The History of Bodybuilding - The Beginning

Lifting Through the Ages

The need for man to lift heavy objects and develop the body has been around for a tremendous length of time—an age where stone weights were the only way forward. So, when you next step inside that hi-tech gym with machines beeping, flashing and vibrating, spare a thought for the hard toil of ancient bodybuilding. This public festivity of muscle development can be traced back to late 19th century Greek and Egyptian cultures. But how did an activity that was first used to prime the human body for everyday life, turn into the ultra-competitive sporting event of today?

The Start of a New Era

Weightlifting was originally intended to increase a person’s strength; equipping them for survival challenges in life. However, there was a dramatic shift near the end of the 19th century and increasing muscle size became a form of entertainment for the first time. We hadn’t yet reached the point of standing on stage to showcase a bodybuilder’s figure, but the foundations had been set. For now, crowds were in awe of the immense strength on display, and so the strongman contests were born. Bodybuilding needed something—or someone—to give it a platform to grow into the spectacle it is today. Fortunately, someone arrived.

History of Bodybuilding - Weight

The Father of Bodybuilding

At the start of the 20th century, the main public interest still revolved around demonstrations of strength. One man helped to change this. German bodybuilder, Eugen Sandow, wowed audiences with his incredible physique, as he flexed and posed at carnivals. In 1901, Sandow put together the first bodybuilding contest named the “Great Competition” in London. The hugely successful event saw competitors being judged on their physique. Eugen Sandow took full advantage of his fame and went on to establish businesses and devise some of the first exercise equipment for the general public.

Mid-Century Surge

The first half of the 20th century saw a steady increase in the popularity and globalisation of bodybuilding. Magazines, books and weightlifting equipment became widely available throughout the world; and the large-scale competition was commonplace. Bodybuilding became more governed, with organisations like the International Federation of BodyBuilders (IFBB) being created. The 1950s through to the 60s saw another major boost towards physical fitness. Use of protein supplements began, as did the nutritional understanding of topics such as bulking and cutting. Specialised training techniques also increased as we discovered more about muscle growth.

Good vs Bad

Towards the end of the 20th century, the popularity of bodybuilding was skyrocketing; largely helped by the emergence of global superstars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. Not only would they establish themselves as major players in the bodybuilding scene, but the pair became household names from successful acting careers.

Those wishing to emulate the likes of “Arnie” or Ferrigno found it daunting. Unfortunately, this led to a severe escalation of performance enhancing drug use amongst bodybuilders. As physiques grew beyond what the world had seen, athletes had to use any means possible to develop an edge; even if it meant sacrificing long term health through steroid consumption.

History of Bodybuilding - Arnold

Bodybuilding Today

Modern bodybuilding has reached new heights, both in terms of popularity and physique.  The internet provides ease of access to anyone wishing to learn about taking muscle building to a higher level. With more contests and a grander variety of categories to compete in, the current crop of bodybuilders can express themselves further. There are many positives associated with bodybuilding, especially in terms of exercise and a healthy diet. Although, when you look back to the classic look of the Eugen Sandow era, you’ve got to have nothing but admiration for where it all began.

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