There are few gym-goers and fitness experts that’ll argue against the statement that the best physiques we’ve ever seen were built during the golden era of bodybuilding – the 1970s and 1980s.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franko Columbo, Frank Zane, Serge Nubret, Tom Platz…
We still idolise their physiques however many of the exercises they used to build their timeless physiques have been lost over the last couple of decades.
I’m a big advocate of reverse engineering my way to success – in this case if you want to look like (insert old school bodybuilders name) you must perform the same exercises and training protocols that they did.
Rather than spending your time in the gym performing inaffective exercises lets step back in time and look at 5 old school exercises that you should be implementing into your regime.
Back in the 70s and 80s we didn’t have anywhere near the level of knowledge on dieting and workout protocols that we do today, yet these exercises managed to sculpt some of the best physiques out there via trial and error.
Don’t waste your own time trying exercise variations, take a lesson from the golden era greats on what works and implement these exercises into your regime.
Barbell Cheat Curls
“Break the rules, not the law, but break the rules. It is impossible to be a maverick or a true original if you’re too well behaved and don’t want to break the rules.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
The cheat curl is a variation of the biceps curl with slightly more relaxed form, used in order to muscle more weight and overload the biceps.
Cheat curls were made extremely popular by Arnold Schwarzenegger, as these were a staple exercise in his arm training regime during the golden era of bodybuilding.
To the untrained eye it may not look like it, but there’s a big difference between wildly swinging a barbell in an attempt to curl a weight which you would otherwise not be able to move (lifting with your ego) and a proper Arnold style barbell cheat curl.
the cheat curl should NOT be performed on every repetition of your set, if you can’t curl the barbell with strict form for at least the few few repetitions of your set it’s time to lower the weight as the excessive use of momentum and the increased risk of injury you’re subjecting to yourself isn’t worth it.
The cheat curl implements the slight use of sway and momentum should be reserved for the last 3 or 4 reps once you’re unable to continue to curl the weight with text book form.
“Everyone did these back in the day. It’s where you lie across a bench with your middle back to shoulders supported by it and pull a dumbbell from the floor over your head in a big sweeping, arcing movement. We did these to expand our ribcages but they work the pecs, lats and even the triceps.”
Donkey Calf Raises
Mention donkey calf raises in a gym today and most guys will think you just came up with a fake name for an exercise.
Unfortunately the donkey calf raise is rarely discussed or seen in gyms today, which wouldn’t be sad if it were another fad exercise that didn’t do much for your physique.
From my own experience as well as from reading a number of old bodybuilding books it’s deemed as one of, if not the best bang for your buck exercise for building big calf muscles.
The donkey calf raise was without a doubt a staple in the golden era of bodybuilding, a time where arguably the greatest physiques graced the stage (and beaches!) we have ever seen… we’re talking Arnold Schwarzenegger, we’re talking Franco Columbo (RIP).
Arnold was known for saying his calf muscles were his weakest, they were essentially non-existent… this weak point soon became a strong point as he annihilated his calf muscles with calf raises… many of which were the donkey calf raise variation (if you Google Arnold donkey calf raises you’ll find a plethora of photos of Arnold performing these in different gyms with different people on his back!).
Coincidence? I think not.
Don’t have a training partner to jump on your back to replicate Arnold’s golden era style donkey calf raises? No worries – there are a few versions you can without a doubt perform solo in the gym without needing a donkey calf raise machine including…
The Smith Machine Donkey Calf Raise
Place your calf raise block under the bar of your smith machine.
Set your stoppers around mid-level to ensure you’ll have appropriate range of motion when raises and lowering the bar on the calf block.
Place a roman chair in front of your smith machine, you will hold onto these to support yourself during your reps.
Place your desired weight on the smith machine barbell.
Rest the barbell on your lower back while you flex your ankles to perform your calf raise while holding onto the roman chair handles.
Upon completion of your set just lower yourself down slightly until the stoppers on your smith machine catch the barbell.
The T-bar row is an excellent, old school exercise designed to add mass and thickness to the back.
The monumental backs of the golden era can be attributed to a combination of T-bar rows and wide grip pull-ups.
Form is particularly important on the T-bar row as many guys attempt to replicate the amount of weight Arnold used to lift on the T-bar row, resulting in jerking and potential back injuries!
If your gym doesn’t have a T-bar row machine all you’ll need to do is grab an olympic barbell, chuck a few 45lb plates on one end and push the other end up against a corner wall in your gym (I recommend wrapping a towel around the end of the barbell so you don’t damage anything!).
Here’s how to perform them correctly…
Lift the barbell from the machine ground by grasping the handles while driving through your hips and legs.
While maintaining straight arms proceed to pull your chest up and widen your stance.
Pull the weight to just below your chest by retracting your shoulder blades and flexing your elbows.
Slowly lower the weight back down until your arms are fully extended.
Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Avoid these T-bar row mistakes…
Look out for the following.
Using Partial Range Of Motion
Each repetition should begin with your arms fully extended below your torso and end with the barbell up against your torso with your shoulder blades squeezed together.
Most guys continue to up and up the weight as their range of motion and form begins to degrade… don’t be one of them.
Jerking Your Body To Complete The Repetition
The duration of the repetition should be slow and controlled, the top (contraction) portion of the repetition is by far the hardest, and if you’re jerking your entire body to get the contraction this is a clear sign it’s time to drop the weight down a bit.
Not Squeezing The Shoulder Blades Together
Every back exercise comes down to getting the correct contraction – the contraction is a result of squeezing your shoulder blades together and tensing your back muscles as you’ve pulled the weight towards your torso. You cannot get this contraction without squeezing the shoulder blades.
I feel as if I repeat this point far too often, however for years I was merely training my back without contracting the muscles correctly… needless to say for a few years my back lagged behind the rest of my physique in terms of both size and strength.
Heavy Barbell Back Squats
Today guys perform a ton of different squat variations – the pistol squat, the front squat, sissy squats, bulgarian split squats… back in the golden era heavy emphasis was placed on the good ol’ barbell back squat with heavy weight. Tom Platz had some of the best legs in the game and you guessed it – he squatted heavy and often. No gimmicks.
When it came to training legs Platz was known for having 3 rules…
#1 – You must stretch thoroughly before beginning.
#2 – You must go slowly before you reach the parallel point of your squat.
#3 – You must give everything you have to every set you perform.
Platz started every leg workout with 8 to 12 sets of 5 to 20 reps of barbell back squats.
Platz reports that while weighing less then 230 pounds, he squatted eight reps with 635 pounds and 52 reps with 350 pounds. On numerous occasions, he squatted for 10 minutes straight for more than 100 reps with 225 pounds.This might seem like hyperbole, if not the fact that Platz is seen in a video shot in 1992 squatting 495 pounds for 23 reps with his thighs going below parallel.