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Physique, Bodybuilding and Physical Culture

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Physique. Bodybuilding. Bodybuilder. Physical culture. We all know the words. Let’s take a look at how it all started— the evolution of not only the words themselves but also their meanings.

The practice of physical culture predates the general use of the barbell. In today’s terms, it was holistic—an umbrella that covered a wide range of activities from exercise to spirituality. Physical culture was much more along the lines of the Greek ideal of a strong mind in a strong body.  When it was discovered that the barbell, which allowed for progressive-resistance training, was the most effective way to transform the body, it became the tool of choice for physical culture.

The terms “physical culture” and “physical culturist” lasted into the 1960s. When I first met Vince Gironda in 1965, he saw the barbell as a tool for realizing the aesthetic and health goals of physical culture, as it had evolved, by then with an emphasis on the physical—a healthy, well-developed physique.

The basic male ideal, as defined by evolutionary biology, has a relatively small waist and wide shoulders. I can remember Bob Gajda saying to me, “The focuses of the ideal male physique are wide shoulders, great abs and sweeping, full calves.”

So the essence of the word physique was the whole body. When you look at a physique, proportion rules. Even the untrained eye will choose the balance that just looks right.

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Up till the late ’60s and early ’70s competitions to crown the ideal muscular body were called physique contests. By the late ’70s the era of the bodybuilding contest was born. The scoring was based on proportion first, size second and muscularity third. The judging standards began changing as the envelope of size and muscularity was reconfigured by competitors seeking to set themselves apart from their peers and make an impression on the judges.

As the paradigm shifted toward size and muscularity in the competitive arena, the word bodybuilder evolved in the general workout population from describing everyone who used weights to build muscle to the much more limited scope of competitive bodybuilders. People who used the tools of bodybuilding to improve and transform themselves no longer called themselves bodybuilders. The word had lost its connection to its roots in physical culture.

The fact remains, however: If you lift weights to build and improve your body, you are a bodybuilder—and that’s a good thing. Physical transformation is the goal, and that’s what IRON MAN is all about.  IM

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