The Golden Age
Muscle historians and fans refer to the 1960s and ’70s as the golden age of bodybuilding. It was the era of Arnold, bodybuilding’s all-time most charismatic and visible champion, and Pumping Iron, the docudrama that introduced muscle mass to the masses. The physiques were awe inspiring yet conceivably attainable, and as with Muscle Beach before it, men trained to be part of a brotherhood—not for a purse. But mostly it was a helluva fun time to be alive.
Muscle Beach had a resurrection of sorts in the Venice Beach “pit,” a small, city-run club overlooking the Pacific where bodybuilders could train outdoors again. While the serious training was still done a few blocks away at Gold’s, the pit allowed the bodybuilders to show off for crowds and work on their suntans. “They would save one for the sun,” says Howard. “After their main workout, they’d go out and do a little extra work at the pit, showboat a little, and have fun with the public.” The lifters particularly enjoyed attention from the ladies. “We didn’t really need pickup lines,” says Ferrigno. “The women felt an instant attraction—it was like having a bear for a boyfriend. They felt protected and safe with us.”
Though L.A. today is notorious for its gridlock traffic, that wasn’t so in the 1970s. “It was easy to get around,” says Drasin, and even beachfront property wasn’t out of a young man’s price range. “I paid $225 a month for two bedrooms, two baths, and a sundeck,” he recalls. “That’s probably $2,000 today.” Bodybuilding food wasn’t hard to come by, either. The men had their fill at places like Zucky’s Deli and German’s, “where you could get a seven-egg omelet with ham and cheese for a buck,” says Drasin. Afterward, they would drive to the House of Pies for dessert. And if you think they needed a lot of cardio to burn it off, think again. “We used to get lean by using higher repetitions and a strict diet,” says Howard. “If you were doing eight to 10 reps normally, you switched to 14 to 18 to get lean and hard.”
Muscle Goes Mainstream
Ultimately, the golden age outgrew itself. The fame that Pumping Iron, the Weider magazines, and Arnold Schwarzenegger brought to the area led to a mass influx of would-be bodybuilders and businessmen looking to capitalize on the craze. “All the guys who had made bodybuilding what it was had gotten older and moved on,” says Drasin. “New personalities began coming in. The training changed—there were more steroids. And there started to be other places to train, too. It wasn’t only in California anymore.”