Classic Physique Building: Ancient Greek Roots
Classic physique building in the western world has its roots in the culture of the ancient Greeks. Classical and Hellenistic sculpture give ample evidence of the Greek ideal of a muscular, well-defined body of symmetrical proportions. This can be seen in the well-known sculptures of the Discus Thrower by Myron of Eleutherae (5th Century B.C.E.), the Spearbearer by Polykleitos of Argos (5th Century B.C.E.), the Scraper and Farnese Hercules by Lysippos of Sicyon (4th Century B.C.E.).
Not only was athleticism a strong cultural value among the ancient Greeks, but physical aesthetics – how the body looked – was clearly an accompanying interest. Polykleitos published a book called Canon which outlined the ideal mathematical proportions or symmetry for the various parts of the human body. This idea that the beauty of the body was dependent upon the harmonious proportions or symmetry of its parts was embodied by his sculpture the “Spear Bearer.”
Although, at this point in history, there is no evidence of bodybuilding for the sake of physical aesthetics alone, it is from the ancient Greeks that we derive our ideal of an aesthetically pleasing muscular, well-defined, and symmetrical body. (photo: above left - The "Farnese Hercules by Lysippos)
The tradegy of modern, mainstream bodybuilding is that it lost the ideal of the classic physique in favor of the gargantuan, "hulk-like" physique.
Before steroids, bodybuilders were inspired by the great classical sculptures of the ancient greeks which were muscular, proportionate, and yet attractive. Read the following excerpt from an article written by the great Reg Park (Mr Britain 1949, Mr Europe 1950, Mr Universe 1951, 1958, 1965) for Your Physique Magazine (Nov '50):
"The Classical Look for Physical Perfection
by Reg Park, Mr. Europe
When I first became interested in bodybuilding I took a new interest in not alone my own body, but in any statue or photograph which portrayed a well developed physique. I spent many hours studying the statues of the great masters at the Tate Gallery at Millbank in London, as well as at the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square. There, enchanted by the sculptural grandeur of Apollo, Discobulous, Hercules and others representative of the great Grecian art which has endured the years and remains even today the accepted peak of physical perfection, I received my first education in physical proportions and impressiveness.
I was quick to notice how each body part blended perfectly with the rest of the anatomy in these masterpieces. How Hercules, thick, powerful and heavily muscled retained this massive proportionate development throughout his entire body..." (end of quote).
Can you imagine that article having been written by today's Mr. Olympia? So the classic ideal has been lost by mainstream bodybuilding. But we don't have to follow their lead. Bodybuilding can be natural, healthy, and lead to classic, muscular, and attractive physiques. We would do well to follow the example of Reg Park! (photo above is Reg Park on the cover of Your Physique Magazine, Jan 1951). - Classic Physique Builder
What is a Classic Physique?
In short, a classic physique is one which is muscular, symmetrical, yet not over or under-developed. Shoulders and chest should be broad with waist and hips narrow - producing a nice "V-taper." The arms, calves, and neck should measure close to the same size. Thighs should be straight rather than "carrot-shaped."
There should be reasonable muscle definition and separation without the extreme "shredded" or "ripped" look of a dissecting room cadaver. A glow of health should radiate from the skin. These are the basic elements.
In building the classic physique according to the Reevian Gold Standards, Shy away from exercises that stress the trapezium muscle at the base of the neck, because the bigger the traps are, the narrower your shoulders appear. Instead of square-shouldered look, a person with overdeveloped traps looks round shouldered.
Another thing to avoid is training your oblique muscles of the midsection. If you build up to much, your waist will look wider, detracting from your broad-shouldered appearance.
Steve Reeves got the idea for formulating the "classic" proportions from
looking at Jack LaLanne, who had a big chest and a small waist - in fact, Jack had a 20 inch difference between the measurement of his chest and waist.
Reeves always wanted to build build a 24 inch difference between his waist and his chest - and that become his goal.
He focused on diet and training to achieve a minuscule waist and a maximally developed chest and back. He actually built his chest and waist differential up to 23 inches but then he when back into the movies and actually had to undo a lot of the muscle building he done, so he didn't dwarf his fellow actors. So he never reached that 24 inch differential, but having that goal in mind served to keep his training on the right track and led to him cultivating a classic physique.
Similarly, he wanted to build a shoulder span of two feet from one tip of the deltoid to the other. The closest he got to this goal 23 -1/2 inches - but then he had to make another film and never reached this goal.
Its ironic, but these are the only two goal that Reeves set for him self that he never obtained.
But simply having them served to keep his training on the correct track and he never once tried to build size simply for the sake of getting 'bigger'. Every thing has to be in proportion and gear towards the 'classic' or pleasing proportionate look.
Steve reeves was the greatest bodybuilder and had the best proportions ever.
The majority of physiques to today lack the one thing that is primary to the classic physique - proportion. Easily 99 percent of the bodybuilders Competing today lack, for example, the calf development to match their arms or neck. The trap muscle is always over developed so that they can engage their "grab" or "most muscular" poses, but then they suffer the narrow-shoulder syndrome when not engaged in a total flex-out
If your goal is to have a great physique, and be strong, then you don't need the extra development in the trapezius.
PROPORTION & SYMMETRY IS THE STANDARDS By Steve Reeves
Height Optimal Weight
5'5" 160 lbs.
5'6" 165 lbs
5'7" 170 lbs
5'8" 175 lbs.
5'9" 180 lbs
5'10" 185 lbs
5'11" 190 lbs
6' 200 lbs
6'1" 210 lbs
6'2" 220 lbs
6'3" 230 lbs
6'4" 240 lbs
6'5" 250 lbs
The above figures are calculated with a medium boned person in mind. if you have heavy bones, you can add 10 pounds to the calculations and if you have light bones, you subtract 10 pounds. These are the figures that I have arrived at after studying the physiques of many champions in many sports
Once a person exceeds his ideal weight for his height, he becomes out of proportioned and not only no longer possesses a symmetrical proportioned physique, but doesn't function optimally, either. additionally, I believe if the emphasis shifts off size for the sake of size and returns to proportion and symmetry, not only will the physique look better, but it will negate the need for anabolic steroids, growth hormone injections and other heavier drugs that serve nbo purpose other than to build tissue. In fact, a person who came in heavier will be penalized for it as he would have destroyed his optimal height - to -waight ration for attaining symmetry
However, the bodyweight to height ratio would be the sole criteria for adjudication a physique. Since we also posses a bone structure that is in most cases in proportion to our height , I have further developed a method of prescribing the optimal proportions for each individual based on height and bone, size that will result in perfect symmetry
Muscle to bone ratios:
Arm = 252% of wrist
Calf = 192% of ankle
Neck = 79% of head
Chest= 148% of pelvis
Waist= 86% of pelvis
Thigh = 175% of knee
The proportion chart was calculated for men and these percentages can very from one person to another. The above proportion guidelines are calculated to be maximum measurements for a well developed, balance and symmetrical physique
I believe that if these standards of proportion were adopted and implemented by judging panels, body builders would soon have no reason to use steroids and other drugs, because their pursuit for growth for the sake of growth would actually destroy the symmetry
Any and all muscle growth should be purposeful i.e balanced or correct a muscular deficiency or lack of proportion.
Steve Reeves Measurements:
weight 212 lbs.
This is perfection
I don't think anything compares from these eras.
There is no better embodiment of the classic physique than that of Steve Reeves, Mr. America 1947, Mr. World 1948, Mr. Universe 1950, film star (e.g., "Hercules" and "Hercules Unchained"), author (Building the Classic Physique the Natural Way and Dynamic Muscle Building), and rancher. You can visit the official page of the Steve Reeves International Society at http://www.stevereeves.com/
In future posts, we will see other classic physiques from the Golden Age of Drug-Free Bodybuilding (1940-1959).