This excerpt is from 1959 Mr. Universe winner Bruce Randall’s book The Barbell Way to Physical Fitness (1970), an excellent hardcover volume that explains the how and why of weight training for physical fitness for everyone from athletes to business executives to kids, also including some information on good nutrition and healthy living, and covering various exercises from the most basic beginner level to somewhat more advanced methods. The text below is the fourteenth chapter of Randall’s book, and it addresses the concept of training specifically for aesthetic, cosmetic physique development.
Bruce Randall was certainly well experienced in changing his physique. Before he ever competed in physique contests, he had been a strongman or powerlifter, eating copious amounts of food every day for the sake of building sheer strength and bulk. In the process he reached a decidedly non-lean body weight of more than 400 lbs!
In 1955, Randall switched his focus to conditioning, and in less than a year, he trained down to a lean state and started entering physique competitions in 1956 at a body weight that ranged from a little under to a little over 200 lbs. Yes, he was able to drop over half of his tremendous bulk in less than a year. He was crowned NABBA Mr. Universe in 1959, and he did a great deal to promote weight training as part of a healthful lifestyle for athletes as well as the general public, including being a spokesman for Diversified Products’ “Orbatron” line of barbells with concrete-filled plastic weight discs and making public appearances at department stores around the United States.
Reference/further reading on Bruce Randall (opens in new window/tab): https://physicalculturestudy.com/2016/06/01/bruce-randall-and-the-most-amazing-transformation-in-bodybuilding/
Randall’s text below shows that the original approach to the physique development-focused facet of physical culture was one of cultured artistry, inspired by the aesthetic and philosophical beauty of classical arts and seeking to situate itself among such arts; a much different concept from the extremes that immediately come to mind for today’s general public when they hear the word “bodybuilding.”
For many years now, people have been asking, “Is physique development really a sport?” Actually it is not. It is much more. It is an art. Physique development is the molding of the body, by weight-training methods, into an aesthetic form.
The Greeks were imbued with Beauty. Beauty exists in nature, in and “through” Architecture, in and “through” Music, in and “through” Dance. Life without beauty is blind. Beauty exists in form, but form is not independent of taste.
The Greeks new Beauty as a concept, not as a mind construct, the attributes of which are distributed universally. In nature, Beauty is filtered and incomplete and any artist’s work which slavishly imitates nature sustains a further loss in translation. The proper work of art contains a different polarization of Beauty, and in the Greek sense, Beauty resides in the “through” or in the “beyond” of a work of art. We approach it but never hold it.
Both the Greeks and the eighteenth-century French were very much aware of the various derivatives of Beauty and they placed their statuary in complementary gardens. Today the same conception exists in our better kept cemeteries, but there it is overpowered by the religious motif. Our parks, which should be the public home of the arts, feature zoos or military bands—a remnant of the medieval circus.
The articulate form of Greek statuary was so successful that today we find examples in all the world’s leading museums and art institutions. And so many of the world’s greatest artists, in Hellenic tradition, have created artistic paintings of the human form that it has become a maxim, “A well-developed body is universally admired.” The universality of beauty is organized freedom at its best.
In sculpture, as in painting or in architecture, or in human relations for that matter, the measure of an art is the measure of organized freedom, the expression of the good, the true, the beautiful, and their unity; the product of humility, sensitivity, courage, faith and discipline.
Physique development has these attributes and in this sense it is an art demanding a spontaneous, creative dedication by the artist.
Physique development follows both Occidental and Oriental Art. Occidental Art is the expression of the spirit, transforming feeling into form, creating love from feeling in the form, and meaning from love. Oriental Art begins in the vaguity of the spirit, transforming form into feeling, seeking the sacred. Thus, Art is both a teacher and an adventure, leading to the illumination, clarification, and refinement of the unknown. With self-realization, in creativity, comes a spiritual awareness.
Yet every art needs a craftsman—ambition without technique is chaotic. The medium of the “physique development artist” is the human body, a creation in itself. It surpasses the inarticulate slavery of stone, wood, or clay. Being unpredictable, it is a challenge of diverse materials of bone, muscle, and flesh; the basis of control being correction and recorrection within the limits of nature. It responds plastically to beauty or practicality, to will or idea, If we were to take the physique of a man who has used artistry in his development and we cast, in bronze, an exact likeness, measure for measure, the end result would be a classic statue. If we are to do the same thing with a man who had just developed his arms and shoulders, for example, and neglected the rest of his body, the statue would be an utter monstrosity. Muscles don’t just grow in proper proportion to each other. Each limb and fiber must be nurtured and exercised and rested properly in order for them to become the composite parts of the symmetrical physique if we are to accomplish anything approaching beauty in the human body.
Development of lines and proportions needs an aesthetically artistic sense. Body frame, muscle density, and contour of a truly great physique are not simply “God-given.” True, there are certain hereditary potentials in some that are not in others. They have an advantage (For a refreshing erudite approach to somatyping, see Atlas of Men by William H. Sheldon, Gramercy Publishing Co, New York, Copyright (c) 1954, Harper & Bros.)
However, when a person begins to mold his body with the tool of progressive resistance, nourish it with proper diet, and recharge it with the spring-board of adequate rest, he starts to re-form it as though it were clay. The body responds to this threefold treatment. Fullness, symmetry, and contour are created by the mind and developed in the body.
But beauty itself is arbitrary. Some may prefer the massive proportions of a Farnese Hercules while others enjoy the lithe symmetry of Michelangelo’s David. Both statues depict the human form as art, yet each has a different appeal. The same is true in terms of flesh and bone. Composite types vary and yet each may be a work of art. Beauty spawns enjoyment as form develops taste.
For the purpose of analysis, how would we define these composite types? Artistically, the derivatives that measure a fine finished physique fall into five general categories: symmetry, shape, separation, delineation and density.
Symmetry is the even and equal development of a vertical axis and a proportional development on a diagonal axis. The calf, for instance, must be proportionally balanced by the arm. Symmetry differs from shape as a log differs from a bottle. “Shape” is dominated by the natural contours of the body. Size or bulk without proper shape adds nothing aesthetically to the body.
Separation is the quality of development which apparently disjoins one muscle group from another. In a well-separated physique, the deltoids, for instance, are cleanly and clearly separated from the arms. Delineation is a corollary to separation within the muscle group. It is the ability to “trace out” each muscle fiber in a tensed state.
By delineation the body sheds its bulky-soft appearance and takes on a chiseled look. Thus it is very possible for a physique to have very good separation and little to no delineation; or conversely, excellent delineation but no separation.
The final characteristic of the finished work of art is the density of muscular development. Separation and delineation without contour density have little beauty.
These, then, are the elements. As in every art form, elements are not enough. They must be combined—in perspective proportion having a meaningful interplay—to achieve the balance of articulation.
Yes, physique development is more than a sport. It is an art in its true sense. It is a practical art form for any of those men and women who find the seeds of creativity within themselves and who wish to bring the potential of their bodies within the highest attainment of human aesthetics.
Aesthetic form, respondent emotion, and refined taste personify pleasure and give it lasting meaning. Art instructs and illuminates. It develops understanding, empathy, and awareness. It seeks the natural alternatives and presents worthwhile innovations to the beholder.
It is the dedicated artist who “creates” the work, but it is the reflective beauty of the work which enlightens the artist. It is a rewarding Nature’s way of saying, “Thank you.”
Go to nature in all singleness of mind, accepting everything, rejecting nothing. – John Ruskin