The Top Bodybuilders of the 20th Century - Our Classic Muscle

Top Bodybuilders

There are many types of physiques in bodybuilding

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Before I systematically tell you my choice for bodybuilder of the 20th century, permit me to give a very brief biography of myself so as to lend some credibility to my choice.

Practically no one has heard of me. I started bodybuilding March 26,1957. I've owned two health clubs and currently own a personal-training business in con junction with a muscular-therapy business. I've trained thousands of people in that time. In 1975 I took a year off for my sabbatical and trained at all the major gyms in and around Los Angeles. I moved from Cape Cod, MA to Los Angeles and then back to Cape Cod. I won the Mr. USA Natural in 1981 sponsored by the Christian Bodybuilders Association.

I don't believe in chemically enhanced physiques. However, the chemically enhanced physiques are rewarded with con-tracts and endorsements, so it's no wonder they are lulled into that situation. I'm hard-core enough to think that if and when they find the Arc of the Covenant it will contain a set of barbells and dumbbells with instructions.

I'm going to divide this analysis into two categories-before steroids and after steroids - and still come up with a valid conclusion. To qualify my choice, let me say that I'm judging physique only. This evaluation has nothing to do with how much money one has made outside bodybuilding, how good an opera singer you are, or how many health clubs you own. It's about physique only.

To my knowledge steroids became prevalent in physique contests in the early to mid '60s. Somewhere in the '80s growth hormone appeared, and other sophisticated drugs have been coming in on a regular basis all during the '90s up to today. Before the advent of steroids you'd be hard pressed to find better physiques than the great Steve Reeves and the great John Carol Grimek. They are two decidedly different types of physiques but are the epitome of physical culture.

Reeves had the classical physique composed of broad shoulders and a wasp waist with incredible legs. He also had an unusual pectoral formation. His long, full muscle insertions gave him perfect balance. His neck, arms and calves all measured the same. From the neck up he was a very handsome man. Try to find a picture of him that is not good. He was born with outstanding genetics. Look at his pictures when he was 15 years old. Most naturals don't look that good in a lifetime. Neither do steroid users for that matter.

John Carol Grimek was heavify muscled from head to toe. However, in some early teenage pictures he doesn't look to have the potential that he eventually demonstrated. Mr. Grimek gave you many different looks. If you look at the pictures of him in the "sand pit" in the 1920s - the pictures of him with the spear you'll see he has an eight-pak that's better than any of the top six at the Mr. Olympia. His legs are just as good in those shots as those of anybody who ever lifted a weight-and this was 1920,40 years before steroids became fashionable.

If you examine the picture of the 1948 Mr. Universe with Reeves, Grimek and Andre Drapp, you'll notice that Reeves's and Grimek's shoulder width looks about the same. A closer look will show that Grimek's deltoids appear to be thicker than Reeves's. Both possessed incredible physiques with decidedly different looks.

Here's another interesting note. Reeves's face and head match his physique as do Grimek's. Remove Grimek's head and put it on Reeves's body and it doesn't work. The same applies vice versa. It's Mother Nature at work without the tampering around with steroids. Although Reeves and Grimek did not look alike facially, they were both hand-some men. I can say that emphatically, being a heterosexual man myself as Reeves and Grimek were.

On page 12 of the book Secrets of Strength and Development by Bob Hoffman (1940) is a back double-biceps shot of Grimek. The thickness of his entire back has to be seen to be believed. In my opinion it's better than any of the current bodybuilders. The cuts in his lower back look to be an inch deep. The traps going up the back of his neck are unbelievable even by today's standards. His deltoids are gigantic! All his years of Olympic lifting laid an incredible foundation for his physique. Ten years later he had a new look and a better physique. The man just never stopped improving, and along the way he gave you many, many, new looks.

You have to realize Reeves and Grimek did not have all the sophisticated equipment you see in current-day gyms. Nor did they have the nutritional knowledge that's avail-able today. Reeves developed the exact physique he wanted. I believe John Grimek did not know boundaries. He got as big as he wanted at any given time without acknowledging any limits.

He ruled the physique scene much the same way boxer Joe Louis did with his heavy-weight championship. They both took on all comers and beat them. They were in leagues of their own.

There's also a lot to be said for Clarence Ross, who beat Reeves twice. He too had perfect balance and definition that was years ahead of its time. The majority of bodybuilders want to know how to get a physique naturally. So why not go back to one of the original and best sources - Clancy Ross.

What's amazing about him is the adversity he went through as a child and still excelled in his chosen sport. He'd probably be the first to thank bodybuilding for the disciplined lifestyle that came with it.

Here's a trick for examining physique pictures. Turn the pictures upside down and you'll see how balanced or proportioned a physique is. Reeves, Grimek and Ross are perfect.

In 19761 went to Philadelphia to see the bicentennial AAU Mr. America show. On my arrival at the hotel I was staying at, I stood in the lobby wondering if any of the former Mr. Americas would attend. Reports had stated that several of them were going to be there. The lobby was practically empty. I turned to my left, and standing 6 feet from me was John Grimek in a light-brown pin-striped suit. His wife, Angela, was with him.

Within a maximum of five seconds people came out of the woodwork and surrounded him. There were probably 50 people who stood 5 to 6 feet from him and just smiled. Nobody said a word. Nobody asked for autographs. They all just looked at him with huge smiles of satisfaction on their faces, both men and women of all ages. Angela worked her way through the crowd and waited at the elevator, which was about 20 feet away. Grimek just stood there look-ing somewhat embarrassed by the attention.

He shuffled his feet, looking up and down from the floor with a slight smile while lightly tapping his thumbs together in front of his waist.

My guess is that he was about 5'9", 220 to 230 pounds, and built like a linebacker from the Green Bay Packers with the equipment on! You could see his huge biceps through his suit. His neck had to be at least 20 inches. He stood there about 15 seconds. When he moved forward, the crowd opened and he walked through to his wife at the elevator. All this time the lobby was quiet as if the spectators were holding their breath. After he disappeared into the elevator, you'd have thought someone had turned up the volume again. Grimek created an unbelievable impact.

I've got to tell you here and now that my father was the president of the Musicians Union in Framingham, MA for 25 years. There was a huge nightclub/hotel complex in the area where all the biggest stars of show business played. I met everybody I wanted to - and some I wish I had not met. They all played there: Juliet Prowse, Gordon MacRae, Jerry Lewis, Pat Cooper, Abbe Lane and way too many others to list. None of them -1 repeat none of them - had an impact on a crowd like John Grimek's. They looked at him as if he were a combination of a spiritual miracle and an amazing Christmas present. The experience was indeed unforgettable, and it lasted only 15 to 20 seconds!

One other Grimek story before I continue with the steroid years: Around 15 years ago Ed Jubinville visited me at my health club on Cape Cod when he and his wife were on vacation. They had just left York, Pennsylvania. Ed said he'd had a workout there and Grimek was in the gym doing repetition squats with 400 pounds! And Grimek was 70 years old! Now I'll continue about the advent of steroids.

Once again, I don't condone steroids; however, I feel if a person wants to use them, that's his choice. I'm going to divide this section into four categories - the Arnold years, Lee Haney, Dorian Yates and Ronnie Coleman. I should also mention here that the first Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott, is certainly in my top 10 of all-time best for the 20th century. He did not have the best genetics to start with, but he had the perseverance and determination to win. He gets my vote for the best arms.

Arnold Schwarzenegger won Mr. Olympia from 1970 to 1975 and again 1980. That was a record of seven Mr. Olympia wins. The movie Pumping Iron was a catalyst in the now-huge fitness boom, and certainly Arnold played a big part in it.

He was Mr. Olympia six straight years, which means you have the best physique in the world for that long. Unfortunately for Arnold there was another physique on the planet at that time in the form of Sergio Oliva. I'm not going to rehash all the battles Oliva had with Weider, but I will say that more than a handful of people felt Oliva had the best physique in the world and was "robbed" in Essen, Germany. Oliva was a mass monster genetic freak. You couldn't find a flaw in his physique from any angle. Both Arnold and Sergio had out-of-this-world physiques, but there are many fans in both camps. This did not happen when Grimek was on top. Grimek ruled as Joe Louis ruled.

And then there's Arnold's very question-able win in Australia in 1980. From the in-formation I have, the IFBB should not have permitted him to compete in the first place. But that's another story.

In the meantime Franco Columbu and Frank Zane won the Olympia, emblematic of the best physique on the planet. Not quite. Sergio Oliva was still alive and well.

Then Lee Haney started his rule and blew everybody away for eight straight years, breaking Arnold's record. The man was huge, well spoken and, I'm told, a gentleman, but his arms did not fit his physique. They were too small. Haney's best bodypart was his back. Compare his back double-biceps to John Grimek's. Haney also had a couple of controversial wins. Many people thought Lee Labrada or Shawn Ray should have beaten him. Once again there really wasn't any such controversy when Grimek won his contests. Yes, the voting was tied between Grimek and Reeves in the 1948 Mr. Universe and the decision came down to athletic points which made Grimek the winner. After Grimek was awarded the victory, Reeves, being the class act he was, announced that it was a great pleasure to compete and be on the same stage as the greatest bodybuilder who ever lived.

Haney vs. Grimek? A novice would see that Grimek had better symmetry/balance and Grimek never had a controversial win. Please don't interpret my comments as any kind of slur on Lee Haney's physique. He had to be seen to be believed, and I saw him in person.

Enter Dorian Yates. He completely and entirely dominated and dwarfed his com-petition the same way Grimek did. His reign was cut short by injuries. Like Haney, he had arms too small for the rest of his body. They always were. Look at his early physique shots or his before-and-after ad. He never brought up his arms to match the rest of his physique. Then he suffered a detached biceps, which made matters worse. Also like Haney's, his back was his best bodypart. His legs were light-years ahead of anybody else ... well, almost anybody else. Look at Grimek's legs in the "sand pit" pictures and look at his legs 20 years later on his classic "pillar pose," holding his left hand in front of his eyes. Both Grimek and Yates had the same type of long, full-bellied muscles from origin to insertion. Their legs were very similar. Remember, Grimek's pictures in the sand pit were taken 70 years before Yates. Grimek set the standard for muscle mass in the 1920s. Compare Grimek's 1940 rear double-biceps to 1990s Yates. My vote goes to Grimek. He even looks stronger than Yates, and from what I've read, Yates lifted some serious tons of weights. Once again Grimek without a doubt had better symmetry / balance.

Former Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman says he competes at 270-plus pounds. He's the heaviest of the bodybuilding champions of the 20th century-maybe too heavy, judging by his protruding stomach. Even Ronnie is probably not fond of that particular body-part. Assuming that the Mr. Olympia winner has the best physique on the planet, shouldn't the public be told what the judging criteria are? And shouldn't that judging be consistent? If the criterion is size alone, Coleman should have won. If it is size and cuts, Levrone should have won. The same could be said of Arnold's era. Franco Columbu or Serge Nubret would have beaten Arnold if size and cuts had been the criteria for winning.

In summary I'd like to say that, growing up in the '50s and '60s, I wasn't a John Grimek physique fan or a fan of anybody's physique in particular. My life changed when I saw pictures of Steve Reeves. I got involved with bodybuilding because of him and am more enthusiastic now than when I started. Steve Reeves was born to be a bodybuilder. Can you imagine him being anything else? Think about it. A boy with those genetics moves to, of all places, California in the 1930s and gets involved with bodybuilding. People didn't even know what bodybuilding was when I started in the '50s.

As for Reeves's genetics, Robert Kennedy could run a two-year worldwide search for a 15-year-old with Reeves's potential and could never duplicate him. The closest any-one has come in the last 50 years is to mention fewer than a half-dozen bodybuilders in the same sentence as possible Reeves look-alikes. Possible look-alikes! What other bodybuilder can you say that about?

After I saw Grimek in person, I started to examine his physique more closely. By now I guess I've seen over a thousand pictures of him taken from every conceivable angle. Now with the Internet you can access pictures of him and practically everybody who ever placed in a contest. Grimek constantly trained through his life and appeared regularly in Strength & Health and Muscular Development through the '40s, '50s, '60s and '70s. These pictures are good to compare the men winning contests during those times.

You can enter and win the Mr. Olympia contest for as many years as you qualify or until you retire. The biggest physique contest in 1940 was the Mr. America. John Grimek won it in 1940 and 1941. Then they made a ruling that you couldn't repeat as a winner, so that eliminated Grimek. He did continue to train and won the 1948 NABBA Universe and the 1949 AAU Mr. USA. After seven years of retirement from competition he came back and won the best contest in the world, which by then had international contestants. Now ask yourself how many years in a row he could have won the Mr. America. How many years in a row could he have won the Mr. Universe had he chosen to compete? At what point were physiques better? - 20 years? 30 years? 40,50 or 60? I cast my vote for John Carol Grimek for his perfect muscle mass and for Steve Reeves for his perfect physique, which will never be duplicated. It's a split vote, but Reeves and Grimek merit the 20th century bodybuilding crown.

I obviously could have written a much shorter opinion; however, this is about the physiques of the 20th century, and I feel obliged to be more specific than just submitting names. Bodybuilding is my life and has been for many years. Bodybuilding for the most part started in 1939. I'm very lucky and very thankful to have been born during a time when bodybuilding was around. Through all the controversy that has been surrounding bodybuilding I still feel it is definitely the best sport/discipline/ endeavor/lifestyle that anybody can be involved in.

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