(Top Photo: Modern Natural Bodybuilding Competition; Bottom Photo: Reg Park and Steve Reeves in a relaxed posed during a Golden Age Competition)
If you have been following our CPB Blog, you might have asked yourself "What is the difference between "classic physique building" and "natural bodybuilding?" "Are they the same thing?" Our answer is "unfortunately - no."
To better understand our answer, it might be helpful if we list what we like and what we don't like about "natural bodybuilding" as we find it today. Before we do, however, we must say that natural bodybuilding is the one bright spot on the fringes of mainstream bodybuilding. So we are sympathetic, in general, to their movement. But natural bodybuilding is not, in general, the same as the "classic physique building" of the Golden Age (1940s and 50s).
What we like about natural bodybuilding (NB):
1. NB promotes drug-free weight training and lifestyle.
2. NB preserves and provides contest opportunities for those interested in drug-free competition.
3. NB can act as a kind of "half-way house" to rehabilitate former drug & hormone-using mainstream bodybuilders who want to give up the "juice" but still compete in bodybuilding competitions.
What we don't like about natural bodybuilding:
1. NB over-emphasizes the use of supplements and their mags feature the same drug & hormone enhanced physiques in the same supplement ads that appear in the mainstream bodybuilding mags.
2. NB does not have the "classic physique ideal" in terms of body symmetry and definition.
3. NB competitions try to mimick the mainstream bodybuilding competitions and so there is an abundance of "classics" and "internationals" and "championships" instead of the Golden Age "Mr. City", "Mr. State", "Mr. Regional", "Mr. America" - type system. So it is hard for the general public to follow NB competitions and to have a sense of the hierarchy of "who is best."
4. NB mags ("Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness" and "Fitness & Physique") are too "contest-oriented" (thus they have limited ability to attract a wider audience).
5. NB history seems to begin with Chet Yorton. In the NB mags, there seems to be no acknowledgement or "connection" with the Golden Age. The Golden Age seems as little valued in the NB mags as it is in the mainstream mags.
6. NB tries to exist within the mainstream bodybuilding world and so you might find an NB article or column here or there in some of the mainstream mags, or you might find an NB forum here or there among the mainstream bodybuilding websites. But the reality is that NB'ers are "marginalized" within the mainstream BB world. They are referred to as "natties" (a diminutive) and are tolerated, but not really valued in that mainstream BB world.
So while we (at CPB) are sympathetic to the NB movement, we have to say that natural bodybuilding and classic physique building are not the same thing. Among the things discussed above, perhaps the clearest difference is in the ideal that each holds with respect to "physique." From our perspective, the NB ideal seems to be a smaller version of the mainstream bodybuilding ideal. So among NB'ers we often see (from our perspective) over-developed traps, quads & adductors, the same air-brushed tans, and the same "ripped, cadaver"-overly defined look which doesn't give the skin that "healthy glow" look of the Golden Age champs.
Despite everything, our hearts go out to the NB'ers. They, at least, have the courage to forsake the drugs and hormones. We wish, however, that instead of trying to exist within the fringes of the mainstream world, they would divorce themselves from that world, adopt the classic physique ideal, and help us rebuild a new Golden Age of Classic Physique Building.