Americans vision of strength and fitness shifted in the late 1970s. When guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno began appearing in films and on television, what we thought about strength training became about one thing: size.
The nascent world of health and fitness soon shifted focus, with sheer mass -- as opposed to all-around health and fitness -- being the arbiter of men’s health. Magazines like Muscle and Fitness, Shape Up and Strength & Health began pushing pictures of guys built like comic book heroes, their oiled muscles rippling off the page, and the supplement industry suddenly exploded with men looking for mass.
The public safety and military worlds soon fell right in line. Cops worked toward having a “physical presence,” firemen wanted to impress the soccer moms at the grocery store, and military guys wanted to look like the G.I. Joe cartoons they grew up watching.
This trend continued on through the 1980s, with the ubiquity of shredded Gold’s Gym shirts and the legendary Muscle Beach acting as the benchmark for what was and what wasn’t defined as “fitness.” We watched American Gladiators and ate our Wheaties in hopes that we too might curl those massive, octagonical dumbbells, our crewcuts and biceps glistening in the sun.
It wasn’t until the mid-to-late 90s that we began to see a shift in our values and focuses, a shift that continues to manifest today in the idea that fitness and strength doesn’t necessarily mean being the biggest and most physically imposing.
And while mass and size are fine if aesthetics are your main goal, or if you’re a naturally large human, science would argue that you don’t need size to see massive gains in strength.