T Nation

The Evolution of Muscularity


Have you ever noticed that ancient statues (lets use the Greek ideal as these are the inspiration for the sculptures that followed) of athletes or mythological hero's do not have the thick bulky pec's of modern bodybuilders? They did however have rugged, well-etched abs, thick strong midsections, thick strong muscular arms and thighs, naturally long full diamond-shaped calves, round delts, and a wide thickly muscled back. Of course exercises such as bench presses didn't exist (why would you lie on your back to press a weight anyway?). So where did the fascination with big pecs come from, how did it develop and why has it persisted?

When people exercised in the past it was more than likely with performance in mind, be it for the arena, the military, competition or it was simply just hard labour. Providing nutrition was in order a good physique would have been a by-product of that exercise / work, which leads us on to our fascination with good physiques as it is an indication of good health but why the big tits?

Have we seen the pinnacle of muscular development, will we see a shift in what we perceive as ideal or is it just a matter of what's in style?

Any thoughts...






Comparison of front and back of Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli. The back is ridiculous compared to the front.


You forgot to mention that small penises and large scrotums used to be "ideal." :wink:

I actually did a blog post on this idea a few years ago.

Eugen Sandow was 5'7" and a pretty lean 180 pounds. But at that time, he was absolutely other-worldly. Considering how he was perceived in the early 1900's, do you think anyone at that time would think it physically possible for someone like Kai Greene, who's 5'8" and a shredded 260-something pounds, to even exist?

Physique ideals will always shift, because that's the way society is. Just like anything else. Technology shifts (car-plane-space shuttle), culinary creations change (meat on fire-seasoned meat on fire-Spam), sports achievements adapt to new times (4 minute mile, Usain Bolt's 100 meter record, baseball's 50, 60, 70 home run club).

not to oversimplify it, but that's just the way things go. Whether it's a good or bad thing, however, is an individual decision. Find me 10 guys who think Frank Zane is the best bodybuilder of all time and I'll find you 10 guys who think Ronnie Coleman is the best.


This is an art historian's take on the Greek Ideal, which may not be as 'ideal' as it appears:

It's from a series called How Art Made The World (there's also a book of the same name). I'd recommend watching the whole thing. Excellent stuff. You won't look at the figurehead on a coin in the same way again.


Somebody's been reading too much Pavel.


I still think Reeves and Zane are pure perfection.

What I find amusing, is that despite the RIDICULOUS 10000x fold increase in obsession about male body image in masculinity in the last century, you still have people crying about bullshit like the 'demasculinization of America' or whatever other insecure bullshit they can come up with.


Isn't it possible that the increase in the obsession about male body image is a response to the demasculinization of America? I think social movements tend to require a lot of momentum to illicit any real change. Just like a pendulum, this momentum often pushes these social movements too far in the opposite direction, and that overcompensation in turn leads people to force the momentum towards the original direction once again. The women's rights movement of the last century has possibly diminished the role of masculinity in our society, as evidenced by the androgynous environment we see at large today, and now there are a minority of men reasserting and sometimes obsessing over their masculinity in response to these social pressures.

Of course many people have very different ideas as to where the equilibrium really lies, but I think that the complaints of demasculinization can go hand-in-hand with an increase in obsession with masculinity. You have more people in the extremes, though by and large we've shifted away from being as masculine as a society overall.


Damn progress. Can we go back to the old standard?


It's cold in here.
It's a grower, not a showwer.
I just got done running, yeah yeah.


ON the contrary, they did "bench press."


Using a blog as a resource for history facts is fascinating.


Maybe the statues were idealised images of the male body - representations of heroic men such as Herekles for example, and there werent a ton of jacked dudes similar to that statue in ancient greece.


I do believe that the current dichotomy in Pop Culture is just reactionism; but not the one you talk about

The hyper masculinity came BEFORE the androgynism and women's liberation movements.. Not only does it date to the earliest days of Pop Culture, but it predates it..

Regardless, I don't have any problem with society moving away from masculinity. I think the notion of fixed gender roles is ridiculous and propagated by hicks and uneducated pop culture brainwashed women



That was fascinating!

Professor V.S. Ramachandran explains it so well. I've seen some of his docu progs on how humans function on a cerebral level and it is so interesting e.g. how can you drive your car to work and not even remember the journey, brilliant! Anyway that was excellent roybot will definitely follow up on this, thanks!


Totally understand, but that roybot clip explains 'why' so well, its our fascination with exaggeration or creating something that is unreal that keeps us moving in another direction





I find it funny when comic book artists get muscles wrong.


It seems that Rob Liefeld may be the worst!