Most of the athletes we watch compete in their sports of choice do well as they progress into their 30s. The late 20s to mid-30s is considered their “prime.” Any player or competitor that is still competing at a high level at 40 years of age is often considered a marvel.
That doesn’t seem to be the case for bodybuilding in recent years. Many competitors are competing on big stages well into their 40’s. For evidence to support this, look no further than the 2020 Arnold Classic lineup. Five of the 14 athletes that will be in Columbus on March 7 are 40 or older. The oldest man, Dexter Jackson, is now 50 years old and placed 4th at the 2019 Mr. Olympia.
This wasn’t always the case. Outside of a rare exception like Albert Beckles, champions of past generations were well into retirement by 40. Arnold Schwarzenegger retired from competition the first time in 1975 at the ripe age of 28. When he came out of retirement in 1980 for the Olympia, he was 33 years old and many experts at the time felt he would be too old to hang with the new crop of champions. He won that competition, by the way.
Lee Haney won his 8th and final Olympia and retired at 31. Dorian Yates had to retire due to injuries from training, but he was 36 when he hung his trunks up. For perspective, 2019 Mr. Olympia Brandon Curry was 36 years old when he won the title for the first time. 2018 winner Shawn Rhoden was 43 when he won over seven-time champion Phil Heath, who was 38 at that time. So what is it that is allowing these present athletes to hang around so long and fare so well? Here are a few reasons why this could be the case.
Advances in Nutrition
The champions of the Golden Era and even after based their nutrition on their own knowledge and created their own diets for the most part. There was an occasional exception to that rule but for the most part, coaches and nutritionists weren’t prominent. Nowadays almost every competitor has some form of coach or “guru” that makes their careers knowing more about the food we eat and what macro combinations yield the best results.
Along with those important figures, there have been a lot of advances in science and we know more about what we eat and how we should than ever before. More research about nutrition is being revealed every day and there is a lot more to know than there was before. That goes a long way in helping these competitors recover and grow or get leaner if it’s close to contest day.
Advances in Training
Arnold Schwarzenegger was famous for his double-split training as contest time approached. He trained every muscle group three times a week over six days. This meant he trained twice a day, once in the morning and again in the late afternoon. He only took Sunday off.
Now bodybuilders rarely train any major muscle group more than once a week. If they do, it’s considered a weak area that needs improvement so they devote more attention to it. They focus more on recovering and training the muscle from different angles when they do work in the gym.
There is also the development of machines. In the past, bodybuilders used a lot more free weight exercises than the new generation and there were very few machines around. Those that were available were very basic at best.
The machines now allow physique athletes to train a specific muscle from certain angles. They also have fixed motions so there is little need for isolation. The result is better training for the muscles and decreased chances of injury. That equals more longevity and more opportunities to compete at a high level.
Better Career Options
Back in the 1960s, 70s, and even the 80s, there were limited opportunities for bodybuilders to compete and make a living. Unless you were Mr. Olympia or a top tier competitor, eventually you would have to get a job to support your family. That meant you’d have to devote more time to that career and bodybuilding would move into your past.
Thanks to sponsorships, social media, YouTube, and other avenues, bodybuilders can make a living do what they want to do that is still a part of the sport. Because of that, there is more incentive to compete in contests to keep their names relevant. While not everyone benefits from this, there is a greater chance to fare well in bodybuilding than ever before.
It’s no secret that some bodybuilders use a more controversial form of “supplementation” to develop their physiques, but sports nutrition products like protein powders, creatine, preworkout drinks, and others have also come a long way thanks to advances in research and product development. [Editor’s Note: BarBend does not condone or support the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport. In many jurisdictions, competition federations, and countries, these substances are prohibited by regulation and/or law.]
There are supplements to prepare athletes for training, improve recovery, lose fat, help with quality of sleep, and maximize focus. They do play a role in why competitive bodybuilders are preparing for the stage when they are north of 40.
Thanks to all of the advances previously mentioned, physique athletes across all divisions are holding their own and even beating opponents that are much younger. All of these factors taken into consideration, you can see why guys like Dexter Jackson, Roelly Winklaar, Victor Martinez, and Cedric McMillan are still operating at a high level in spite of having miles on their muscles.
Featured Image: Instagram/mrolympia08