The History of Bodybuilding

Bodybuilding History


You've come to our new tribute to bodybuilding history on the Internet. From ancient times to present, we're compiling all the information we can gather to give to you.

The process of developing the musculature of the body through specific types of diet and physical exercise, such as weightlifting, especially for competitive exhibition.


Since the beginning of civilization people have been interested in keeping healthy and strong. Figuring out what it takes to get there has been a never ending quest that continues today. Over a thousand years ago in different parts of the world, a number of ancient civilizations discovered that straining your muscles with hard work makes them bigger and stronger. Since these ancient times there have been countless bodybuilders who have sought after better training techniques to make themselves look better and feel stronger.

In India, training techniques and bodybuilding nutrition have been traced back to the 12th century, and bodybuilding became a national pastime by the 16th century. By this time, people in numerous locations around the world were using stone and wood to create primitive dumbbells - even purveying their weights to others at the first gyms in bodybuilding history.

Even today, after a millennium of bodybuilding, the core of bodybuilding science hasn't changed that much. Sure, there are a million things you can do to your diet and workout routine, but when it comes down to it, it's all about lifting heavy weights to build muscle and shape the body. And no, you're not going to build muscle with some strap-on pad that electrocutes and contracts your muscles ;).

It's easy to see that biology and bodybuilding physiology are very much like other sciences that also have ancient roots. Humans have always been inquisitive and never cease searching for the answers to questions that curiosity and science ask.

Bodybuilding 1890-1929

This was the period in which bodybuilding became a commercially recognized sport and gained incredible popularity among the general public. There were the first national and international bodybuilding contests, mostly around Europe, and public awareness about being physically fit reached a level never seen before. It surely would have happened one way or another, but there were some key figures that pushed the sport to become what it is today.

The first famous bodybuilder was Eugen Sandow, who, after training under the wing of Oscard Attila, later became known as "The Father of Modern Bodybuilding" because of his incessant promotion of the sport and fitness ideology to the public. Among other achievements, Eugen published one of the first bodybuilding magazines (Physical Culture), invented and popularized some of the first metal machined dumbbells, appeared on a myriad of postcards, and toured around the world to pose and demonstrate his strength to sellout audiences.

As Sandow began pushing the popularity of bodybuilding in the 1890s, the first official weightlifting contests were held, much to his delight. On March 28th 1891, the first World Championships were held in London, England. Five years later the first European Championship took place. Also in 1896, the first modern Olympic Games took place in Athens, Greece. Weightlifting was one of the main events, alongside athletics, swimming, gymnastics, fencing, wrestling, shooting and cycling. In another 5 years, Sandow judged a bodybuilding contest at the Royal Albert Hall in London. This event drew over 2,000 spectators.

Around the time Eugen Sandow gained his fame and bodybuilding took off as a sport, other now-famous men got in on the game to promote the sport that they loved. Bernarr Macfadden, an American who moved to Great Britain to promote his "Chest Expander" invention, became a well-known contest promoter and bodybuilding personality. Most famed for his annual contests that helped develop modern posing styles and thrust newcomer Charles Atlas into the spotlight in 1921, Bernarr also published Physical Development - a magazine promoting his training doctrines - in 1898. The first major event that he sponsored broke new ground for bodybuilding in the United States in 1903 at New York's Madison Square Garden. This event proved bodybuilding's universal appeal and helped popularize the sport in America.

With the rising popularity of the sport and new muscular celebrities like Charles Atlas, bodybuilding became a very profitable industry and still is today. New exercise devices, diet plans, books, magazines, and nutritional supplements were selling in stores while just years earlier, most had never even thought of lifting weights. Memorable advertisements of the skinny guy on the beach being beaten up by the bigger, more muscular man made thousands of teenage boys want to build their own bodies. And why not?

By the late 1920s, dumbbells and barbells were commercially manufactured and sold across the world, bodybuilding magazines were becoming popular periodicals, bodybuilding contests were being held at large venues with big cash prizes, famous bodybuilders became household names, the general public became far more interested in maintaining a healthy body, and bodybuilding finally distinguished itself from weightlifting. While bodybuilding is based on building muscle and judged on shapeliness of the physique, weightlifting is an Olympic sport in which the competitors battle to lift the most weight in a certain form. This era laid the ground for bodybuilding as we know it today.

Bodybuilding 1930-1965

This era was the beginning of the Golden Age of bodybuilding (1940's-70's). Training techniques were advancing as equipment improved and experienced bodybuilders learned through trial and error. More bodybuilding publications were hitting the stores, giving readers training and diet information as well as pictures of their favorite bodybuilders. Posing styles advanced to allow bodybuilders to show off their increasingly defined muscles. New organizations were popping up around the world to support the growing interest in this popular new sport. <>

During the 1930s and '40s, beaches on the California coast became hot spots for amateur and professional bodybuilders. We've probably all seen cartoons or a TV show with a bodybuilder lifting weights on the beach, and this is where that imagery comes from. The most famous bodybuilder hangout was appropriately named Muscle Beach in Santa Monica. Bodybuilders flocked to the warm, sunny beach to get a good tan while exhibiting and improving their muscles by lifting weights in front of crowds of spectators.

Because of the sheer number of bodybuilders flocking to Muscle Beach, it's no surprise that's where a number of professionals started their careers. Among the ranks of Muscle Beach stars were Joe Gold, founder of the famous Gold's Gym; Harold Zinkin, inventor of the Universal Gym, one of the most popular exercise machines at the time; and John Grimek, the 2x Mr. America and greatest bodybuilder of his time.

Bodybuilding continued to further itself from competitive weightlifting and powerlifting as the basic ideology solidified: train for health, strength, fitness, and refined aesthetic muscular development. Bodybuilders were trying to attain a perfect physique by training with weights. Of course they wanted to be stronger, but they were more interested in how weightlifting made their bodies look. Nothing stood in their way besides a lot of hard work with heavy weights.

During this period bodybuilding enjoyed increasing commercial success, and out of this came an emerging professional bodybuilder community. Movies like Hercules, Tarzan, and Superman featured bodybuilders-turned-actors. Bodybuilding magazines were started by the pros that knew the sport best. Dumbbell and barbell manufacturers sponsored men whose names would bring in more business. Early in the 1950s, food supplements made specifically for fitness and bodybuilding hit the market and were endorsed by the pros, creating new opportunities for aspiring pros.

Also during this time international organizations popped up to provide support for the sport. Contests offered cash prizes and fame while providing a venue for bodybuilding enthusiasts. Among the most recognized bodybuilding organizations of the day (and still today), the IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilders) was formed in 1946 by Ben Weider, and NABBA (National Amateur Body Builders' Association) was formed in England in 1950. These organizations held some of the first large-scale competitions that helped define modern competitive bodybuilding on a professional level: The Mr. Olympia contest (1965), sponsored by the IFBB, and the Mr. Universe contest (1950), sponsored by NABBA. These annual contests still go on today and are very well-respected events that draw top competitors, big sponsors, and large, enthusiastic crowds.

Bodybuilding 1966-Present

Until this era in bodybuilding history, lifting weights, eating right, and having "good genetics" was the only way to look like a professional bodybuilder. By 1965, anabolic steroids had permeated the underground of professional bodybuilding along with the international Olympic Games and other competitive sports. With hardly any scientific research behind the potentially dangerous drugs they were taking, bodybuilders and other athletes alike began "stacking" (taking more than one at once) anabolic steroids to produce muscles larger and more defined than had ever been seen before. Of course the general public had no idea when this first started - no bodybuilder wanted to attribute their physique to these new hormonal compounds. It was very much a secret at first, and some companies would even claim that their new exercise machine was what helped their spokes-bodybuilder achieve his new muscularity.

With new training techniques, supplements, and steroids, the shape of the average professional bodybuilder kept getting bigger and more defined through the 1980s and '90s. Enthusiasm for the sport maintained its momentum, especially with the new faces in the scene. One man who personally helped promote the sport to new heights was Arnold Schwarzenegger. With his charisma, talent, and amazing features, he converted masses of average citizens into bodybuilding fans. Even after his departure from professional bodybuilding, Arnold has incessantly promoted the sport and made uncountable people want to look like him.

The latest breed of professional bodybuilders has pushed the limits of muscular development to incredible heights. Men like Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, and Lee Priest look not like the Greek-god paradigm of the Golden Age, but more like over-emphasized caricatures of that old ideal of muscularity. The new standard of muscle size and definition for professional bodybuilders is truly mind-boggling to the average bodybuilder or fitness enthusiast.

Since the late '60s, anabolic steroids have been inseparable from professional bodybuilding.

While bodybuilding organizations and contest promoters don't allow steroid use by their competitors, many bodybuilders - even the average gym-goer - still use them in dangerous dosages. Combined with advances in physiology and bodybuilding techniques, sophisticated steroid use has helped create the most monstrous, muscular men in the history of mankind. While most do not approve of these drugs, they are certainly forever a part of the bodybuilding world.

Along with steroids, we've seen great advances in the science of natural bodybuilding. The sport has truly become a science, as general fitness is something every doctor prescribes. The average natural bodybuilder knows a lot about biology - exactly what to eat and when, when to work out, which exercises to perform and the correct form, and these days, which nutritional supplements to take along with their exercise regimen. Even natural bodybuilders (who don't use steroids) these days look much more massive and defined than the Golden Age boys.

Steroid use has certainly impacted the image of the sport in the eyes of the public, as professional bodybuilders can no longer attribute their success solely to strength of human drive and willpower. Despite the tainted image of the sport, the core values of bodybuilders and the bodybuilding community haven't really changed that much. It takes years of hard work, complete dedication (you should see a professional bodybuilder's diet and training schedule), and incredible knowledge of biology and physiology to be a professional bodybuilder. It's not like these guys just pump themselves full of drugs and are muscular monsters all of a sudden. Unfortunately, since steroids are illegal, dangerous, and unnatural, there will always be a stigma attached to professional (and even amateur) bodybuilding until people stop using them. This will not likely happen anytime soon, however

Time will only tell what the future of bodybuilding will bring. Will professionals continue to exploit the latest hormone-altering drug to get an edge on the competition and grow to unnatural sizes? Or will bodybuilding return to its roots and abandon drug supplementation for natural methods of honestly achieving an impressive physique?

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