How Old School Bodybuilders Trained

How Old School Bodybuilders Trained

How Old School Bodybuilders Used To Train Their Body

Developed in the late 1800s, bodybuilding is a relatively new sport that looked very different just a few decades ago. If you’ve ever seen a faded photo of a man posing with dumbbells and leopard skin, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about!

Real Bodybuilders Don’t Skip Leg Day

Though sculpting the human body through exercise and diet has been around since ancient times, old-school-style bodybuilding required vigorous exercise and careful nutrition.

If you are looking to bulk up and don’t know where to start, maybe you can take some inspiration from how past strong men have achieved their physical goals, even without today’s technology and equipment.

Read on to see how they did it!

The Ancient Strongmen

Many people believe that bodybuilding is an ancient sport, but while the Greeks and later the gladiators trained their bodies to maintain optimal performance, doing so for the sake of aesthetics or just to see how strong they could be was not the end goal.

Ancient Greeks trained extensively in gymnasiums to gain the type of muscle they needed to compete as athletes in the ancient olympiad. Meanwhile, in Ancient Rome, gladiators trained and ate high protein diets so that they would be ready for their gladiatorial competitions.

The Early Years of Bodybuilding

The early period of weightlifting began in the late 1800s with famous bodybuilder Eugen Sandow, who was a pioneer of using feats of strength for entertainment purposes. His body was so accepted as the standard for male beauty that, to this day, the Mr. Olympia statue – a coveted prize for bodybuilders everywhere – is modeled after him.

How Old School Bodybuilders TrainedEugen Sandow maintained his chiseled physique with a strict routine of a cold bath first thing in the morning, bland food, and physical training.

He was also a believer in a proper diet. Later in life, he opened Institutes of Physical Culture throughout the UK, where he taught others his methods of training and nutrition.

At this point in history, there were no anabolic steroids to augment their physical performance, bodybuilders only had food to fuel their enormous strength.

One strongman named George Hackenschmidt from the turn of the century ate massive quantities of fruits, nuts, and raw veggies as well as drinking 5.2 liters of milk daily just to keep up with what his body required.

From 97 Pounds To Charles Atlas

A common refrain about bodybuilding is that many bodybuilders started out quite unremarkable. They were not especially strong, to begin with, but they built their strength over time with a lot of hard work and discipline.

Charles Atlas started his life as a 97-pound kid who was bullied mercilessly, he transformed his body into a work of art. He is famous for feats like bending railroad spikes or ripping phone books in half – popular displays of strength today, thanks to the bodybuilder.

Moreover, he gave people hope that they could achieve his success as well because he, like Captain America, started out a scrawny kid and made himself into what he was with training and proper diet – no super-soldier serum required.

Charles Atlas tried the usual weight lifting and the various exercises he was supposed to, but he didn’t achieve significant results until he began to pit muscle groups against each other. He experimented with isometric isolation and range of motion, as well as other varied techniques that were eventually developed into a self-resistance exercise program.

Dynamic-Tension is a mail-order exercise regimen that anyone can follow. It was a big success then, and some versions of it are still available today if you want to try it!

Arnold Schwarzenegger And Resistance Training

You can’t talk about bodybuilding without talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger, the first major breakout star of the modern era of bodybuilding. His success coincided with the fitness boom in America when everyone was trying to “get in shape.”

Arnold’s specific “shape” required training 6 days a week, cycling through working 3 muscle groups and 20-30 sets apiece. A typical workout week looked like this:

  • Monday and Thursday: Chest and back
  • Tuesday and Friday: Legs
  • Wednesday and Saturday: Arms
  • Sunday: Rest

However, it must be said that the bodybuilder was also able to reach these numbers because he was taking legal performance-enhancing drugs. Arnold Schwarzenegger used anabolic steroids – common for bodybuilders in the 1970s.

This jump-started the steroid culture in modern bodybuilding in which supplements and performance enhancers are the norms.


These days, bodybuilders have almost impossible proportions, but old-school examples are proof that you can still achieve great results with the right training and diet.

Just eat a lot of protein, keep to a rigorous workout schedule, and never skip a leg day!

How Old School Bodybuilders Trained