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Thread: Athletes of the 50's vs. Today page

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    robbie1512's Avatar
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    Athletes of the 50's vs. Today

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    I wasn't sure where to post this, but this question has been in my head for the last couple of days. why is there such a big physical difference between athletes in the 30's, 40's, 50's compared to today? The example I will use is Olympic Sprinters. Decades ago, sprinters were relatively thin and built like soccer players, but now they are shredded with muscularity to rival many bodybuilders & power to rival many strength trainers. Is it all down to better knowledge regarding nutrition & training now? Is it due to the average person being generally taller, and larger built than back then? Or is there something else at work here?

    I really want to know because I am thinking about including more sprinting into my weekly routine as I really enjoy it (even though I currently SUCK) and I have read a lot about sprinting actually helping muscle development while burning fat...

    I am considering:
    Monday - Cleans, Front Squat, Bench, Dips
    Tuesday - Sprints 5 x 50m, 1 x 100m
    Wed - Rest
    Thurs - Deads, Back Squat, Rows, Chins
    Friday - Sprints 5 x 50, 3 x 100m

    Any comments would be great

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    Alex Good's Avatar
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    From what I've seen you have it backwards. Athletes are becoming more specialized, like the anorexic-looking marathoner and the super big but incredibly slow powerlifter.
    If you go back to the 1950s, yeah you see some guys who focus mostly on being big and others on running, but alot of them were better all around athletes. Think crossfit versus marathons or weightlifting.
    In all of the universe there is only one person with your exact charateristics. Just like there is only one person with everybody else's characteristics. Effectively, your uniqueness makes you pretty average.

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    robbie1512's Avatar
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    Yeah I see your point, especially with the scary state that some of the marathoners are in. But does that explain why sprinters are the hulking behemoths that they are today, whereas they were actually quite lean with a lower amount of lean mass in the mid 1900's? Ie, are they so big now because they only weight train & sprint, whereas before they were all round athletes and probably did some endurance training too?

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    Dave_o's Avatar
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    Or is there something else at work here?

    AAS.
    Larger talent pool.
    Advances in sports science and nutrition.
    More full time professionals in the sport.
    Adoption of resistance training.

    Then again, here's Georg Hakenschimidt in around 1902 when he was the euro greco roman wrestling champion.
    5'9" and 218 lbs, strong as an ox and an could perform a forward somersault holding a pair of 50lb dumbbells.
    He predates your earliest date by 30 years. Hardly skinny is he?
    Its all about the training.


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    Yes this is exactly why I wondered. Examples like yours and Eugene Sandow prove that they had the knowledge of how to become very muscular and ripped long before protein powders etc etc. This then leads on however, if they knew how to get massive gains in size, power & strength and they knew the carry over the power to weight ration had to speed, why were the sprinters not muscular? See where this question comes into play?

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    Dave_o's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by robbie1512 View Post
    Yes this is exactly why I wondered. Examples like yours and Eugene Sandow prove that they had the knowledge of how to become very muscular and ripped long before protein powders etc etc. This then leads on however, if they knew how to get massive gains in size, power & strength and they knew the carry over the power to weight ration had to speed, why were the sprinters not muscular? See where this question comes into play?

    Remember, the athlete is under the tutelage of the trainer, and 'back in the day' strength training was seen the purview of circus strongmen by athletic coaches. What benefit could a runner possibly derive from barbell squats? Hack and his ilk knew better. Inevitably the entire athletic community began to identify the correlation between strength and athletic performance as the old 'muscle bound' myth went out the window.

    Today you'd be hard pressed to find any professional athlete ( dart players aside..) who don't spend hours in the of season busting their arse's in the gym at least doing some plyometric work.


    Remember that movie Chariots of fire?
    One of the main characters was Eric Liddell. He won gold at the 1924 Olympics in the 400m. He was also a rugby international.
    Not exactly the physique that comes to mind when I think rugby, but goes to show there was a time when being fast on your feet was as important as being a man mountain.


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    Weight training was generally avoided until the 1970s. When I was a kid growing up in the 60s, the conventional wisdom was that weight-lifting with any intensity would make you "musclebound." Being "musclebound" was a prescription for disaster for any athlete, they told us, even football players and the like.

    The other elements: A) Low protein intake makes it hard to gain muscle, and very few people were eating massive amounts of protein back then; B) Sprinters probably liked to remain light in the upper body with the idea that that would make it easier to move faster; C) The very widespread use of anabolic steroids, almost unheard of outside of bodybuilding until the 1970s; D) A generally smaller population, since most people were undernourished owing to the expense of food (look at figures on average height, for example); E) When people did do weight training, they did not push it to maximum intensity (training to failure), since that was not commonly understood to produce good results.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave_o View Post
    Its all about the training.
    I'm starting to think more along that line. I know around here the saying that it's 80% diet gets a lot of air time, but I think for athletes and those who train intensely and often, the training makes more of a difference.

    As Jack Lalanne said : "You can eat perfectly but if you don't exercise, you cannot get by. There are so many health food nuts out there that eat nothing but natural foods but they don't exercise and they look terrible. Then there are other people who exercise like a son-of-a-gun but eat a lot of junk. They look pretty good because the exercise is king. Nutrition is queen. Put them together and you've got a kingdom!"

    Also, there's anecdotal evidence: there are many athletes that eat pure crap and still perform and look awesome. They may have long-term health issues if they continue to eat crap of course.
    Last edited by yodiewan; 07-13-2011 at 12:48 PM.

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    When I was a kid I wanted to lift like Paul Anderson and look like, believe it or not, Gene Kelly. Definitely not look like Paul Anderson.

    Compare Mighty Paul to newer lifters like the Arnold. No comparison.

    By the way, Paul was a fairly fast guy on the track too, even though he looked like a couch potato candidate for the biggest loser.
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    PatrickF's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by robbie1512 View Post
    The example I will use is Olympic Sprinters. Decades ago, sprinters were relatively thin and built like soccer players, but now they are shredded with muscularity to rival many bodybuilders & power to rival many strength trainers.
    Pick a handful of successful sprinters of the 80s or 90s and look them up in List of doping cases in athletics - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - that might be part of the answer you are looking for.

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