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The Incredible Evolution of Bodybuilding
By Leroy Colbert

Are you a boxer? Are you a football player? What did you do, to get a physique like that? I’ll bet you can hardly move. I know a guy built like you, and he cannot even tie his shoes, because he’s got too many muscles. I know a guy who drowned because those wings under his arms were too heavy and he sunk. I know a guy with so much muscle he couldn’t comb his hair. These were just some of the ludicrous statements we bodybuilders of the Forties, Fifties, and early Sixties had to put up with.

Bodybuilding was an odd mysterious cult to the vast majority of Americans. This unbelievable ignorance was not limited to the average person. So-called informed athletic coaches in football, basketball, track and field, boxing, you name it, treated weightlifters like cancer. Most coaches strictly prohibited their athletes from lifting weights under any circumstances. The medical profession joined in by claiming weightlifting was bad for the heart, joints and contributed to high blood pressure.

In the late Forties, the medical profession tried to prove how inferior a weight trained body was to athletes who didn’t lift. They picked a world-class athlete whose name escapes me, but I didn’t forget the man they used to ridicule, one of the great bodybuilders of all times, John Grimek. They devised a number of tests, overall strength, speed, and agility, to prove weightlifters were muscle-bound. To their amazement, John Grimek overall score was much higher than their handpicked athlete. We bodybuilders were happy to hear the news. We felt at last, we will be vindicated, the test will show we are not “muscle bound freaks.” Well you know what happened, when the so-called experts set up a test to prove their theory, and the results were not what they wanted, they just simply shelved it like it never happened. They wrote off the results as a freak occurrence, and proceeded with the condemnation of bodybuilding. There were a few athletes who knew that weightlifting in conjunction with their sport was very advantageous. They were terrified to let anyone know, or they would be ridiculed and thrown off the team.

Yesterday, they would throw you off the football team for ruining your body by weightlifting. Today, they would throw you off the team if you don’t use weights. Yesterday, for a boxer to lift weights, would have been tantamount to breaking his arms. Today, boxers train in state of the art weightlifting gyms. Yes bodybuilding has come a long way in acceptance by the public.

In the Fifties, female bodybuilding was out of the question. There were a few female weightlifters, but no female bodybuilders. The only female to make a modest name for herself was Pudgy Stocton.

We early bodybuilders had the commonsense to laugh at the so-called experts, who didn’t have the slightest idea of what they were talking about. It was like a herd mentality, no one took the time to really investigate the wonders of bodybuilding. I have been wary of the so-called experts, ever since I started bodybuilding. Listening to them tell me I was muscle bound, when I was much more agile after taking up bodybuilding.

Bodybuilding then, was as pure and wholesome, as it would never be again. Medical science saw to that. The drugs bodybuilders can take today, has drastically changed the bodybuilding development potential.

It’s ironic that not one of the growth enhancers, bodybuilders are using today, were developed for athletes. These drugs were developed for sick people. We can thank the scientist for these advancements, because it has helped to lift muscular development to an astounding new level. Even the widely used forms of amino acids, which have only positive affects, were developed for people with stomach and digestive disorders.

After retiring from competitive bodybuilding because of a severe accident in the Sixties, I noticed bodybuilders coming on the scene with incredible development never seen before. At the time, I was not training at the gym, only at home. I had not been on top of the latest steroid craze. I knew that no amount of just bare training could bring about these changes. I knew that we at Abe Goldberg’s Clinton Street Gym, the “workhouse” of the East Coast, trained, as thought there was no tomorrow. Set after set, rep after rep, we pushed, cajoled and encouraged each other to do one more rep, just one more and another and another. The muscles felt as if they would burst through the skin. We didn’t have to take a back seat to anyone, when it came to intensity of training. We did it all including the so-called Russian Total Exhaustion Training Principle. I had developed 21-inch arms, but nothing like the muscle density and separation I was witnessing now. There is no secret exercise that could accomplish this disparity in development. What is it? This kind of size and muscularity is revolutionary. Look at the vascularity of those guys. What have we been doing wrong? Look at my arms; they are huge, pretty well defined, but look at those guys. We had to be doing something wrong back then, in the Fifties and the Sixties. It cannot be just stronger vitamins!

Mainstream America was also beginning to accept bodybuilding. The “are you a football player” changed to how much can you press? Bodybuilding was catching on; Joe Weider had made it glamorous to have a good muscular body. It was becoming the “in thing” and in the U.S.A., nothing gets going faster than being the “in thing.” Bodybuilding seminars were now the rage. Personal training, even television got in on the act.

The shocker of them all was women’s bodybuilding. I was not prepared for this one. Women use to shun weights, like the plague. The only contest was natural shape, not development. The evolution from beauty contest to muscle development began with George Snyder in Pennsylvania.

George had a gym in Pennsylvania called “Olympus.” To promote it, he decided to stage a Miss Female Contest. Initially, all of the girls had no appreciable development, and they did the normal cheesecake poses. Some women unknown to most of us were training with weights. One of them, Carla Dunlap, entered with more development than I had been use to seeing in women. My immediate reaction was rejection. Carla did some acrobatic poses to mixed reception by the audience. I was one of the judges along with Christine Zane, Frank’s wife. She was enthusiastic over Carla’s development, I was not. I guess I was a little too macho, at the time, I believed muscular development was the province of the male, and women were treading on our turf. Christine prevailed and muscular development among women, with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s gung ho encouragement, became what it is today. Beyond the wildest dreams of most of us, who were active in the Fifties and Sixties. Arnold eagerly endorsed the Women of Muscles, which encouraged them to their present level of being more muscular. They are more muscular than the most muscular male bodybuilders of the Fifties. I am happy to witness this evolution. The transformation of our sport from ridicule to eager acceptance. Where does bodybuilding go from here? The sky is the limit. Bodybuilding has already progressed further than I could ever imagine. The future is yours.

I am proud to have been one of the early pioneers of modern bodybuilding. I am still training and helping aspiring bodybuilders with nutritional and training tips at my store, Total Nutrition, in Sherman Oaks, California. Pay us a visit, you may run into one of the many champion bodybuilders, who regularly shop here. And of course yours truly LEROY COLBERT will be at the store to share with you 50 years of bodybuilding wisdom.

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