Bodybuilding Legends – Eugen Sandow

Our ninth character in the Bodybuilding Legends series takes us right back into the nineteenth century, to the roots of bodybuilding. A confident and charismatic man known as Eugen Sandow would be the pioneer who would lead the way in physique development.

Eugen Sandow described himself as an “exceedingly delicate” youngster. In 1877, at the age of 10 years old, he was inspired by Roman athlete statues that he saw in art galleries during a visit to Italy. This created a desire within Sandow to get strong.

In his teen years, Eugen found work as an acrobat in a circus and also worked as a wrestler. The hard  training built his strength and physique. In one of his wrestling matches, Sandow broke four ribs of his extremely brutal opponent!  He also travelled around to give strength exhibitions during these years.

The extravagant strongman battle between Sandow and the duo of Cyclops and Samson in 1889 is what brought Sandow major fame. He defeated them in their challenges and word travelled fast about Sandow. This led him onto the route of celebrity status and brought fantastic new opportunities.

Although he was a great strength showman, it appeared that people had more interest in his physique. Alan Calvert (founder of the Milo Barbell Company) said “For every one man who says “I would like to lift as much weight as Sandow did”, there are one hundred men who say, “I wish I could get a build like Sandow’s”.

So what feats of strength was Sandow capable of? He could bend iron bars, tear three decks of cards (stacked together) in half and support the weight of a grand piano with eight performers on it. He could hold a 600lb (272kg) horse overhead and one hand lift a 1500lb (680kg) stone. Executing 200 pushups was no problem for Sandow.

The video below displays Sandow’s fine physique. It was filmed in 1894 in the studio of his good friend and great inventor, Thomas Edison.

Sandow claimed that he didn’t have any special diet for building his muscles. However, he did possess solid nutritional knowledge. He would opt for foods that were easy to digest and avoided tea and coffee. He endorsed a German supplement called ‘Plasmon’ and praised its strength-building ability.

One of the most significant achievements of his busy life was organising the world’s first large scale bodybuilding competition. Simply called “The Great Competition”, it was held in England’s Royal Albert Hall in 1901 in front of a maximum capacity audience. Sixty men participated in it and with that helped catapult bodybuilding to the mainstream.

The ambitious mind of Sandow earned him many more accomplishments too. He had several Schools of Physical Culture, wrote books and designed his own training equipment. He became a “Professor of Physical Culture” to King George V in 1911.

The impact that Eugen Sandow had on bodybuilding was enormous. He influenced thousands and continues to influence decades later. Arnold Schwarzenegger cited him as one his heroes. Martial arts legend Bruce Lee learned from Sandow’s writings. Multi Mr Universe, Bill Pearl had his own strongman act based on Sandow’s showmanship. Sandow sadly died in 1925.  He kept in great condition right up until the end of his life. Looking at everything he did in his lifetime, there’s no doubt why his legacy as the ‘Father of Modern Bodybuilding’ is still going strong even today!

Alan Riseborough

Alan is a strength and physique enthusiast and has 28 years' of training experience behind him. He has competed in powerlifting, arm wrestling, bodybuilding and grip strength competitions. He also includes rigorous bodyweight, sprinting and kettlebell training regularly in his routines. He believes in the transformative power of the squat which is (believe it or not) his favourite exercise!

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