The History of Ripped & Shredded Size in Bodybuilding

Ripped and Shredded

What are the requirement of Bodybuilders in the Sport today?

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Believe it or not, the requirement that bodybuilding competitors be ripped to shreds, cut to the bone, and displaying striations and vascularity over their entire body while maintaining huge size and muscle mass is a relatively new phenomenon. Being "ripped" (the saran-wrap-over-raw-muscle look, as if all fat is removed from the body and the skin is so thin that the striated muscle appears to be bursting through it) has become a prerequisite for the winning of modern bodybuilding contests, but this wasn't always the case. Ripped is a relatively new bodybuilding word, It probably originated in southern California during the '60s. Before then bodybuilders simply were not that muscular. They were often described as very hard, cut or cutup, or defined, yes, but ripped, no.

As recently as the 1940's and l950's people commonly thought that it just wasn't humanly possible for every bodybuilder or weight trainer to shed all his fat and become "cut up." The belief was that some people had a natural propensity for getting cut, while others didn't because of thick skin and higher natural levels of body fat.

A 1941 issue of IronMan magazine contained a profile of 260-pound Mac Batchelor, which illustrates the point. The famous strongman and undefeated wrist-wrestling champion was considered to have the strongest hands and arms in the world at the time. He was built more along the lines of a super heavyweight weightlifter or a football lineman than a muscular bodybuilder Said the writer in his profile of Batchelor:

"Some may take exception to his [Mac's] physique and say that he looks fat, but let me here state that he has nearly as much separation as he did when he started to train at 190 pounds bodyweight. His is the naturally smooth type of physique that would not show separation if he weighed but 100 pounds. The skin is thick and heavy with a slight layer of fat always under the surface regardless of bodyweight."

The difference was looked upon as a fair genetic trade-off. The naturally "thin-skinned" muscular men had less thickness, bulk and power but greater definition, muscularity, symmetry and shape, while the naturally "thick-skinned" men had greater strength and bulky endomorphic frames but little or no muscular definition, shape and separation. The iron game had room for both physique types in those days as it was the golden age of physical culture. Men were expected to he strong, well built and, above all else, healthy. Strength was admired as much as physical development - perhaps more so in Bob Hoffman's Strength & Health magazine where Olympic weightlifters got more coverage than bodybuilders (except John Grimek, who was already a York Barbell icon).

Journalists covering the first AAU Mr. America contests from 1939 through 1945 (which were always held in conjunction with the Senior National Weightlifting Championships) were often less interested in where certain men placed and even how well they were developed than in how much they could lift. Mr. America contestants were also competitors in the weightlifting championships. Clearly physique was less regarded by the media (although not the fans) than strength. If a man was strong but smooth he still commanded respect in the eyes of the media. If a man was very muscular but unable to lift much weight he was seen as the inferior athlete compared to the smooth strongman. A few years would elapse before physique was admired as much as - or more than - lifting ability.

Somehow, though, as men more genetically gifted for bodybuilding began to dominate the sport and get the limelight in the magazines of the times - men such as John Grimek, Clancy Ross, Alan Stephan, Eric Pedersen, Steve Reeves, George Eiferman, Jack Delinger, Roy Hilligen, Vince Gironda, Armand Tanny, Zabo Koizewikl, Bill Pearl, Jim Park and keg Park - extra definition and muscularity became the norm for winning bodybuilding contests. Those who lacked shape, symmetry and definition (the thick skins), but had pure, raw power - e.g. Paul Anderson, Doug Hepburn and Mac Batchelor - went into Olympic lifting or the emerging sport of power- lifting (called the "strength set" by the English in the early '50s, consisting of the barbell curl, squat and deadlift, which later was changed to bench press, squat and deadlift) or to professional strongman acts.

A few men, such as Marvin Eder, Reg Park, Bill Pearl and later Franco Columbu, were very strong as well as muscular. They were genetically gifted for both strength and muscular development and definition, but they were definitely the exception, not the rule.

Not until anabolic steroids became the rage in the 1960's (called by some the "Dianabol decade") did we start to believe that anyone could become muscular and cut if he dieted strictly enough, trained long and hard enough, and took enough drugs. Those who lacked the natural inclination to muscularity and the personal resolve to use drugs to increase their muscularity fell by the wayside. Those who used drugs were rewarded with major bodybuilding titles and the fame and fortune that went with them. If they didn't have the genetics to win the overall bodybuilding title they still had a shot at winning Most Muscular or Best Bodypart awards. So bodybuilding went in a new direction to freakiness, especially when true genetic freaks such as Sergio Oliva and Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared on the scene.

"Win at any cost" became the battle cry of athletes the world over "It matters not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game," became a quaint out-of-time phrase, like the ancient custom of placing a crown of olive leaves on a victorious Olympian's head. Being a "good lose?' was no longer fashionable, and playing fairly by the "gentleman's code of conduct" was passé. Sports in general became more cutthroat. Vince Lombardi, the famed coach of the Green Bay Packers, summed up the new attitude about winning when he said, "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser".

By the late 1980's and early '90s a myriad of new drugs had become readily available - growth hormone, Clenbuterol, thyroid, diuretics, to name a few - that enabled virtually anyone to become ripped. Those bodybuilders with a natural propensity for getting cut could now become super ripped. That's why we have men today with glutes, spinal erectors and even lats more shredded and striated than the pecs, tris or quads of bodybuilders seen in the 1960's and '70s.

Unfortunately the state of being ripped has escalated so quickly that it has upped the drug-taking ante. Whereas we were once amazed by the striations and mass of Tom Platz's thighs, Rich Gaspari's glutes or Robby Robinson's intercostals and serratus, we now expect that level of development from our champions - not just expect it but demand it. The sport demands it - especially the fans. As Vince McMahon's ill-fated drug- tested WBF proved, fans were not willing to accept Gary Strydom, Mike Christian or Berry DeMey 20 pounds lighter and smoother than their former best conditions. Once you have trained your dog to prefer cooked meat, you can let him run free in the butcher shop with no fear that he'll eat the butcher's profit. Once you've trained him to eat only cooked meat, he expects it all the time. Bodybuilding fans have been trained to prefer ripped physiques, and so that's what they expect in their champions at every appearance, whether competitive or not.


Throughout history people have always been in awe of strong, muscular men. The era of professional strongmen and muscle-control artists in the late 19th century really started the public's love affair with muscle. They were fascinated by these exceptional athletes and their amazing physiques. One of the most influential men in the history of modern bodybuilding has to be the legendary Eugen Sandow. Even by today's standards there is no denying that Sandow had a beautiful physique. He displayed rugged, well-etched abs, shapely muscular arms and thighs, naturally long full diamond-shaped calves, round deltoids, and a wide thickly muscled back. His pectorals were not thick and bulky like a modern bodybuilder's, but one should remember that in Sandow's day there were no chest exercises such as bench presses, incline presses, decline presses, crossovers, and perhaps not even flys. He definitely did pushups and dips, but huge, bulky pecs were not yet in style.

Sandow was the Arnold of his day. When he used to flex his muscles in his theater acts, women in the audience were said to swoon. Seeing a half-naked man with the physique of a Greek statue in such extreme muscular condition was too much They were stunned beyond belief Sexual and emotional thoughts and feelings, repressed for so long in the rigid, unyielding moral climate of the Victorian era (when people were so uptight they put dressings on table legs to guard against exposure), must have exploded inside them.

Although Sandow was billed as the most muscular man in the world, they were still unprepared for what their eyes would see as Sandow went through his act. Most spectalors had no idea that such extraordinary development was even possible. They were shocked to behold human flesh with the kind of rock-hard muscularity normally seen only in paintings and sculptures. In those repressive times they had not likely seen many scantily dressed men of any kind, let alone one with Sandow's charisma, style and grace.

He always dressed and spoke the part of an upper-class gentleman and maintained an aristocratic air. His showmanship, superb athletic ability, impressive strength, handsome good looks, beautiful symmetry and proportions, and raw, sensual, arousing (and intriguing?) sexual appeal combined to make him a star. All that bare skin, those powerful thighs and hips, those full, firm glutes, all those bulging muscles (among other things!), and those suggestively tight clothes that revealed as much as they concealed... Oh my.

I imagine women of the Victorian era watching a half-naked Sandow - in all the splendor of young manhood - flexing and displaying his well-developed muscles were as fascinated, thrilled, titillated and stimulated as young women of the 1950's were by Elvis Presley when they shrieked and fainted at the sight of the handsome, young rock 'n' roller swinging and thrusting his pelvis in a suggestive way. Sandow was as magnificent as a peacock and had the animalistic allure of a wild tiger. His 10,000-watt magnetic sexual appeal was so overpowering, that it must have made him seem like a human aphrodisiac, his pheromones filling the air of the theater like strong cologne. No wonder Sandow was showered with flowers and gifts (and more than a few hotel room keys) from the respectable society ladies who saw his performances.

It wasn't only women who admired Sandow for his muscular body. While they adored and lusted for him, men idolized, respected and envied him. He was a favorite of politicians (including US Presidents Taft and Wilson), public figures (Thomas Edison and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were personal friends), the wealthy and powerful, and even royalty in the many countries where he traveled to do his act. After one impressive performance Emperor Frederick of Germany said in a speech while presenting a valuable ring to Sandow, "I would rather be you with your magnificent physique than be what I am, Emperor of Germany."

Sandow had a powerful impact on people wherever he went. He was a phenomenon - bigger than life and one of the most famous men in the world. At the height of his popularity he was paid $2,500 a week as he toured the USA - this at a time when many working-class people were lucky to make $50 a month. Crowds flocked by the thousands to see him perform, to hear him lecture on the benefits of exercise and a good diet, and to buy his training booklets and exercise equipment. They really didn't know such a look was humanly possible.

To say Sandow was nothing like the typical strongman of the day, such as the huge, bulky 300-pound Louis Cyr, is an understatement. Cyr had enormous superhuman strength but lacked muscularity, definition and beautiful shape. He was built along the lines of a refrigerator with a head. Indeed, his hips and waist were as wide as his shoulders. Although he could lift a house, I doubt he was ever asked to be an artist's model as an example of how a perfectly developed man should look.

Sandow, on the other hand, was the forerunner of the modern bodybuilder- symmetrical, proportionate, shapely, defined and very muscular. He was strong, but not as strong as his "strongest mania the world" billing. Several challengers defeated him soundly (including Arthur Saxon, who beat him on every lift), but he looked like a Greek statue come to life. He was considered the most perfectly developed man in the world for his time, the epitome of the Greek ideal combining the best physical traits of Apollo, Achilles and the Farnese Hercules. Some actually went so far as to call him "the most perfect human specimen of all time." Whether that was true is debatable, but Sandow was definitely the Arnold Schwarzenegger of his time. With all the accolades showered on him, his nickname "Sandow the Magnificent" was not surprising. Sandow's greatest legacy might be that he inspired millions to exercise to improve their physiques, their strength and their health. He made training with weights popular. He also was one of the first strong- men of the 19th century to prove that the male body when properly developed could be seen as an art form and appreciated for its beauty. He showed the world that the male physique had artistic merit and aesthetic qualities. Just like an artist's block of marble, the body can be exercised, worked on, developed, improved and perfected like a piece of sculpture. And like a fine sculpture, the exercised and weight-trained male body has beauty and aesthetic qualities that give visual and emotional enjoyment beyond any functional or athletic considerations - such as how much weight the athlete could lift, how fast he could run, how high he could jump, or how far he could propel a discus, shot, hammer or javelin. Sandow (and later Bernarr MacFadden and Vince Gironda) even went so far as to put white powder on their bodies when photographed so as to better emulate a Greek statue.

As a result of Sandow's influence, bodybuilders of the early 1900's to early 1950's were often photographed in Roman headgear or helmets of ancient warriors, wearing sandals, and holding spears, swords or bows and arrows. They often posed on pedestals in artistic positions that mimicked Greek statues. John Grimek's "Swearing Vengeance" pose (where he appears to be shaking his fist overhead at the gods) is a good example of this type of classical posing that was popular until recently. These days many bodybuilders' idea of a good posing routine is to come out and hit a few arm, back, chest and ab-thigh poses and then do 20 most-musculars. Their routines have about as much aesthetic and artistic value as a bull elephant rolling in mud.

We will always want to have athletic competitions to determine who is the best in any particular sport or athletic endeavor Man's nature demands to know who can lift the most, rim the fastest, jump the highest or throw the farthest. We insist on winners in any competition to determine the best, and are unsatisfied with ties. But lifting weights purely for physical development, as opposed to developing strength on certain lifts, is a worthwhile pursuit too. Again the contrast on the scene, such as Lany Scott, Harold Poole, Dave Draper and Picky Wayne. Never had men weighing less than 200 pounds, as Scott, Poole and Wayne did, have arms measuring 20 inches with that degree of hardness. Then a higher level of development and muscularity was achieved with the appearance of Sergio Oliva, Boyer Coe and, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger There was a new fullness to the muscles, a new hardness and better symmetry.

By the early l970's more was known about nutrition, and more and more genetically gifted bodybuilders appeared on the scene. Arnold continued to be number one, as no one could match his mass and definition. Other big men were contenders too - Ken Wailer, Pete Grymkowski, Dave Draper, Sergio Oliva, Roger Walker, Dennis Tinerino, Mike Katz, to name some of the better ones - but most top bodybuilders were still weighing around 200 pounds.

New standards were being established almost yearly. Who had the most peaked biceps, the biggest thickest pecs, the most massive legs? It was almost as if you had to have at least one freaky bodypart, and then you strove to make the rest of your muscles that good.

Definition became important. Steve Davis was one of the first displaying wildly striated triceps. Bill Grant had ripped glutes long before Rich Gaspari, but Gaspari was the man who made ripped glutes a necessity for the judges. Tom Platz took leg development to a place no one had ever gone before. Sergio had been the first to have massive sweep and incredible cuts but no one had the cross-striations and mass of Platz. Not everyone could build thigh mass like Platz's, but quad cross-striations became as essential as peaked biceps and deeply etched ahs. Next came the "Christmas-tree" lower backs of Berry DeMey and Samir Bannout. Although some men had thick lumbar muscles, especially some Russian weight-lifters, this was a completely new evolution in back development. Lee Haney became the first big man to dominate as Arnold had in the '70s. No one could match his combination of mass, shape and muscularity.

Every time a new breakthrough occurred in a particular muscle up, everyone attained that level of development and then pushed the standards of muscularity to higher levels still. For instance, prior to the l980s very few men had great hamstring development. This weakness was partly due to a lack of equipment and partly due to neglect. Then Tony Pearson came on the scene with hamstrings as full and peaked as some men's upper arms. The hams were like thick steel cables beneath the skin - and with razor-sharp definition. In later years some bodybuilders' best poses involved showing the hamstrings even on side-chest and side-triceps poses. Mike Ashley is especially notable for this quality.

Is the male physique as an aesthetic art form versus sport and athleticism. While big, bulky strongmen will always boggle our minds with their incredible feats of strength, they do not move the soul with the artistic beauty of the male physique the way men such as Sandow, Steve Reeves or Francis Sandow was by no means the only strongman muscleman of the late 19th and early 20th century with a great physique. Bobby Pandour had a superb physique and perhaps even more muscular than Sandow. He had extreme muscular definition and excellent separation of muscle, Pandour is said to have been the first to popularize the "most-muscular" pose (known also as the "crab" pose). In fact, he was one of the first of the early strongmen to train like a bodybuilder - with lighter weights and for high reps done in multiple sets, rather than heavy "strongman" lifts. Many felt Pandour's physique was actually superior to Sandow's, but, if nothing else, Sandow proved that good press agent could overcome any challenger to the title of the world's best developed man. There is no doubt that Sandow got more publicity than Pandour, especially in England and America.

Then there was T. W Clarke, a pupil of William A. Pullum, the great innovator and pioneer of weight training and bodybuilding, who had the round, thick deltoids of Don Howorth, the square pecs of Steve Reeves, massive thick arms, forearms and thighs, and a ruggedly muscular physique. Clarke had such outstanding muscular shape and definition that his physique was used for anatomy illustrations in medical books.

W Stocker, another Pullum student, had incredible muscularity and definition, worthy of a bodybuilder of the 1970s or '80s, not the early 1900s. His photos remind me very much of a cut-up Danny Padilla, although he had split pecs like Franco Columbu's. Alex Treloar won Bernarr MacFadden's first "The Most Perfectly Developed Man in the World" contest in New York city in 1903. George Flackenschmidt, the Russian Lion, had great muscular size and definition in his younger days, although he bulked up greatly later on as he became more involved in strongman acts and wrestling. Max Sick, known professionally as Maxick, the great muscle control artist, had intercostals like Robby Robinson's and serratus like Frank Zane's. Charles Atlas (Angelo Siciliano) won MacFadden's "The Most Perfectly Developed Man in America" title in 1920 and went on to make millions in mail order from his "dynamic tension" courses. Remember his ads in which the bully kicks sand into the eyes of the scrawny weakling on the beach?

Model Tony Sansone, though small in stature, was considered the most perfectly developed man in the world during the early to late 1930's. Then came the first modem physique contest, the 1939 AAU Mt America, and that started the modem era of bodybuilding as we have come to know it.

So many great physiques from that period possessed a higher quality than most people realize. If you really want to see some outstanding physiques from the late l800s and early 20th century, I recommend a look at David Webster's anthology, Bodybuilding -An Illustrated History (Arco Publishing, Inc., 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 1003). It is both a fascinating and entertaining look at the history of bodybuilding, old-time strongmen, weightlifters - a real eye opener as far as showing how well built some of the pioneers of bodybuilding and weightlifting really were - and the evolution and progression of the sport from ancient Greece and Rome right up until the 1980s. (The book was published in 1982.)

Once the AAU Mt America contest started in 1939, a new era in muscle development began. Bert Goodrich was the first Mr. America, but it was the appearance of John Grimek in 1940 that really started the modem bodybuilding era. Grimek had been a member of the USA Olympic weightlifting team at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, but injuries had forced him into training more for development than sheer weight alone. He was the first modem bodybuilder to have a complete physique in terms of massive muscles and excellent proportions. When he hit the scene he blew minds as much as Sandow had 45 years before.

Although slightly blocky, Grimek had no weaknesses. Every muscle group was full and developed. As well, he was an awesome poser. He knew how to display his body to perfection. His rugged muscularity and superb symmetry made him unbeatable in his day. He remains the only man to ever win two AAU Mr. America titles.

Each year the standards for muscle size and muscularity seemed to increase. Arms became bigger, lats became wider, pecs became thicker, and thighs became more deeply separated with more sweep and size than ever before. Steve Stanko, Clancy Ross, Alan Stephan, George "Pecs" Eiferman and Jack Delinger each upped the ante for the succeeding years' bodybuilders to achieve in the way of more size, mass and muscularity. Steve Reeves set a standard for shape, symmetry and aesthetics that some feel has never been matched.

Slowly but surely physiques became larger and more heavily muscled and displayed greater levels of muscular definition. John Grimek, Clancy Ross and Jack Delinger, three of the most muscular Mr. Americas of the l940s, were supplanted in the '50s by men like Bill Pearl and Reg Park. Even before 1950 the sport was already splintering off into two distiact groups - the beautifully shaped and symmetrical physiques of Steve Reeves, Juan Ferro and Jim Park, and the larger, more massively muscled physiques of Pearl and Park and Malcolm Brenner.

When Roy Hilligen won the AAU Mr. America title in 1951 he exhibited cross striations in his thighs, a feature never seen by the journalists of the day who wrote for Ironman, Muscular Development, Your Physique, Muscle Builder; and Strength & Health. They didn't even know how to describe what they were seeing. One journalist called Hilligen's striations "an odd criss-crossing of muscle fibers on his thighs, the likes of which I have never seen before."

Hilligen's thighs represented a breakthrough in definition. A few years later French bodybuilder Yvon Permal showed up at the NABBA Mr Universe contest in London, England, displaying cross-striations in his pectorals such as nobody had ever seen before. Soon many other bodybuilders had 'em too. Another threshold had been crossed.

When Vince Gironda entered the NABBA Mr. Universe contest in London in 1953, he horrified the judges by showing extreme definition in his abs. intercostals, serratus and upper thighs (thigh rods). Why, he even had veins showing in his lower ahs! The poor judges didn't know what to make of Vince's extreme muscularity. One thing was for sure, though - he couldn't be allowed to win. The NABBA Mr. Universe winner was supposed to be the epitome of physical manhood, a perfect male specimen to which every man would aspire. The average man could never relate to Vinceh extreme definition, so he was scored down for being too muscular. My word!

Franco Columbu had a similar experience when he competed in the NABBA Amateur Mr. Universe contest in 1968 and lost the short-class title to Wilf Sylvester of England. Franco was told he had a splendid physique, to be sure, but he was much too muscular to win the Mr. Universe title because, according to NABBA officials, Mr. Universe should be the physical ideal of men the world over. In 1970 the same thing happened when he came second to AAU Mr. America winner Chris Dickerson. Again he was told he was too muscular to be Mt Universe. He won the Most Muscular title, a poor consolation prize, while the more shapely and symmetrical Dickerson won the class. Frank Zane, another man noted more for his beautiful shape and symmetry than for brute size and freakiness, won the overall title.

The mid-1960s brought many breakthroughs in both muscular size and muscularity. New physique stars appeared. Other big men were good. Gary Strydom and Mike Christian were just a notch below Haney, but Haney had too much thickness and mass to be overtaken. You had smaller men with beautiful shape and definition - such as Lee Labrada, Steve Brisbois and Francis Benfatto - but each year leading bodybuilders seemed to get bigger, heavier and more massive while retaining the hardness, definition and muscularity of the smaller men.

Dorian Yates definitely took bodybuilding to new heights of freakiness. Never had a big man displayed the kind of striations all over the body that Dorian displayed. While other bodybuilders had competed at heavier body- weights before Dorian (e.g. Lou Ferrigno and Rolf Moeller), they tended to be giants. (Ferrigno and Moeller stood 65" and 68" respectively.)

Now we see Nasser El Sonbaty, Paul Dillett and Greg Kovacs dwarfing Yates. Where will it all end? Who knows? Who knows how bodybuilders will look in another 10 years? .. . or 15 or 20 years? Will we see 350-pound ripped bodybuilders? Don't bet against it. Everyone thought the limits of size and development had been reached with Sergio and Arnold. Then Lee Haney appeared. Then Yates took mass and definition to a new level. Maybe we've just scratched the surface of human potential. Maybe the long journey to ultimate mass and definition has just begun.

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