The 1990s are correctly regarded as the second golden era of bodybuilding after the mid-’70s. It was the generation that came of age idolizing Schwarzenegger and memorizing Pumping Iron, and Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman, Flex Wheeler and a dozen other legends took physiques to new standards of size and striations. Curiously, though, backs, legs and arms swelled to new dimensions, but chests lagged behind. In fact, the quintet on our list would surely fare the worst in a contest against the other four decades. In fairness, we relegated Haney to the ’80s and Coleman to the 2000s, although both won Sandows in the ’90s.
Still, the definitive ’90s bodybuilder, Dorian Yates, did not possess a particularly great chest, and there’s no disputing that pecs did not participate in the quantum leap forward of other body parts in these years of baggy pants and Otomix shoes. Perhaps it had more to do with genetic strengths, but we can also see these chest training changes taking form in the ’90s:
- PLATE-LOADED MACHINES Hammer Strength and similar pressing machines that more closely resembled free weights grew in popularity.
- MECHANICAL FLYES Seated flye machines and more adjustable pec decks began appearing in gyms.
- LOWER VOLUME Following Yates’ lead, many bodybuilders increased intensity but reduced workout volume.
- LOWER FREQUENCY Again following Yates’ lead, during the late ’90s, training body parts just once per week grew in popularity. Typically, this meant chest got its own workout.
5. FLEX WHEELER: This winner of 16 pro shows and three-time Olympia runner-up (’93, ’98, ’99) was never noted for his chest, but his, like Nubret’s, seemed to be chiseled from marble, adding to his aura of invincibility (against everyone but Yates) in the front shots. His pec training favored a balance of machines and free weightsfor moderate reps.
4. PAVOL JABLONICKY: The Czechoslovakian Jablonicky was not the thickest in every lineup, his pecs were especially tall, wide and striated and helped propel him to his first pro victory in 1999.
3. JEAN-PIERRE FUX: This Swiss behemoth, who placed seventh in the 1997 Mr. O, didn’t have the most symmetrical chest, as it sloped to the outer and lower regions, but it was nearly impossible to outchest him, whether he was standing semirelaxed or crunching a crab shot.
2. KEVIN LEVRONE: In contrast to the extra-wide Fux, this winner of 20 pro shows and four-time Olympia runner-up (’92, ’95, ’00, ’02) sported pecs that were narrow and not noted for their density, but they won posedowns nonetheless because they were symmetrical from top to bottom, sported the deepest side divots of his era and were perpetually splintered in his trademark handsin- front most-muscular.
1. MARKUS RUHL: You may be surprised to find the German Rühl atop this decade. After all, he competed in only six pro shows in the ’90s, never placing higher than fourth, but he entered 26 and racked up two wins the next decade. In more recent years, a center tear that separated and deflated his pecs marred his chest, though. So let’s return to that fourth place at the 1999 Night Of Champions, which launched Rühl-mania when he was 27 and 270 pounds. Much of the furor was about his chest. It wasn’t thick enough to eclipse the pecs of Olympia contenders, but it was the highest seen since Columbu’s and so striated it resembled two mounds of perfectly aligned soda straws. Even with his reliance on machines for pressing, Rühl crafted a chest that set the density standard for the next decade.