smart, and dedicated themselves to aesthetics, not athletic performance. And others consider the Golden Era as the years before World War II, when bodybuilding really was in its infancy, and even training methods remained fairly primitive, but guys like John Grimek were nevertheless able to build phenomenal bodies while at the same time performing astonishing feats of strength.

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Regardless, pretty much everyone who believes in the existence of a Golden Era can agree on one thing: the sport was at its prime at some point in the past, and we should strive now to better represent that “classic” ideal. That’s where Nick Miller — founder of the Nick’s Strength and Power YouTube channel — comes in. In 2017, Nick began the Mr. Golden Era competition, an online physique contest where viewers vote to determine the winner. Nick explained, “I wanted to make a bodybuilding competition where the fans alone have a voice in who the winner is,” to allow the community to voice their opinions on what does constitute a Golden Era physique, and where bodybuilding as a whole is headed.

What Makes a “Golden Era” Physique?

Now, I don’t believe that the idea of a Golden Era physique is all that controversial, although it’s obviously subjective, as are all questions of aesthetics. That said, the devil’s in the details! A good starting point might be the rules of the IFBB classic physique division, which was created entirely to emphasize classic aesthetics over the “mass monster” look that dominates bodybuilding today. Classic physique judging gives more somewhat weight to posing skill and the “flow” of a physique than bodybuilding. More noticeably, the classic division awards a small waist size, less extreme muscularity and slightly higher levels of bodyfat relative to bodybuilding.

I do think it’s fair to classify this sort of physique as feeling more attainable, or at least relatable, to the average lifter. I don’t believe that a Golden Era physique actually is more attainable, though! In truth, virtually no one possesses the genetics to look like Frank Zane, Steve Reeves, or John Grimek. They might achieve the same amount of muscularity and leanness, but the symmetry, muscular density, and structure of those athletes sets them far, far, far apart from the average gym goer. Of course, you won’t know until you try!

Why I’m Competing

And that is exactly why I’m choosing to enter the Mr. Golden Era competition. The truth is, while I talk and write about bodybuilding, I’m pretty nervous about the idea of actually competing, for the same reason many other people hesitate to step on stage. The mere act of putting yourself out there is tough, no matter the context — but if you don’t take that step, you will never know whether you could actually be great at whatever it is you want to be great at.

Now, personally, above all else, I want to be a great powerlifter. But if you look at the history of physical culture, most of the true legends of the iron game – men like Eugen Sandow, John Grimek, Bill Kazmaier – they were all about more than just strength. I’ve devoted the last six years of my life to earning a doctorate in the history of physical culture, so earning a part of that kind of legacy, by competing in bodybuilding as well, is really important to me.

A Golden Era Training Routine

Want to try your hand at building a Golden Era physique the old-school way? Check out this program, inspired by the three-day-per-week, full-body splits that were popular in the 1950s!

Day 1: Heavy

  1. Squat: 5x5 with a weight you could use for 6-7 reps. Take as much rest as you need between sets.
  2. Stiff-Leg Deadlift: 3x12 with a fairly light weight. If you can, stand on a block to increase your range of motion, and really focus on getting a good stretch in your hamstrings.
  3. Bench Press: 5x5 with a weight you could use for 7-8 reps. We go a little lighter on bench press because we’re training the upper body with a little more volume across the course of the week.
  4. Chin Up: 3x8 with good form. You don’t need to be perfect here, but no swinging or killing to get the weight up. Add weight as soon as you can complete all three sets.

Day 2: Light

  1. Military Press: 5x6 with a weight you could use for 8-10 reps.  Remember, this is a strict military press, so keep your feet together, your back straight, and brace your abs hard.  You’ll have to use a fairly light weight, but that’s okay.
  2. Dumbbell Lateral Raises: 4x12, starting with a light weight, and working up in a pyramid. On your first two sets, keep the technique perfect, but you can cheat a little bit on the next two sets to get some overload.
  3. Barbell Bent-Over Row: 5x6 with a weight you could use for 8-10 reps. Again, keep strict form here, and set the bar completely down between reps.
  4. Seated Calf Raise: 2x20 with a heavy weight. The calves can take a lot of work! Squeeze them hard at the top, and lower the weight slowly, all the way down. Take both sets to failure.
  5. Any ab exercise for 3 sets.

Day 3: Medium

  1. Deadlift: 5x5 with a weight you could use for 7-8 reps. Take as long as you need between sets.
  2. Front Squat: 5x3 with a weight you could use for 5-6 reps. We use lower reps on front squats because they’re so uncomfortable!
  3. Close-grip Bench Press: 5x5 with a weight you could use for 7-8 reps. Do not take a super close grip here — about a hand’s width narrower than your regular grip is good.
  4. Dip: 3x8, and again, focus on technique here. Squeeze the triceps at lockout, and lower slowly, getting a good stretch in the back of the arm. Add weight as soon as you can!

This is a great program for adding overall size and strength, but it can be used for cutting, too. Just remember to keep your diet in check!

One Last Request

On a personal note, if you have a free minute or two, I’d really, really appreciate it if you’d use that time to vote in the Mr. Golden Era 2018 competition – whether for me or for someone else! The more people who vote, the better the results will be, and the more the competition will grow. I think that’s pretty cool!

You can vote by clicking through to the YouTube video here:

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