It is hard to pinpoint when bodybuilding became a sport – it is like trying to determine who invented what training principles.
The ancient Romans and Greeks placed strong emphasis on physical conditioning. The Roman gladiator depended on his physical prowess for survival; man against man or man against beast in the arena.
The Greeks were more fitting in the respect in regard to building a body for friendly competitions while the Romans used their physiques for such barbaric acts as killing each other.
Eventually, the athletes came to be called Olympians!
The Middle Ages
Traveling carnivals were aplenty for entertainment purposes in mid-century Europe. Among an assortment of acts was that of the STRONG MAN – with no regard for beauty, just brute strength!
By the late 18th century, a side effect of the Industrial Revolution surfaced. The ‘physical culturists’ in an attempt to reserve the public sedentary life-style stressed the need for better eating habits and exercise.
Eugen Sandow was a role model at the time and many considered him as bodybuilding’s first star.
The Late 1800’s and Early 1900’s
Sandow, Europe’s greatest strongman, went on an American tour. He posed in glass cage and was welcomed everywhere by adoring fans. He earned thousands of dollars competing and posing and all these were done during two decades in the US. Sales of dumbbells and barbells skyrocketed. Winners of contests were given statuettes of Sandow himself (and continues until today at the Mr. Olympia).
Sandow prematurely died of brain hemorrhage (believed caused by hauling a stuck car out of mud). Sandow however left behind a legacy of competition and promotion.
By early 20th century physical culture continues to grow. A young Russian by the name of George Hankenschidmit (later popularly known as the “Russian Lion”) captured the Russian weightlifting championship in 1898.
He then immigrated to Britain and made a fortune as a professional strongman in weightlifting and wrestling. In 1903 New York’s Madison Square Garden saw the organization of the first in a series - America’s Most Perfectly Developed Man. The winner got US $1000 (which was a lot of money then).
In 1921 the winner was a young Italian immigrant Angelo Siciliano who subsequently changed his name to Charles Atlas and a legend in bodybuilding entrepreneurship began. It started off as a small mail order business but by the early seventies Atlas’ Dynamic Tension programme sold 6 million copies!
Charles Atlas, contrary to his own methods, used weights to develop his body and before long BODYBUILDERS (as they were beginning to be called) were found comparing appearance was just as important as physical strength and the added benefit of overall good health.
During the thirties two Mr. America’s (including the AAU version) were organized with competitors coming form various backgrounds like boxing, wrestling, gymnastics, etc. but apparently the weightlifters had the advantage.
Bodybuilding’s first REAL Mr. America was John Carl Grimek who took the prestigious title in 1940 and 1941. He had built his physique entirely with weights. Once the word spread athletes were left with 3 choices – adopt Grimek’s methods, continue on as normal but be outclassed, or give up entirely. Most decided to follow Grimek’s lead and before long physical culture centres (starting to be called gyms) were bustling with aspiring Mr. America’s.
The First Superstars
1943 saw Clancy Ross crowned as Mr. America. He was the first massive bodybuilder to win the national title. Unlike the weightlifters who built strength with weights – a great physique being just a side effect – Ross used weight to solely shape his body. In the forties, Ross reigned supreme and inspired the next generation of the stars, including STEVE REEVES.
Other than Charles Atlas (with his Dynamic Tension course) the public had little knowledge of the sport or its practitioners. Reeves changed all that. In addition to winning the Mr. America and Mr. Universe titles, he went to act in films.
The Fifties and Sixties
The fifties was a transition period in the history of bodybuilding. Most of the pioneers of previous two decades had retired from competition and an entirely new generation of bodybuilding stars had emerged.
The sixties witnessed an explosion in bodybuilding stars. The biggest star of the mid-sixties was LARRY SCOTT – the 1965 and 1966 MR. OLYMPIA. The second Mr. Olympia was won by Sergio Olivia in 1967 and 1969. Following that came the great ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGAR. He proved to be the most financially successful bodybuilder to-date. Using bodybuilding as leverage he broke into films and raked in multimillions of dollars.
Massively proportioned and muscularly built physiques become the trend. It was a popularly held notion at this time that the use of anabolic steroids (near the end of the fifties and into the present day) is the major contributing factor in the startling differences in yesterday’s and today’s bodybuilders. Anabolic steroids help you grow muscles, but this does not produce a champion bodybuilder. The ‘ripped’ look and balanced proportion needed to win today’s competition came from proper nutrition and attention to training details, not entirely from the use of anabolic steroids (which will also contribute to other health problems).
Where are our Roots?
No one can really tell us where bodybuilding came from but where it is today can be attributed to two brothers, namely, Joe and Ben Weider – publisher of Your Physique magazine of the forties and founder of the International Federation of Bodybuilders respectively.
The advances in bodybuilding would not have occurred without the organization (IFBB) and communication platform (Your Physique magazine) to sustain them.
Others- like Bob Hoffman’s Strength & Health magazine Peary Radar’s Ironman magazine, Robert Kennedy’s MuscleMag and Oscar Heidenstein’s Health & Strength were considerably influential in the growth and development of bodybuilding.
Last Updated ( Friday, 30 April 2010 07:13 )