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?

T-Nation: Really? Explain that please.

Dr. Darden:

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

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

Dr. Darden:

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

Dr. Darden:

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:

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.

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.

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

Dr. Darden:

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


T-Nation:
When you first started competing, how did you and most bodybuilders train?

Dr. Darden:

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:

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

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.

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.

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:

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

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:

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:

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:

Dr. Darden poses off with Iim Haislop


T-Nation:
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:

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:

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:

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

Dr. Darden:

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:

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

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.