Jerry Brainum dishes out the straight facts comparing old school vs new school bodybuilding tactics throughout the generations.

Technically, bodybuilding has existed as a lifestyle endeavor since the 19th century. So when speaking of old school bodybuilding – it can be referencing various eras in the history of the both the sport and the culture as a whole. Typically, when people discuss old school bodybuilding, they are referencing 60s and 70s bodybuilding. New school, or modern bodybuilding, focuses on the current era. This of course is frequently changing – but can today be labeled as anything post 2000. But what are the actual differences in bodybuilding over the years? In our latest episode of Straight Facts, Jerry Brainum compares old school to new school bodybuilding – tracing its evolution throughout the years.

Understanding of fitness science and overall technology with each passing year has significantly changed fitness as a whole. So of course, this has changed how professional bodybuilding works as well. Jerry Brainum attempts to trace the entire evolution of the sport and the tactics behind building muscle. Ranging from the early 1900s, through the Golden Era of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and into the modern era seemingly defined by social media and increased drug use.

What is the biggest difference between old school and new school bodybuilding?

There is no definitive answer to this question – and the definition of old school and new school will be different for each person. For Jerry Brainum, there is one key difference between these generalized definitions of bodybuilding eras. This comes down to how many times a week a body part is trained. It also comes down to volume and reps.

In the old school days, bodybuilders eventually settled on the standard of training a muscle group twice per week. It was also more common for workouts to consist of heavy volume and lower reps. In modern bodybuilding, it has become standard to train each muscle group once per week. To make up for the lack of a second day, a typical workout session now consists of enough exercises for what was once two days of work.

Modern bodybuilding has also largely moved towards lower volume and higher rep amounts – often training to failure. Of course, this is not solely done by all bodybuilders (there are some like Branch Warren or Guy Cisternino who go more old school hardcore even to this day). But overall, lower volume and higher reps seem to be the more popular standard in new school bodybuilding.

Free Weights Vs Machines

Another big difference between old school and new school bodybuilding is the equipment. Jerry Brainum explains that in older eras of the sport, it was much more common to focus on free weight exercises. This, of course, has led to some to believe that machine exercises are inferior to the old school method.

While there are pros and cons to both – the real reason old school bodybuilders did less machines is because there were far less machines in existence. The technology behind exercise machines has increased rapidly. It’s only natural for more equipment to be used today in comparison to yesteryear.

The question about drug use in bodybuilding across the decades

Another major difference between bodybuilding today and the old school eras is drug use. It’s been commonly assumed that bodybuilders today take more drugs than those in the Golden Era and earlier. Jerry Brainum seems to agree with this sentiment. While there are no deep studies done comparing the two – anecdotally, many athletes and experts, including Brainum, find that the doses are higher and the drugs more powerful.

Not only that, but brand new drugs have entered the arena in modern bodybuilding. Insulin was a drug unused in bodybuilding until the 90s. Milos Sarcev famously claims to have introduced it to the sport. There was also the introduction of SARMs (and their legally grey status) into bodybuilding as well.

In addition to this, technology makes this information easier to get, black markets easier to engage with, and drug distribution that much more plentiful. Jerry Brainum also makes a point to mention site enhancement oils. While these aren’t drugs in a traditional sense – they are used to “fill in” lagging small muscles. This probably didn’t enter pro bodybuilding until the late 70s.

Wrap up

Jerry Brainum spends a full 30 minutes breaking down the details between old school and new school bodybuilding. In fact, he chronicles the evolution of bodybuilding tactics across each decade – providing a quick history lesson on how we got to where we are today. Brainum touches upon training tactics, nutrition plans, drug regimens, and even how technology evolved and affected the sport. It’s a worth while listen for anyone interested in bodybuilding history. You can watch his full comments in our latest Straight Facts episode above.

Derek Dufour
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.