Muscle & Fitness Magazine

Sometimes the classics are the best.

No matter what your opinion is, there’s no replacing the aesthetics of the classic bodybuilding physique. It was an era where bulging muscles and massive size were considered commendable, but conditioning and symmetry were king, and then there was the posing, which was an art form. The poses of bodybuilders back in the Golden Era had flow, and were a legitimate performance rather than just flexing a few times and walking off of the stage.

Let’s break down some of the most iconic poses in bodybuilding history.

What is the Golden Era?

The Golden Era refers to a time in bodybuilding around the late 60s through the 80s, from when Arnold Schwarzenegger dominated the stage, up until about Dorian Yates reign as champion. The bodybuilders would train for hours a day, except Mike Mentzer who popularized the HIT method, of shorter, more intense workouts.

The physiques of the Golden Era were much more attainable than the massive forms we see in professional bodybuilding today, as they were less focused on putting as much muscle mass as possible. Instead, there was an emphasis on symmetry and conditioning, making sure there were no muscle imbalances or guys that were too watery. However, the conditioning was not nearly as intense as it is today, where bodybuilders come in at such low body fat levels. Bad genetics or not, the bodybuilders in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, were also less reliant on anabolic steroids than many of the physiques today, and relied more on classic hard work, diet, and dedication.

Nowadays the physical forms of the pros seem so far out of reach for the average Joe. But physique isn’t the only thing that’s seen a major overhaul, it’s also the posing routines.

What are Bodybuilding Poses?

Posing is the main part of the competition, and the best way to showcase a physique. Each competition will have a mandatory posing round, then the individual routine, which is where the athletes will have to pose to music of their choice.

As stated above, there are certain mandatory poses that are involved at every bodybuilding competition, from local shows to the Mr. Olympia. They are as follows:

  • Front Double Bicep
  • Front Lat Spread
  • Side Chest
  • Side Tricep
  • Back Double Bicep
  • Back Lat Spread
  • Favorite Most Muscular
  • Favorite Classic Physique Pose (Classic Physique Division only, not for open division)

Then comes the routines, which is almost like a freestyle posing session, and this is the time to really showcase your physique. A great physique can be trumped by a bad posing routine. Stiff transitions from one pose to another, or an awkward approach to certain poses can ruin the appearance of a physique. As Arnold Schwarzenegger said in the documentary Pumping Iron, “if you don’t have it, don’t hit it”, meaning if a certain pose will not look right for you, then do not use that pose.

The bodybuilders these days are all well versed in a lot of different poses, but there’s just something about the poses of the classic bodybuilders in their heyday that stands out above all. You don’t see the vacuum or the victory pose all that often these days and because of that it has an iconic stature.

Most Iconic Poses of All Time

Let’s take a look at some of the top poses by some of the greatest old school bodybuilders.

Frank Zane

Though he was not the biggest one on the stage, Frank Zane was known for his perfect aesthetics and symmetry. There’s no denying Zane’s vacuum pose was among one of the best the sport has seen. It demonstrated that he had excellent core control, and gave the illusion of a smaller waist which made body parts such as the legs and lats pop, really putting an emphasis on his v-taper. His vacuum pose was certainly his go to move and likely what brought him such success.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

You can’t mention the classic bodybuilding poses without putting Schwarzenegger on the list. Much like Frank Zane, Arnold was a master of the vacuum pose but he also brought a flare with the mantis pose. This is another pose that you do not see utilized nearly as much by bodybuilders today, but it accentuated the arms, showing off the bicep of one arm and the tricep of the other. The mantis pose also shows the tie in of the delts to the arms, and lastly shows off the small size of the waist.

Another iconic pose that we had to throw in the list is Arnold’s 3/4 turn, or the “twisted double biceps”. Perhaps you recognize it from the statue in Columbus, Ohio, or you have seen it from the trophies given out at the Arnold Classic, but this is one of Arnold’s most iconic poses. It highlights the calf muscles and the hamstrings, but also shows off the entire back, and the shoulder tie ins to the arms. It is an unmistakable pose.

Sergio Oliva

Sergio Oliva was a true bodybuilding phenomenon at the height of his powers, and now his son, Sergio Oliva Jr. is a world class competitor as well. Sergio’s arms and legs were massive yet he had a slim waist that brought everything together. His physique is highlighted in his signature victory pose that no other bodybuilder can do quite the same, except maybe his own son. The pose as a whole really shows off the lats, arms, midsection, legs, and forearms, so do not forget to make sure those are all proportionate and nothing is lacking.

What Changed?

Compared to posing of bodybuilders today, there is not as much of an artistic flow to the routines as there was back in the day. But what changed? Well, quite honestly the biggest thing that has changed is the size of the bodybuilders you see on stage. After Dorian Yates’ reign as champion, there was an emphasis on size, so now you see bodybuilders such as Big Ramy weighing around 300 lbs on stage. Bodybuilders of the Golden Era did not come anywhere near that.

With the emphasis on size came less focus on mobility and flexibility. Sure, you saw Ronnie Coleman doing splits on stage, but that was a rarity. Nowadays, there is very stiff posing on stage, and flexibility and mobility are not shown off as much.

Bodybuilding Poses Wrap Up

Overall, a great physique only goes so far in the bodybuilding world, and good posing is what really shows off all of that hard work.

What’s on your list of best poses? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to follow Generation Iron on Facebook and Twitter.

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I work mainly in content writing, focusing my free time on bodybuilding and strength sports. I was introduced to fitness in high school and after watching Generation Iron movies. I love to train. I have competed multiple times, even winning a junior title in classic physique. I have a bachelor's in criminal justice and business obtained through Alvernia University. When I am not focused on work or training, I enjoy watching films or reading about anything and everything.