is the art of building a hyper-muscular physique-and displaying
those muscles. The competitive side of bodybuilding is an art
in itself, and it involves knowledge of posing, proper tanning,
and also makeup, hair and wardrobe-particularly for female bodybuilders.
Today, the sport is over a hundred years old.
point to the late 19th century as the start of modern body building
as we know it today. Its first promoter was a man named Eugen
Sandow, a Prussian-American strongman. Sandow first started working
under Oscard Attila, a professional strongman whose act included
heavy lifting and other feats of strength. There were many strongman
shows in America at this point, and the performers did display
their physique-but the performer's body was often secondary to
the rest of the act. Sandow was the first to make his muscles
the main attraction.
took place at carnivals and town halls, where he would flex and
pose to show his physique to maximum effect. He had the good fortune
to start his career in the late eighteen-hundreds, contemporary
to the invention of the camera. Striking images of Sandow in various
bodybuilding poses were printed on "cabinet cards" and
pamphlets, sold and distributed all over the country. Through
photography, Sandow became famous-and so did the sport of bodybuilding.
in the "Grecian Ideal"-a mathematical standard for a
man's physique resembling the proportions of Grecian statues.
When he set up the first bodybuilding contest, called the Great
Competition, in 1901, the Grecian Ideal was the standard upon
which the competitors were judged. The show was extremely successful,
without an empty seat in the house, and was judged by Sandow,
sculptor Sir Charles Lawes, and author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The winner, William Murray, was presented with a bronze statue
of Sandow-the same bronze statue presented to the winners of the
Mr. Olympia competition today.
was fueled by the invention of the camera. Still pictures of Sandow
made the sport and its founder famous, and movies made it even
more well-known. In 1904, Thomas Edison himself filmed Al Treolar,
the winner of the first large-scale bodybuilding competition held
in Madison Square Garden, going through his posing routine. Edison
had filmed Sandow posing twice a few years before-and so the first
films featuring body builders were made. Body building and movies
would continue to be linked, with many subsequent famous bodybuilders
making the leap from competition to films-most notably Arnold
early body builder, Charles Atlas, was born in 1892-around the
time Sandow's bodybuilding show was becoming popular. Atlas won
the title of "World's Most Perfectly Developed Man"
in 1921, and later became the strong man at Coney Island's Circus
Side Show. But what made his name famous was his "Dynamic-Tension"
exercise program, which he published in a series of lesson booklets
that were advertised in comic books from the 40's to the 70's.
The ads for the booklets were iconic. They usually featured a
"97-pound weakling" getting harassed by a bully and
humiliated in front of his date. The hapless weakling goes home,
gets mad, kicks a chair, and sends away for the Charles Atlas
Dynamic-Tension training booklets. Soon afterwards, he returns
to the scene of his humiliation-a dance floor or party or beach,
generally-and beats up the bully, wins back the girl, and impresses
another famous body builder, gained even more publicity for bodybuilding
when he made the transition to the silver screen. He won the Mr.
Olympia competition-the most prestigious bodybuilding competition
in the world-in 1970, at the age of 23. From there, he wanted
to move into acting-as some of his earlier bodybuilding idols
had done. However, Arnold's transition was not an easy one; his
long, ethnic last name, thick accent, and extravagantly large
muscles held him back from stardom although he did win bit parts
in a few movies and a starring role in Hercules in New York
the year he won the Mr. Olympia title.
big break in movies came seven years after his title win, in Pumping
Iron. The movie was a documentary about the 1975 Mr. Olympia
competition, featuring Schwarzenegger and two of his competitors,
Lou Ferrigno and Franco Columbu, preparing for the competition.
His breakthrough role came in 1982, however, with the movie Conan
the Barbarian. Schwarzenegger's fame as an A-list star contributed
further to the popularity of bodybuilding as a sport.
In the early
years of bodybuilding, the sport was entirely natural. Anabolic
steroids began to influence competitions later on, however. In
the 1970's and 80's, steroids were frowned upon by body building
groups and authorities, and doping tests were sometimes done to
screen out competitors who used them. However, they were still
legal-and competitors openly discussed using them. However, in
1990, Congress passed the Anabolic Steroid Control Act banning
the substance from use. While competitors today technically shouldn't
use steroids, it's possible that use continues underground as
it does with other sports. In addition, most competitors continue
to use hormonal and other supplements that are still legal in
In the beginning
of the 21st Century, the IFBB-the International Federation of
Body Building, a professional bodybuilding organization-petitioned
to have bodybuilding included in the Olympics. The effort was
not successful, as bodybuilding is not widely recognized as a
has a long and distinguished history in the United States and
internationally. Its fame is powered by stars such as Sandow,
Atlas and Schwarzenegger-competitors who inspire the imaginations
of future bodybuilders and attract interest in lifting and competing.
As long as charismatic personalities continue to make a name for
themselves in bodybuilding, interest in the sport will continue.
Jean Lam is the webmaster of Body
Building Resource which provides articles on weight training,
nutrition and fitness, body building book and DVDs.