Unintended Consequences    Part 2

John Balik

We often talk about bodybuilding’s evolution, but in some ways it’s been more like de-evolution. Fast rewind to the early ’60s. The first time I heard about anabolic steroids was what I read in the pages of IronMan. Peary Rader, the founder and editor, viewed writing about steroids as a two-edged sword. He believed that the use of any drug was simply not ethical and potentially harmful to an athlete’s health. On one hand, he wanted to warn the world about these drugs. However, he knew that doing so would, by definition, spread awareness of them. In those days steroids meant Dianabol, which was a prescription drug that any doctor could provide, not the Schedule 3 drug it is today. There was no drug underground; your family doctor was the source. Peary felt that the use of Dianabol should not be a part of physical culture, which, as he saw it, embodied health as much as strength and development. But as we the athletes focused on our quest for more strength and development, we denied the need for health.

Up until the late ’60s, bodybuilding, Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting were all organized by the AAU and run by the same committee. I was a part of that in what was then called the Southern California Weightlifting Committee. Between the three sports I worked a lot of meets, and it was all volunteer work—you did it because you loved it. Due to my suggestion, however, the sports were separated and each formed its own committee. I thought I had done a good thing, but now I wonder: Did that simple “advancement” contribute to the evolution of the nonfunctional physiques we see in bodybuilding today?

I say nonfunctional not in an absolute sense, but in the sense that the height-to-weight envelope, as it has been pushed, is the antithesis of health and athleticism. Before the sports became specialized, many people competed in two or more of them, but once they were split, you had to make a choice—lift or build. The groups became even more isolated from each other.

Before, bodybuilding contests had often been held with Olympic weightlifting meets and sometimes with powerlifting meets. In fact, the scoring of the AAU Mr. America competition included “athletic points,” which you got by competing in the other sports, and you could not win unless you got the maximum number of athletic points. IFBB events, both professional and amateur, were strictly bodybuilding, as they are today; however, the dominant force in amateur bodybuilding was the AAU. The Mr. Olympia, which was first held in 1965, was and is the ultimate professional title.

Most serious gyms of that era had lifting platforms, power racks and tons of weight. The term free weight did not exist. Try to find a gym that accommodates all three disciplines today.

The magazines changed to fit the new reality. Strength & Health (now, there’s a quaint combination) focused more on Olympic weightlifting, a sport that was in decline. Iron Man continued to cover all three sports and emphasized complete development (the mind/muscle/health connection). Muscle Builder/Power evolved into a bodybuilding-only publication. And Muscular Development covered powerlifting and bodybuilding.

Next month I’ll discuss the ’70s, years in which even more changes took place.

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