How did people achieve the bodies portrayed in Greek Statues without modern knowledge of health and fitness?


Forum Staff
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Well yes, we should wonder overall why obesity is so common nowadays than why they were so well fit in the past. First of all a good part of the population ate less than today, so there was less fat in their bodies. Only this makes a person more fit ...


Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
The ancients were also aware that physical labor was responsible for increasing muscle mass, and they had weight-training in their gyms.

Seneca mentions it in a letter where he gripes about the noise associated with city-living.

"My dear Lucilius,

If you want to study, quiet is not nearly as necessary as you might think. Here I am, surrounded by all kinds of noise (my lodgings overlook a bath-house). Conjure up in your imagination all the sounds that make one hate one's ears. I hear the grunts of musclemen exercising and jerking those heavy weights around; they are working hard, or pretending to. I hear their sharp hissing when they release their pent breath. If there happens to be a lazy fellow content with a simple massage I hear the slap of hand on shoulder; you can tell whether it's hitting a flat or a hollow. If a ball-player comes up and starts calling out his score, I'm done for. Add to this the racket of a cocky bastard, a thief caught in the act, and a fellow who likes the sound of his own voice in the bath, plus those who plunge into the pool with a huge splash of water. Besides those who just have loud voices, imagine the skinny armpit-hair plucker whose cries are shrill so as to draw people's attention and never stop except when he's doing his job and making someone else shriek for him. Now add the mingled cries of the drink peddler and the sellers of sausages, pastries, and hot fare, each hawking his own wares with his own particular peal.."
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Ad Honorem
Oct 2016
Hunter-Gatherers often have very good physiques. It just comes from not eating too much, and having an active lifestyle.

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I am not sure what an early-agriculturalist (ancient greek) physique looked like, and I'm sure the statues are idealized portrayals, but even so, it may not have been as far off the mark as some may think.
Goodness ! Could you not find a better example ? Those PRISONERS might have been have been starving for who knows how long . And even if not, I dread to think the type of food they where given.

But this could be on the right track. Some Aboriginal men I know have a similar look today, and its inherited, not from working out . It does relate to a hunter lifestyle and the specific trait that made humans such good hunters was their ability in endurance . Many animals are initially faster, but they cant keep it up, a good tracker can run / jog all day ...

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Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
Not so sure the statues are all idealized portraits. The ancients liked to use plaster casts from what I've understood - one of my professors told me that they found an actual cast-mold in Southern Italy only a few years ago. Sure, maybe the abs were put there afterwards but anyway...

I think those guys look a bit thin - although perhaps not unhelathily so.
Wow, I have been mulling this idea in my head recently. Those Greek statues are so perfect that I did surmise that plaster casts might have been used, at least to get prototype, so this finding of a cast-mould is, well, fascinating. I was thinking that they may have been taken of carefully-chosen young slaves, who would have no say in whether the casts were taken of their own bodies.

As regards the perfection of the bodies, surely it is obvious that youth itself, given a reasonably clean environment, good (organic) food, ample activity in fresh air, with no pollution, plus the luck of good genes, can produce physiques that we judge to be "perfectly" proportioned. Anyway, it's not hard to find images of healthy and fit modern young men, if you want to use Google.