Youth vs Prime: Did Ronnie Coleman Push His Physique Too Far?

Which version of Ronnie Coleman was superior?

The old adage youth is wasted on the young never truly hits home when you’re in your prime. You tend to believe that you’re always going to feel great, be able to move gracefully and perform at the highest levels of your athletic capacity. Then time creeps forward. The abilities you once possessed slowly start to slip away. Your body begins to change and break down after years of training. Your physique changes and there’s little you can do about it. For a bodybuilder that truth is all too real.

Let’s face it, a bodybuilder at the beginning of their career doesn’t have all the tools necessary to get to the top of the game. In a way, the adage works in reverse as a bodybuilder’s muscles must mature in order to reach their maximum capacity. But there is certainly a midpoint that is reached, a time in which a bodybuilder reaches the peak physique of their life, a moment in time where they’ve never been better and that becoming worse is just right around the corner.

So what are you to do when you reach such a pinnacle moment? For Ronnie Coleman, it meant pushing the limits of what we thought the human body was capable of.

Indeed there was a time where Ronnie Coleman looked to be in the most incredible shape of his career. It’s just an opinion, but before Ronnie Coleman became the mass monster that the bodybuilding world praised, he was a competitor with a more athletic frame that in years past would have been considered one of the greats. It begs the question: should Ronnie Coleman have pushed himself to become a mass monster or was he better off with his leaner physique?

Obviously an argument can be made for the mass monster version of Coleman. Being a massive figure on stage was one of the reasons for his back to back Olympia victories. It’s the reason people started calling Ronnie Coleman “The King”, a fact that is undeniable. But when we consider the toll it took to get his body to the heights of mass, you can’t help but wonder if a different road would have been more beneficial to his current health. For those who want a more in depth exploration of Ronnie’s sacrifice for greatness – check out our documentary Ronnie Coleman: The King. Available now on digital!


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I think inquiring minds out there want to know, I know almost the exact dates these 2 photos were taken. The photo on the left was taken around October 28, 1991. It was the World Amateur Championships held in Katowice Poland, the contest was formerly known as The Mr. Universe contest. The photo on the right was taken September 28, 2003. The contest was the Russian Grand Prix held in Moscow Russia. Of course I’m kinda guessing on the exact date but if some of you Bodubuilding historians happen to find the exact dates that would be pretty cool. Now for the approximate weights. The photo on the left came via weigh in the day before and I weighed about 95 kilos which is about 209 pounds. The photo on the right I was 286 the week before which was the week of the Olympia. I’m guessing I put on at least 5 pounds of water from the flight to Russia from the USA. So that would make me around 290 pounds. So we’re looking at an approximate 80 pounds of muscle gain in a matter of 12 years. Of course most of you guys know how hard I trained over the years and the price I’ve had to pay, no regrets though.

A post shared by Ronnie Coleman (@ronniecoleman8) on

Here we see a comparison pic of Ronnie Coleman’s early physique vs his prime mass monster physique – the first showcases an immense shape and condition while at the same time having incredible musculature. Whose to say this version of Coleman couldn’t have been an eight time Olympia champion. Rather than going with what was expected (massive muscle on an incomparable scale), could Ronnie Coleman remain at this size and still be the dominant force that the bodybuilding world grew to revere?

Obviously it’s a question that we’ll never get an answer to. But even with that in mind, what a person prefers all has to do with their perspective. There are some bodybuilders who would prefer to have a physique like the Ronnie Coleman of yesteryear, the man who was still incredibly muscular and athletic while at the same time maintaining a tiny waist and proportionate features. There are other bodybuilders who will say the opposite, that they wish to be a hulking and imposing figure, a picture of uncanny strength and power that Ronnie Coleman was in his prime.

It can’t be denied that the second image of “The King” is extremely impressive to say the least. He simply didn’t look like anyone else who stepped on stage. He carved out his own little world when compared to his compatriots and simply didn’t look human. That in itself is something to be impressed about. Yet the fact remains that because of the intense training that pushed him to this monstrous level, the results after the fact were anything but ideal.

Youth vs Prime: which version of Ronnie Coleman do you prefer? For more news and updates, follow Generation Iron on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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Jacob Ladon is a staff writer and former amateur bodybuilder. He has been passionate about bodybuilding since he was 15 years old and discovered the joys of training in the gym. He reports and comments on all bodybuilding related matters.