Why Bodybuilders Are So Much Bigger Todaytop male enhancements online

Bodybuilding is about building aesthetic muscle, so bigger physiques have always been admired so long as they conformed to certain aesthetic standards. But as the late Larry Scott, the first Mr. Olympia, once pointed out, back in his era the majority of bodybuilding competitors did not have the genetics for really huge physiques. Champions of the past like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sergio Oliva were big, muscular men — but not able to develop to the level of the behemoths that compete for the Mr. Olympia title nowadays.

I remember standing outside Gold’s Gym in Venice back in the early 80s and listening to a bodybuilder complain that there were “no big men” left in the sport. Little did we know the near future would bring us Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, and then Ronnie Coleman, and pro lineups in which being 250 pounds made you one of the “little guys.”

What changed in bodybuilding to produce such advances in physical development? Why are so many bodybuilders so much bigger? Many ascribe the change primarily to anabolic drugs. But while there have been in advances in the chemistry of anabolic substances, those changes are not enough to account for how quickly or how far this development in increased size has progressed.

Here are some of the reasons I see that have propelled athletes to grow into the physiques we see on stage today.

Why Bodybuilders Are So Much Bigger Todaytop male enhancements online

These guys were stronger than they looked—and that's really saying something.

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Why Bodybuilders Are So Much Bigger Todaytop male enhancements online

ESB Professional

One major element is genetics. There’s no doubt that physically bigger and more mesomorphic individuals tend to be drawn to bodybuilding more often nowadays. Until recently, the opportunity to earn good money as a pro bodybuilder was pretty limited. Really mesomorphic athletes, big and muscular, would more likely be drawn to sports like football, with the possibilities for greater fame and high salaries.

But bodybuilding gained some more mainstream traction in the 1970s and 1980s as Arnold Schwarzenegger became so successful, winning Mr. Olympia titles, being featured in the book and movie Pumping Iron, and becoming a major movie star. The popularity of muscles and muscularity was also accelerated by the success of other movie icons like Sylvester Stallone, Lou Ferrigno and Jean-Claude Van Damme. As more and more actors and athletes began to discover the benefits of bodybuilding-type weight training, having big and defined muscles became a new normal.

Competitors in most sports tend to be stronger and more muscular nowadays because more and more athletes in a wide variety of sports train seriously with weights. With gyms and weight rooms becoming filled with teen and college-age athletes pumping iron, a certain percentage of them will decide that bodybuilding is the sport they want to pursue.

Bodybuilders also often tend to prefer sports in which they can compete as individuals rather than part of a team. They don’t want to have to rely on the performance of others in order to succeed. So nowadays, with more chance to earn a living at the sport, many gifted for muscle development will be drawn to bodybuilding rather than team sports like football as they might have in the past.

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Why Bodybuilders Are So Much Bigger Todaytop male enhancements online

Per Bernal

Another, and perhaps primary, reason for the extreme size and muscularity we see in the biggest bodybuilders nowadays is the evolution of the bodybuilding method itself. Bodybuilding training methods in the past have never been created by scientists or medical experts. They have evolved out of trial and effort experiences of the bodybuilders themselves.

For thousands of years, it’s been understood that we develop strength using progressive resistance training. The Greek myth of Milo of Croton describes how a young boy picked up a calf every day for years as the calf slowly grew into a full-size bull and this effort over time allowed him to develop incredible strength.

Eventually, lifting heavy weights developed into the sport of weightlifting, with some variation of this kind of competition being found in most of the cultures around the world.

Early bodybuilders in the 20th century still trained pretty much like weightlifters, working the whole body in one session three times a week. But then they learned how better to shape and sculpt all the muscles of the body — isolation in addition to compound exercises, cycling their training, split-system training and dieting away body fat for maximum muscularity and definition.

By the 1970s and 1980s, this approach to training and dieting resulted in much more complete and sculpted physiques than in the past. But not as big as we see today. Arnold at his best was only about 235 pounds, and most of the champions of that period were much smaller. But that would not last. We’ve already talked about how genetically bigger bodybuilders began to be attracted to competition.

But something more happened as well. Training methods themselves became much more effective and efficient in ways that current scientific knowledge about muscle building totally endorses.

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Why Bodybuilders Are So Much Bigger Todaytop male enhancements online

Gene Mozee

I collaborated with Arnold on two versions of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. The first described in detail how Arnold learned to train in the 1960s and what he learned during his fabulous competitive career. The new version was done about a decade later, and Arnold wanted to include all the latest and most advanced developments in the bodybuilding method. So, I had a lot of opportunity to make comparisons between the old approaches and the new.

Here is a summation of the difference:


  • Too many exercises
  • Too many sets and reps
  • Too much time in the gym
  • Too little rest between workouts


  • Fewer exercises
  • Fewer sets and reps
  • More intensity in each set
  • Less time in the gym
  • More rest between workouts

In reality, when you train, you aren’t working the muscles as much as you are reprogramming the nervous system. To have the desired effect, you need to perform the right number of reps with the effective amount of weight.

That turns out to be what bodybuilders themselves have decided it should be: 3 to 4 sets of 3 to 4 exercises with a weight that is about 75% of your one-rep maximum, doing about 10 to 14 reps for upper body, 12 to 16 reps for legs; with some heavier sets of 4 to 6 reps just for strength.

It doesn’t actually take that long to do these sets — maybe as little as 40 minutes for most. Add calves and abs, and you are out of there.

Bodybuilding training is a sprint, not a marathon. You train intensely in fairly short bursts, rest and eat. As Mike Mentzer used to say, you can train hard or train long, but you can’t do both.

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Why Bodybuilders Are So Much Bigger Todaytop male enhancements online

Per Bernal

The time muscles are subjected to contracting against resistance in training sets is referred to as time under tension. This is the total time of muscular contraction which is involved in sending messages through the nervous system to, in effect, reprogram the nervous system to send the signals necessary to make muscles bigger and stronger.

If you look at the total time under tension resulting from doing three to four sets of three to four exercises for a body part, with each rep only taking a second or so, you end up with about one hundred seconds total duration.

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Why Bodybuilders Are So Much Bigger Todaytop male enhancements online

Chris Lund

A major reason bodybuilders weren’t bigger in the 1970s is that they vastly overtrained. It was common to work out six days a week, twice a day, with one of the workouts being a lot more strenuous than the other. But you don’t grow when you train. You stimulate growth and then the actual gains take place while you rest and recuperate. If you get back into the gym before your body has had a chance to respond to the stimulation, you prevent the growth from happening.

Unlike the past, many bodybuilders nowadays have learned that high volumes of training, longer and more frequent workouts do not result in bigger, harder muscles – instead the volume approach is more likely to limit your progress.

A good way to make your workouts very intense but shorter is not to do too many exercises in one session. As an example, the basic and most effective exercise for biceps is some kind of curl. But doing dumbbell curls, plus barbell curls, plus cable curls, plus preacher curls, plus machine curls, plus concentration curls is a good way to block growth in a muscle group that is relatively small and has such a simple function.

All these curls involve working the biceps almost in the same way. You develop a lot of muscular endurance like this, but not size. A few sets of curls, plus working the biceps when you do rowing exercises, is all you need.

(Note: there are some individuals with such “genius genetics” they can do almost everything “wrong” and still make gains. If you are one of those people, you probably already know it. But even those with the best genetics make more progress if they use the most effective and efficient training methods.)

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Why Bodybuilders Are So Much Bigger Todaytop male enhancements online

Chris Lund/Kevin Horton

But there was also a style of training, advocated by the same Mike Mentzer, that was based on the way Nautilus developer Arthur Jones claimed the body was programmed to respond to. “High-intensity training” involved very few sets, sometimes only one, done on machines using techniques like negatives, forced-negatives and partial reps. This was not prescribed as an occasional approach to add variety to your training, but the best way to work out all the time — all the time being as little as an hour or two a week!

While some bodybuilders can make some gains some of the time using HIT training, the best gains are achieved using more conventional methods – positive reps and a traditional approach to exercises, sets and reps. Additionally, HIT tends to put so much stress on muscles, joints and connective tissue that injury becomes much more likely. Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates knew this, but decided to sacrifice his body in the pursuit of becoming a champion.

By the way, even without HIT, most highly experienced pro bodybuilders — and elite athletes in general — almost inevitably wear down their bodies and experience injuries even when their workouts are done carefully and without inducing extra stress.

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Why Bodybuilders Are So Much Bigger Todaytop male enhancements online

Per Bernal

Speaking of “more conventional methods,” the science of bodybuilding tells us that the “bodybuilding effect” — that is, developing big, full, shapely muscles — is achieved by enough reps done against the correct amount of resistance.

The formula, in general, as above, is something like three to four sets of three to four exercises, with eight to 12 reps to failure for upper body, against about 75% of one-rep maximum resistance, and 12 to 16 reps for legs. You benefit from more reps for the lower body than the upper body because blood flow is better to the lower extremities, which speeds up recovery.

Training only part of the body on any given day and cycling your total body workouts over a period of a week to 10 days is the typical approach, with enough rest between sets to recover and enough time for recuperation between workouts.

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Why Bodybuilders Are So Much Bigger Todaytop male enhancements online

Per Bernal

Bodybuilders enjoy occasional heavy lifting for bench presses, deadlifts or squats. There is nothing wrong with including some powerlifting-type training in your workouts, as they do help you get stronger. But this type of lifting should be done only intermittently, since this isn’t the kind of workout that creates full, shapely bodybuilding muscularity — and with heavy training comes more danger of injury.

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Why Bodybuilders Are So Much Bigger Todaytop male enhancements online

Amanda Suarez

As explained above, today’s bodybuilders train more intensely for short periods of time, doing fewer sets and reps, with more time to rest and recuperate between workouts. They approach their training as a sprint, not a marathon.

With shorter but more intense workouts and more time for recuperation, they don’t overtrain, but give the muscles more time to rest and grow.

The result is bodybuilders who are able to achieve their genetic potential for developing maximum lean body mass and shape.