The Colorado Experiment and Casey Viator

cv1Unless you are a real fan of Seventies bodybuilding, you might not readily know the name Casey Viator. A true muscular behemoth and the youngest man to win a Mr. America title at the tender age of 19, Casey's legacy is not as iconic and memorable as someone called Arnold.

But there is one photo of him that still does the rounds of muscle blogs and forums that is iconic. The photo of his seemingly astounding physical transformation in the 1973 Colorado Experiment. Despite all Casey Viator’s lifelong accomplishments in bodybuilding, the first thing everyone associates with his name is the famous, or infamous depending on what side of the fence you sit, Colorado Experiment.

Sadly Casey passed away on September 4 of 2013, due to cardiac arrest. He was only 62 years old. And his life and career have been filtering through my thoughts and reflections ever since.


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Rather than write my standard bio piece on a truly accomplished bodybuilding legend, I thought I would pen something specifically on the association that helped maintain his bodybuilding myth and legend status.

Firstly, let it be known that with or without the Colorado Experiment, Viator would have always been a bodybuilder of significance. He was a true prodigy of the iron arts and pure carbon steel seemed to flow through his veins.

Let’s have a brief look at Casey’s career as a whole.

A native of Louisiana, Casey first claim to fame was a third placing in the 1968 Mr. Louisiana. In 1969, he placed sixth in the AAU Teen Mr. America.

In 1970, he placed third in the Mr. America contest and came to the attention of Arthur Jones, maverick strength trainer, entrepreneur, hunter and founder of the Nautilus Inc. Company. Jones championed High Intensity Training and seeing the potential in Viator, helped train him in 1971 and gave him a job at Nautilus.

Casey dropped the amount of workouts from six to three times a week and changed to a higher intensity / lower volume approach favoured by Jones. In that year he won the Teenage Mr. America, Jr. Mr. America and the Mr. America competitions at the tender age of 19.

After such a prodigious feat he chose not compete again until 1978 where he finished second in the NABBA Mr. Universe medium class. From 1979 onwards he competed in IFBB events and to me his greatest moment was his posing routine at the 1982 Mr. Olympia.

Posing to the music score of the film Conan the Barbarian, Viator was poetry in motion – his physique a combination of brute strength and rough chiselled aesthetics. He placed third at the event but to me he deserved to win it hands down. Certainly he beat out Frank Zane for second.

Casey’s final competition was in the 1995 Masters Olympia where he placed only fourteenth – he was a shadow of his former self.

The Colorado Experiment

Casey was best remembered for his participation in the Colorado Experiment in 1973. The photograph below is probably one of the more famous shots of a bodybuilder around today.


What Was the Colorado Experiment?

To sum it up briefly, this was a study carried out at the Colorado State University, over a 28 day duration, to prove the effectiveness on a subject of High Intensity Training utilizing Nautilus training equipment.

Casey trained only 30 minutes a session, 3 sessions a week and his gains were recorded throughout the 28 day period. The results were spectacular to say the least.

These were the gains that were made:

  • Bodyweight at start of program: 168lb
  • Bodyweight at end of program: 213.28lb
  • Bodyweight Increase: 45.28lb
  • Body Fat Loss: 17.93lb
  • Muscular Gain: 63.21lb

Jones heralded this a huge victory for the effectiveness of his strength philosophy and Nautilus machines.

And therein lies the rub.

The Colorado Experiment was carried out to justify the copy in Nautilus advertisements.

Where Was The Colorado Experiment Flawed?

It would be easy to say, “Just about everywhere”, but for the purposes of this article lets pinpoint the main reasons.

Casey Viator was not a natural 168 pounder – two years previous he was Mr. America sitting at around 220lbs. Prior to the experiment Casey lost part of a finger in an accident. A subsequent tetanus shot created an allergic reaction in Casey that took months to recover from.

Additionally, before the experiment, he was placed on a diet of only 800 calories a day which increased his weight loss even further. During the experiment his caloric intake was increased to 5000 calories a day. You won’t find this change of nutritional conditions on Nautilus copy.

As a successful bodybuilder only 2 years previously, it is fair to assume that muscle memory had a large part to play in the proceedings. Any iron gamer can tell you how easy it is to increase muscle mass after a severe cut of bodyweight.

Also what was not mentioned was that Casey may not have adhered to the conditions of the experiment. According to strength guru, Bill Starr:

“It was called the Colorado Experiment and helped Jones move a lot of equipment. What the public didn’t know was that Casey was taking steroids the whole time without telling Arthur and he was also sneaking out to a local YMCA to train with some real weights. I know this because Casey told me so.”

However, with all that said, the Colorado Experiment was not only about flaws and failure.


Where Was The Colorado Experiment a Success?

Along with “Pumping Iron”, the successful marketing of Nautilus equipment helped shift the realm of muscle building and fitness from the peripheries into the mainstream. Now I’m an old school barbell and dumbbell man but any general movement by the populace from infrequent to regular exercise has to be heralded as a success – even if that movement is governed by the mechanization of exercise.

Despite the flaws of the Colorado Experiment, in the interests of marketing, it does not mean that the principles of High Intensity Training do not work. Many successful bodybuilders took these principles and carved themselves some pretty darned impressive careers. The names and herculean physiques of Casey Viator, Mike and Ray Mentzer, Boyer Coe, Sergio Oliva and Dorian Yates are not to be sneered at.

And even mere mortals have made HIT work for themselves.

In the “From Geek to Freak” chapter of Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Body, Tim undertook these principles in a 4 week experiment where he gained an impressive 34lbs of muscle and lost 3lbs of body fat. Tim admits he started this training after losing 6lbs due to just completing tango training but the results are impressive. Tim stipulates he only trained twice a week, ate most of his calories in protein and took no steroidal assistance. I’ve been a fan of Tim’s for a few years now and I believe his findings. If you want to find out more you can buy his book by clicking here.


In conclusion then, you could say that Casey Viator’s main claim was a brutally flawed experiment. But I choose not to think that. I think of him as the youngest ever Mr. America, who successfully employed the principles of HIT to enjoy a fruitful career in the sport of bodybuilding. 


Bodybuilding Titles

  • 1970 AAU Teen Mr. America
  • 1970 AAU Teen Mr. America (Most Muscular)
  • 1970 AAU Mr. USA
  • 1971 AAU Teen Mr. America
  • 1971 AAU Jr. Mr. America
  • 1971 AAU Mr. America
  • 1980 IFFB Louisiana Grand Prix
  • 1980 IFFB Pennsylvania Gran Prix
  • 1980 Pittsburgh Pro Invitational


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