A Return to the Golden Age - Part 1

A New Interview with Dr. Ellington Darden


Sideshows Vs. Museums

Today, competitive bodybuilding is a freak show. From the late 1960's to the early 1980's – the Golden Age of bodybuilding – it was an art exhibit.

The magic decade was primarily the 1970's. The physiques were large, yet symmetrical and artistic. These were the types of bodies once carved into stone by the Greeks, the epitome of power and male aesthetics. In 1976, the Whitney Museum even "exhibited" muscular men (including Arnold Schwarzenegger) in a show called "Articulate Muscle: The Body as Art."

And while the bodybuilders of this era were perfect genetic specimens with eye-popping, comic book proportions, their physiques seemed obtainable to the average person. They inspired men all over the world to pick up iron.

Compare that with today's top bodybuilders: bloated, waistless, over-drugged freaks – objects of ridicule and scorn to all but the most hardcore fans and fetishists. Somewhere, bodybuilding has taken a wrong turn.

According to Dr. Ellington Darden, bodybuilding training took a wrong turn too. Average men began to train like these drugged, genetic mutants. He believes that most lifters today waste their time and squander their potential simply because they've forgotten how to build a muscular body... or maybe they never knew how to begin with.

T-Nation recently sat down with Dr. Darden to discuss the Golden Age physique, modern training fallacies, and a variety of other topics.

Testosterone Nation: What drew you to weight training initially, Ellington?

Dr. Ellington Darden: You'll probably find this answer different from the average enthusiast... because I wanted a big neck. That's right, not big arms or a big chest (although those wants came later), but a big neck.

T-Nation: Really? Explain that please.

Dr. Darden: When I was 12 years old, one Saturday morning I was looking through a comic book at our local grocery store. I still remember turning the page and seeing an ad with a headline: "How big is your neck?"

At that time in my life, I was a pretty good athlete, but I had never thought much about my neck. Then, the ad said:

"If your neck measures less than 15 inches, then you're nowhere close to the powerful, assertive man you could be."

Included was a picture of a guy with a strong confident look on his face and a thick full neck. Later, I found out that the muscular neck belonged to Earle Liederman, who was also the man behind the ad and a successful mail-order course.

Earle Liederman and his 17 inch neck. How big is your neck?

I recall riding my bicycle home, finding my mom's sewing tape, and measuring my neck. It was barely 12 inches in circumference and I weighed 110 pounds. I remember thinking, "I want a bigger neck."

The closing part of the magazine promotion said something along the lines of the following:

"When you complete this course, your square shoulders and muscular neck will provide pep in your step, which will make you successful on the athletic field as well as in the business and social world."

At 12 years of age, I didn't care about the business and social world, but I yearned for success on the athletic field. Plus, I knew I had a neck that resembled a tall stack of dimes and I wanted it bigger. But I didn't order the course and I had no idea how to make my neck larger.

The next year, in the spring of 1957, a new football coach was hired in our small town, and he purchased a dozen barbell sets for the high school football team to use. Four of the barbells were passed down to the junior high school.

Our junior high coach was a former army drill sergeant. In the spring of that year, he had our team divided into four lines, each behind a loaded barbell. He demonstrated and four of us performed. When an athlete finished doing 8 to 10 reps, he went to the back of the next line, and rotated through. As we finished all four exercises, another four were demonstrated, and everyone progressed through these in a similar fashion.

We did the squat, straddle lift, pullover, curl, overhead press, deadlift, shoulder shrug, and neck bridge. "Wow," I thought to myself, "the neck bridge." In all, we did one set of 8-10 repetitions of 8 exercises, and it took an hour for 20 to 25 football players to move through the lines.

Everyone, except me, disliked the neck bridge. I wanted a bigger neck, so I did the exercise enthusiastically.

T-Nation: How long did it take you to get that 15-inch neck?

Dr. Darden: It took approximately two years, since the formal exercise at the junior high school continued for only four or five weeks. But in that brief time, I could already see improvements in my muscular size and strength – not only of my neck, but also throughout my body.

That summer, I saved enough money to purchase a 110-pound barbell-dumbbell set from the local sporting goods store. Interestingly, several other guys in my neighborhood did the same and I talked them into hauling them over to my parents' garage, where we set up a home gym composed of our three barbell-dumbbell sets.

By the end of the summer, everyone but me had lost interest. Those guys quitting actually motivated me to keep after the weights. And I did. When I entered high school, I weighed 138 pounds and had a 14-inch neck.

My goals eventually were to weigh 180 pounds, have a 17-inch neck, and play football well. By that time I had read enough about strength training to know that it would help me reach – and perhaps exceed – those goals. And I included the neck bridge into most of my routines.

My body weight and neck size increases were steady. By my senior year in high school, my body weight was 191 pounds and my neck was 16.5 inches. I was pleased, but not satisfied. I have a long neck, and even at 16.5 inches it still didn't appear to have the fullness that Liederman's had.

In 1962, I rigged up a football helmet with a metal pipe welded to a square plate and screwed onto the top of the headgear. I'd seen a picture of a similar helmet in IronManmagazine. With a collar, you could then attach small barbell plates securely to the helmet, and exercise the neck progressively in four directions: back, front, left side, and right side.

That proved to be an excellent way to work the neck, much more so than the standard bridging from front to back and side to side.

T-Nation: What happened after you graduated from high school?

Dr. Darden: I carried my helmet-neck device to Baylor University, where I continued to play football and strength train. By the time I graduated in 1966, I weighed 215 pounds and had a neck that measured a full 18 inches. And over that four-year period, my neck strength tripled in the amount of weight I could handle on my spiked helmet.

Some 40 years later, I still train my neck once a week. Neck work remains one of the neglected areas in bodybuilding and I always stress it among the people I train.

T-Nation: You were a fairly successful bodybuilder in the late 1960s and early 1970s. You won 1969 Mr. Texas, 1970 Mr. South, and 1972 Collegiate Mr. America. Who were your greatest bodybuilding influences in those early years?

Dr. Darden: The 1960s and 1970s were an exciting time to be involved in bodybuilding. I grew up in Conroe, Texas, which was 40 miles north of Houston. Conroe had a population of about 10,000 people and there was no gym in our town.

All of my early training, as I noted earlier, was done in my parents' garage. I took metal shop in high school and I made my own bench press with racks, squat racks, lat machine, curl bench, chinning bar, and dip bars. It wasn't fancy, but it was more than adequate for all the basic exercises.

Besides being motivated to get a bigger neck, two experiences greatly influenced me in high school. In 1960, a buddy and I drove to Houston and watched the Mr. Southern USA contest at the Downtown YMCA. The winner was a guy from New Orleans named John Gourgott. He was first big-time bodybuilder I ever saw up close and personal.

John Gourgott, shown here on the cover of Strength & Health, was a medical doctor who enjoyed weightlifting and bodybuilding. In 1964, Gourgott competed in the National Olympic Weightlifting Championships and pressed 340 pounds, snatched 285 pounds, and cleaned and jerked 350 pounds. After those performances, he entered the AAU Mr. America and placed second to Val Vasilef.

Back then, many of the contests were held on a basketball court which had been modified into a weightlifting event, with a platform placed on mats and then converted into a physique show by mounting a spotlight on a basketball backboard.

Folding chairs accommodated the audience and, if you were lucky, you could squeeze in front of the first row of chairs by simply sitting on the floor. That's what my buddy and I did. Plus, we got a chance to sneak into the room behind the basketball court and watch the competitors warm-up. That was a motivating experience.

There we saw Gourgott do three one-arm chins with his right arm and three more with left arm. What a sight that was... and he weighed 198 pounds. Gourgott easily won Mr. Southern USA. Not surprising to me, in 1964 he placed second in the Mr. America.

Then, in 1962, during my senior year in high school, I drove back to Houston and entered my first contest, Teenage Mr. Houston, and placed third. There, I met Ronnie Ray, who placed second but should have won. Ronnie and I eventually became good friends, and over the next two decades, Ronnie was a many-times National Powerlifting champion.

Ronnie Ray, in the 181-pound and 198-pound classes in powerlifting, was a national champion multiple times in the 1970s. In the bench press he established a world record by doing well over 500 pounds, while weighing less than 200 pounds.

To this day, I've never seen anyone with thicker pectoral muscles than Ronnie Ray. Ray impressed me with his thick pecs, but over the years, he impressed me even more with his consistency, work ethic, and competitive zeal.

T-Nation: Boyer Coe was an early influence too, wasn't he?

Dr. Darden: Yes. In 1964, Coe entered the Mr. Texas contest, which he could do in those days because many state contests were open to competitors who lived outside that state. But – and this was a huge but – you better not expect to win, since all the judges were biased for in-state men.

Well, Boyer, at only 18 years of age, did four poses and walked away with the title – not by a little, but by unanimous vote. He was that good. Coe's physique left a mighty impression on me.

Here's a dramatic photo of Boyer Coe in 1968, the year before he won the AAU Mr. America.

When you first started competing, how did you and most bodybuilders train?

Dr. Darden: All of my early training, from 1958 to 1963, was based on three times per week, whole-body routines. My first barbell set was from Healthways, and the enclosed booklet pushed that type of training.

And I carefully studied Bob Hoffman's Strength & Health magazine, which was the main training journal of that day. Hoffman was big on the basics and three-days-per-week, whole-body workouts. I built the majority of my muscular size and strength (from 138 pounds to 202 pounds) using these methods.

In 1984, Vic Tanny, who had one of the first bodybuilding gyms on the West Coast and knew all the contest winners, shared the following about whole-body and split-routine training:

Tanny realized in the early 1940s that to make gyms profitable, he had to get women involved. He did this by adding carpet, chrome, mirrors, and one other thing: He discovered that women didn't like to exercise around men.

Instead of having a facility for men and a separate one for women, however, he simply used the same location and went to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule for men, followed by a Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday schedule for women. This every-other-day schedule made every-other-day training the norm, and it remained that way from 1950 to well into the 1960s.

It wasn't until the mid-1960s, Tanny remembered, that he had enough clubs throughout the United States (and enough revenue) to create separate clubs for men and women. After that, an enthusiastic man or woman could exercise four, five, or even six days a week – and many of the bodybuilders started training in a "more-is-better" way.

Tanny had a keen sense of making money, but he also understood which training produced the best results. He was a die-hard believer in three-days-per-week training.

Joe Weider's Mr. Americaand Muscle Builder magazines, which were predecessors to Muscle & Fitness, were around during the 1960s but difficult to find consistently on the newsstands. It's true Weider pushed split routines and high-volume training, but most bodybuilders at that time didn't take his magazines seriously. Weider wasn't taken seriously until he brought Arnold Schwarzenegger to the United States, made him into the 1970 Mr. Olympia, and began writing about him in his magazines.

You could say that Arnold really popularized Joe and that Joe really popularized Arnold. They both needed each other. Together, Arnold and Joe – along with the writers at Joe's magazines – promoted split routines, double splits, bombing, blitzing, and many other razzle-dazzle techniques to keep guys exercising longer and more often.

Of course, Weider knew exactly what he was doing, because in almost every article he published, he peppered the writing with his food supplements and the fact that, if you really want to make progress (like the champions do), you must consume Weider supplements.

T-Nation: You have an interesting story about meeting Arnold at the grand opening of a Nautilus fitness center. You both gave very different presentations on how to train for bodybuilding, right?

Dr. Darden: Yeah, I've had a couple of memorable experiences with Schwarzenegger. I first met him at the 1969 AAU Mr. America in Chicago, which I competed in and Boyer Coe won. Arnold came backstage and greeted many of the athletes.

Then, after I got involved with Arthur Jones, Arnold visited Jones in Florida, and Jones put him through some grueling high-intensity workouts. In my book, The New HIT, I have an entire chapter devoted to Arnold's one-week stay in Florida, which contains some entertaining stories.

Arnold Schwarzenegger won the Mr. Olympia each year from 1970-1975.

But I wasn't with Jones when Arnold visited in 1970 and I didn't really get to spend any personal time with Arnold in Chicago. My first quality meeting with Schwarzenegger was in 1977.

I was director of research for Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries and a new Nautilus Fitness Center was having a grand opening in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The owner invited Arnold and me to speak at the local high school. He met both of us at the airport in Philadelphia and drove us to Bethlehem, which was north about 50 miles. So we had more than an hour to talk.

Arnold hadn't yet made it in the movies, but he'd won five consecutive Mr. Olympia titles. The more we talked (it was mostly Arnold talking and me listening), the more I was reminded of a book, Your Erroneous Zones, by Dr. Wayne Dyer. I soon realized that Arnold had learned little from his success. Dyer, in one chapter of his book, noted that "success often keeps you applying the same old misinformation and faulty beliefs."

When I could finally squeeze a couple of words into Arnold's discourse, I boldly said, "Nothing fails like success," and I proceeded to share with him what I'd read in Dyer's manual. That got his attention and he sincerely asked me to tell him more.

"Just about the only thing we can learn from is failure," I continued. "But to do so, we must recognize what we're doing as a mistake. Then we must correct that mistake."

In the same vein, Arthur Jones once told me, "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."

It's unfortunate that we have to make mistakes to learn. But apparently we do. Success can often lead us on a path of self-destruction. We must constantly evaluate and reevaluate both our successes and failures.

Arnold listened intently for a few minutes and he changed the subject to something less thought provoking. Later, in his speech that night, he challenged the young bodybuilders in the audience who wanted to look like him to apply his training advice. His training advice is well documented in his books, which have been published by Simon & Schuster.

For best results in building your body, Arnold recommended the following:

• Perform at least 20 sets for most body parts.

• Do high-repetition sets for definition and low-repetition sets for mass.

• Adhere to a split routine by concentrating on different parts of your body on different days.

My advice to the audience that night was quite different from Arnold's, and I might add, I delivered it before Arnold spoke. For best bodybuilding results, I noted that you should:

• Perform only one or two sets per body part.

• Do 8 to 12 repetitions per set for most body parts. Definition is almost entirely related to following a diet to reduce the percentage of subcutaneous fat.

• Train the whole body in each workout and rest the whole body the following day. Do not split the routine.

Arnold was a believer in high-volume, four-hours-per-day, six-days-per-week, high-volume training (HVT). My bodybuilding philosophy was dissimilar: brief, high-intensity, 30-minute routines that are repeated three times per week (HIT).

Naturally, Arnold, with his impressive size, titles, and ability to work an audience, had the upper hand. "Who are you going to believe," Arnold said to the audience near the end of his speech, "him?" as he pointed my way and laughed, "or me?" as he flexed his Mr. Olympia arms in a double-biceps pose.

I was no match for Arnold that night and I knew it. Political researchers have known for years that most voters respond to how a candidate looks more than they do to what he says. Arnold, with his massively developed physique and high-peaked biceps, would be able to sway almost any group of exercise enthusiasts his way. And he did.

Since then I've learned that trying to convince champion bodybuilders of their training failure is next to impossible. Remember: "Nothing fails like success." The champion bodybuilders are generally successful in spite of their training routines and dietary practices, not because of them. With their inherited advantages, almost any type of routine produces results.

On the other hand, the average bodybuilder with average genetic potential (and that pertains to 70 percent of the trainees), requires all the sound, scientific information he can get to make even small gains. The average bodybuilder must profit from his past training failures. He must learn from his mistakes.

T-Nation: You've mentioned in your books that Arthur Jones was one of your biggest influences. How did you first meet him?

Dr. Darden: I recall meeting Jones as if it occurred a few days ago. That experience is still vivid in my mind.

I met Jones in New Orleans in August of 1970. It was the day before the Mr. USA contest, in which I competed.

It was early afternoon when I approached the entrance to the auditorium, where the National Powerlifting Championships were being held. In those days, national championships in lifting and physique were held in conjunction with one another.

As I neared the entrance from the left, suddenly appearing from the right side was Casey Viator. I'd competed against Viator three or four times and I'd heard that Jones had been training him. I greeted Casey and then asked him, "What's going on with Arthur Jones?"

"Here, talk to him," Viator replied, pointing to a small man with a pencil-thin mustache.

Arthur Jones is shown standing by a Nautilus Combination Biceps/Triceps Machine at the University of Cincinnati in 1978.

And there stood Arthur Jones, almost as if he had magically appeared when Viator snapped his fingers. Before I could introduce myself to Jones, he said in a deep baritone voice, "Come over here and give us a hand." By now there were three or four other bodybuilders standing around and Jones order was addressed to all of us.

So we followed Jones and Viator around to the back of the building, where a small trailer was parked next to a loading dock. Inside the trailer were several welded metal frames painted blue, along with some cables, black upholstered benches, and several hundred pounds of barbell plates.

Jones began barking orders: "Separate those pieces, grab these bolts and a wrench, stack that part on top of this one, turn the whole thing around, and screw the seat in place."

In less than five minutes we had the machine together. "Now put 150 pounds of plates on the back side," Jones said. "Okay, Ell Darden, belt yourself into the seat, and I'll teach you something about exercise."

"Teach me something about exercise?" I thought. I'd almost completed my course work for a Ph.D. in exercise science. It seemed as if it should've been the other way around. Still, I went along, belting myself into the seat of his pullover machine and starting the movement.

"How does this exercise differ from the barbell pullover?" I asked, as I knocked out three or four repetitions. Before I knew it, Jones was lecturing me on why his machine provided rotary resistance and a barbell didn't.

When I unbelted myself from the machine, Jones asked me about my university studies, and I told him about being close to finishing a Ph.D. at Florida State. Then he said something that eventually changed my life.

"You think you're pretty smart, don't you?" And before I could answer, or even shrug, he went off: "If you can unlearn everything you've learned about exercise – and if you can do this unlearning before you reach age 40 – you'll be headed in the right direction. Then, after you reach 40, you just may be in the position where you can learn something of real value. And, if you do, you'll indeed be smart."

At that time, I had no idea how critical those words would turn out to be. But over the next dozen years, what he said became plainer and plainer in my personal quest for knowledge. I can truly say that I have far greater understanding of my chosen field now than I did then. And, true to Jones's prophecy, I achieved this by first unlearning just about everything I thought I understood about exercise.

T-Nation: Arthur Jones seemed to be able to draw a dedicated group of students, friends, and followers, yet he also seemed to repel just as many people, if not more. What drew you to him and how did you end up working with him?

Dr. Darden: I always liked Arthur's blend of seriousness and humor. His seriousness was evident in all his articles. But you seldom saw his humor, until you were around him in person. Jones could be a very comical guy.

I think, however, the primary thing that drew me to him was his transition-of-knowledge ability. Jones could pull knowledge from many different areas or subjects and relate each one to the others.

Take bodybuilding, for example. He could relate medicine to it, or aerodynamics, or photography, or capturing wild animals, or mathematics, or geography, or agriculture... and he could do so in ways that almost anyone could understand. I recognized early that Jones had a lot of unusual wisdom and, most importantly, he was a master teacher.

When he offered me a job in 1973, as director of research for Nautilus, I jumped at the opportunity.

T-Nation: In the past year or two, a lot of T-Nation strength and performance coaches have written about the value of whole-body training routines. This is coming after years of split workouts – chest and tri's day, leg day, etc. But before that, whole-body training was the norm. Now, you've been involved in bodybuilding and fitness for a number of years, so you must be shaking your head at all this flip-flopping.

Dr. Darden: Yeah, I'm pleased that many of the T-Nation writers have promoted whole-body training. I particularly like Alwyn Cosgrove's take on whole-body training three times per week.

T-Nation: As a result, we see a lot of people going back to full-body training these days. Where does the average guy go wrong when he adopts a full-body program?

Dr. Darden: The average guy, when he returns to full-body training, needs a refresher course in intensity and proper form. Why? Because he's probably neglected both in his multiple-set split routines, or at least slacked off on them.

In full-body training, it's important to learn to go to failure, in good form, in most exercises. And often times, good form has to be learned (or relearned), as does what constitutes going to failure.

Other common mistakes are:

Doing too many exercises: One set of 10 different exercises is a good guideline. But some weaker people need a few more and some stronger people need a few less. Still, 10 is a nice starting number.

Not training three times per week: I start everyone out at three non-consecutive-day workouts per week. That amounts to six times in two weeks. When a plateau is reached, I reduce the frequency from six to five times in two weeks.

But here's an important factor: most of these trainees still train six times in two weeks – only one of their workouts is not to failure. Instead of going to failure, the trainee would stop the set one or two reps before failure. Such a set doesn't make as deep an inroad as does failure and may actually speed recovery.

Failing to apply an A and a B routine: One of the best ways to use a full-body program is to have an A routine composed of 10 exercises and a B routine composed of another 10 exercises. There can be some overlap but generally most of the exercises are different in each routine. So A is done on Monday and Friday and B is performed on Wednesday. Then, the following week, B is done on Monday and Friday and A is performed on Wednesday.

Dr. Darden poses off with Iim Haislop

Instinctively, it seems to make sense to train the body in full, and then take at least a day off before you do it again. But a lot of the new bodybuilding writers on the market push more frequent exercise, even twice-a-day training. Of course, they don't go to failure. What do you think of those training methods?

Dr. Darden: Those methods, in my opinion, are headed in the wrong direction. More than 30 years ago, Arthur Jones summarized such training by saying:

"I cannot provide an exact formula for success, but I can furnish a formula for failure: Give bodybuilders what they want: easier, longer, more frequent exercise. Instead, I supply bodybuilders with what they need: Harder, briefer, more infrequent exercise."

T-Nation: One of the biggest complaints about full-body training is that whatever is exercised later in the workout doesn't get as much stimulation and effort because, let's face it, full-body training can be exhausting. How do you get around that issue?

Dr. Darden: I get around that issue by understanding it and then combating it. First, it's true that full-body training can be exhausting. But as a trainee increases his muscular size and strength, he also improves his cardiorespiratory endurance. After six weeks of such training, for example, his after-workout exhaustion is much easier to deal with because now he's bigger, stronger, more enduring, and more experienced.

Second, to emphasize the latter exercises, a trainee can rearrange his routine. Instead of doing them at the end, he can perform them at the beginning and move the beginning exercises to the end. Doing so could easily be accomplished by applying the A-routine and the B-routine concept that I mentioned previously.

T-Nation: Okay, we have to ask: Can a natural guy really build a lot of muscle weight training just an hour and a half per week – or three 30 minute, full-body sessions?

Dr. Darden: Yes, absolutely! Or let me put it this way: Whatever a natural guy can build using a high-volume method, combined with various split routines, he can do at least equal, or perhaps better, if he applies high-intensity, full-body sessions.

And the advantage of only an hour and a half per week is a huge savings of time! I know time doesn't have the same meaning to a younger guy as it does to the older trainee, but once you find yourself with a wife and a couple of kids to raise and support (or how about a couple of wives and four kids?), then time becomes a precious commodity.

One more thing: For any method or system of weight training to really work, you've got to have confidence. You must believe in what you're doing. Don't just haphazardly try a few full-body sessions. If you do, you're sure to be disappointed.

Instead, read, study, and ask questions. Trade ideas with other trainees. Seek advice from those who've been there before. Then, when you apply full-body training, you'll have the necessary confidence because you'll be surrounded by secure support.

T-Nation: So, for the natural guy with average genetics, why is full-body training superior to split-training?

Dr. Darden: The body functions best as a unit. Each part or section connects to a central internal system. Digestion, absorption, respiration, circulation, elimination, recovery, and sleep occur throughout the entire body.

Can you eat, digest, and absorb for only your upper body? Can you eliminate and recover for just your lower body? Of course not. Attempting to do so makes about as much sense as trying to sleep with one eye open. Yet, millions of bodybuilders practice split-training and they spend hours and hours each day in the gym. Full-body training is more effective and much more efficient.

I tried to tell Arnold Schwarzenegger about the advantages of whole-body training almost 20 years ago, to no avail. But even if split-training was the only possible way to develop a great physique, a flashing sign should be presented to every young man who's interested in training.

That sign should say:

If it takes 24 hours of training per week,
week after week, month after month, year after year, for a
minimum of five years to become a champion
– then, please wise up.


T-Nation: Under those conditions, it just might not be worth it! Now, you've talked about how genetics dictate your bone structure, muscle cell numbers, and fat storage spots. The length of your muscle bellies seems to be the really big genetic factor. So, who's the most genetically blessed bodybuilder you've ever seen? And is there much hope for the genetically average?

Dr. Darden: For many years at the Nautilus headquarters in Florida, I worked out around Casey Viator. Casey had extremely long muscle bellies in his arms and legs.

Sergio Oliva was in Florida for most of the summer of 1971 and his major muscles were extremely long. Mike and Ray Mentzer, who spent more than six months in Florida, had long muscle bellies. And so did Eddie Robinson, who I personally trained for ten weeks.

Boyer Coe had long muscles in his biceps and triceps. Arnold Schwarzenegger had long muscles throughout his upper body. Steve Reeves, who visited Nautilus in 1978, had thigh and calf muscles that were long. As did Tom Platz, the man with the best legs I've ever seen. And I saw Dorian Yates win two Mr. Olympia contests from the front row and the length of his muscle bellies were right up there with Casey and Sergio.

If I had to narrow it down to one man, the single man who possessed the most genetic potential for bodybuilding, it would be Sergio Oliva. His physique in the summer of 1971 was the best I've ever seen. Viator's in June of 1971 was a close second.

Whether relaxed or contracted, Sergio Oliva had the biggest arms Dr. Darden has ever seen. He was especially imposing in street clothes!

In the last ten years, many of the professional bodybuilders who I've observed in the glossy magazines indeed have long muscles. But in my mind, they're not worth mentioning since their bodies are grossly distorted from huge amounts of steroids, growth hormones, and who knows what else.

What happened to the desire for symmetry that existed among bodybuilders in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s? What happened to the importance of having a tight, 32-inch waist? What happened to the training that tied into vibrant health and improved human performance? I'd like to see a return to a bodybuilding that incorporated those values.

Is there hope for the genetically average? Yes, absolutely – but that hope is not in entering a bodybuilding contest. That hope should be based on getting significantly bigger and stronger – perhaps with a neck, arms, and calves that measure from 16 to 17 inches, a chest in the range of 45 to 46 inches, with a 32-inch waist, and thighs that measure 24 inches.

These are all realistic goals, which can be achieved within two to three years.

In the next part of this interview, Dr. Darden talks about Muscle Beach and how that California playground influenced him and bodybuilding in general. Plus, there's more about Vic Tanny, Steve Reeves, Arthur Jones, and Casey Viator.

Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram