Mike O’Hearn talks with iconic golden era bodybuilder Steve Davis about training lessons learned from over 50 years of experience and hindsight.

Steve Davis is a bodybuilding legend – best known for his legendary physique transformation. Davis went from a powerfully strong 285 pound weightlifter into a 200 pound champion bodybuilder. Training alongside the Golden Era greats such as Vince Gironda, Frank Zane, and Arnold Schwarzenegger – Davis is a wealth of history and knowledge for bodybuilding superfans. That’s why on this week’s episode of Generation Iron and Barbend’s The Mike O’Hearn Show, special guest Steve Davis reflects on 50 years of bodybuilding and the biggest lessons he’s learned.

To say Mike O’Hearn was excited for this week’s special guest is an understatement. Steve Davis is a bodybuilding legend from an era that inspired O’Hearn himself to become a bodybuilder. So being able to sit down with a living legend and pick his brain about all things weightlifting, nutrition, and fitness was a truly special opportunity.

The Golden Era of bodybuilding as a very different beast than the well worn systems and media in the sport we have today. Information on how to build up muscle was far less prevalent – and many of the Golden Era icons learned through trial and error – and of course pushing each other to new levels.

Steve Davis was one such bodybuilder. A man who started with a love of weightlifting and really didn’t know the “rules” of how to properly lift for bodybuilding. For example, he claims to have never done a deadlift during his prime bodybuilding years. He had no clue it was considered a “core requirement” of bodybuilding basics. Despite this, he became an aesthetic marvel and eventually became the Mr. World champion.

That’s why the most important aspect of this week’s episode was breaking down the bodybuilding tactics from Steve Davis’ era, what he learned to do different with decades of hindsight, and what things changed for the worse as information (and misinformation) became more prevalent int he sport. Let’s jump into it.

“Never did a deadlift in my life.”

– Steve Davis

Steve Davis wishes he trained less during his prime years of bodybuilding

During the conversation with Steve Davis, Mike O’Hearn asked a key question – if you could go back, what would you change about your bodybuilding strategy? Davis was quick to answer with a key lesson he’s learned throughout decades of weightlifting. Steve Davis wishes he trained less.

That might sound like a shocking statement. But as he breaks it down he reveals a vital strategy that should be listed to by all aspiring bodybuilders today.

Steve Davis explains how many Golden Era bodybuilders believed “more is better” when it came to bodybuilder. The more time you spend in the gym, the more results. The more steak you eat during the offseason, the more bulk and eventual muscle you could build. Davis himself would do 30 sets three times per week.

“It’s the idea to crush the muscle, feed the muscle, let it rest,” Steve Davis states in the conversation. But the problem was – the rest part was not being properly focused on. When you are trying to do too many sets and too many reps per day – there’s no way a night’s rest was enough time to recover. Davis believes that if he trained less, focused on heavier weight, and rested more – he would have been able to put on even more size and become more dangerous as a competitor.

Steve Davis describes bodybuilding like lighting a match. The most important thing is maintaining intensity – not how many sets you do. When you light a match – the most powerful moment is that first spark. You want to harness that spark instead of letting it burn slowly and have it fizzle out.

Reflecting on ways bodybuilding has changed for the worse

Steve Davis is truly appreciative at how much bodybuilding and fitness science has improved over the years. How much more mainstream it has become. And how much more information athletes can get today. It’s through those changes and his own personal experience that he learned how to train less to gain more.

However, he is also aware that some of these changes have led to negative shifts in the sport as well. Steve Davis and Mike O’Hearn touch on the fact that years of history, rules, and systems embedded into the sport might have led to close-minded thinking. Bodybuilders are too busy trying to lift “the right way” that they don’t listen to their body, push limits, or think outside the box.

For example, Mike O’Hearn points out how many online experts warn against lifting too heavy – due to risk of injuring joints that will hurt in later age. But O’Hearn believes that lifting heavy weight (with smart strategy) is key towards strengthening joints and ensuring you battle decay as you age. Medical professionals have even pointed out that weightlifting, not just cardio, is vital for over-the-hill individuals to prevent joint issues that might end you up in a walker at older age.

Steve Davis agrees, and is shocked to hear that certain heavy movements are seen as “dangerous” in modern society. He thinks that this way of thinking has led to less originality in bodybuilders and their physiques. You used to be able to look at a sillhouette and know exactly which bodybuilder you were staring at. Today, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.

Steve Davis also thinks this is true about posing. With less importance put on posing and no scoring round – most bodybuilders are encouraged to simply hit the mandatories and move on. Davis is shocked that even the best in the world – Mr. Olympia champions – have lackluster posing routines.

“Even the Mr. Olympias pose like shit.”

– Steve Davis

Wrap Up

Steve Davis wraps up the conversation by bringing up the myth of Milo. In the myth, Milo would cary a calf up a mountain every day. Each day, the calf would grow older and eventually larger in size. But he kept carrying the cow up every day. As the cow grew larger, so did Milo.

That, in essence, is true bodybuilding. It’s progressive training – and the key element that all bodybuilders should fall in love with if they want to truly live the lifestyle. Davis even spent his masters degree thesis on how progressive training can be used to improve the image of mentally abused children. While he never completed his masters program – it’s a core attitude he still believes in today.

You can watch Mike O’Hearn’s full conversation with Golden Era legend Steve Davis in our latest episode of The Mike O’Hearn Show above. Make sure to check out brand new episodes every Friday only on the Generation Iron Fitness Network or wherever podcasts are downloaded.

Derek Dufour has been managing all digital operations on the Generation Iron Network for over six years. He currently manages a team of editors, writers, and designers to provide up-to-date content across the GI Network.