Evolution Of Men’s Bodybuilding

March 18, 2014


More and more men are working out on a regular basis these days and while they are not necessarily bodybuilding, they are improving their muscle mass and staying fit through lifting weights.

Due to this, a larger percentage of men are investing their time and energy into actually bodybuilding, which has become an international sport over the past hundred years.

Below is a brief history of men’s bodybuilding, how it has evolved from a niche hobby into something that is now a yearly sporting event and long term lifestyle.

Early history

Eugene Sandow was technically the first bodybuilder, who trained under a man named Oscard Attila, who had converted a music hall into a training and performance center for the “strongest men in the world.” This was in Europe in the late 19th century and the only equipment available to these bodybuilding fore bearers were shot-loading barbells, the forerunner and the plate-loading barbell.

By 1898, Sandow was publishing a magazine called “Physical Culture” and was generally considered to be one of the strongest men in the world. He went on world tours and was billed as “The World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man.” By the time he died in 1925, he had pioneered both the industry of bodybuilding and it’s place in popular culture.

The Americanization

Following Sandow’s lead and seeing the profitability of the bodybuilding industry were Bernarr MacFadden and Charles Atlas. MacFadden had developed what he called a chest expander, which was basically an early version of cables that are pulled from side to side to work out the pectoral muscles, and he moved to America to market and promote it.

In New York City’s Madison Square Garden he began holding a contest for “The Most Perfectly Developed Man in America” and awarded a whopping $1000 to a man named Angelo Siciliano, who was dubbed Charles Atlas by promoters and the press. He mythologized an experience he had on Coney Island as a teenager, by bulking up and beating a bully down, which became a huge marketing tool for the bodybuilding industry in America.

The West Coast

The epicenter of the bodybuilding culture moved again by the mid 20th century, to the final American frontier of the West Coast, namely Santa Monica, California.

It was on a place called Muscle Beach where the most well known and aspiring bodybuilders would come to work out, performing hand balancing stunts for crowds and flexing in various poses.

A number of muscle beach regulars achieved fame, like Jack LaLanne, who became a TV fitness expert and Joe Gold, the man who founded the famed Gold’s Gym in Venice, California, which later became an international workout chain.

The epicenter would actually transition to Gold’s Gym in Venice, when Muscle Beach would close in the 1950’s.

Going Worldwide with Arnold

Contests soon began to be held around the world for which countries had the best bodybuilders, ranging from the Mr. Universe competition to the Mr. Olympia competition.

However, it was the latter Mr. Olympia competition that dominated all the others, due primarily to Arnold Schwarzenegger who won 7 titles and became world famous, with his eye on Hollywood and much more by 1980.

A Struggle for Legitimacy

Schwarzenegger was undoubtedly the peak for the bodybuilding culture, at least so far in it’s history. Since he rose to stardom and dominated much of the 80’s era, the sport (though the sports world hesitates to call it that) has had to battle with legitimacy, drug use and is generally considered a sideshow, which is ironically what it began as.

The enterprise has suffered a bit of a devolution in recent decades due to long term health risks connected with the prevalence of anabolic steroids, which has bled over into what is considered the more legitimate sporting world as well. Only time will tell as to whether bodybuilding will recover a certain respect that it had in the glory days of the 60’s and 70’s.