Eugen Sandow The Man Behind The Trophy

Who was the man who started it all? Where does the word bodybuilding come from? These questions can be linked to a man named Friedrich Muller, a name of which not many people know of. This is because he is remembered by the name Eugen Sandow, which was his stage name. Eugen Sandow coined the term bodybuilding and is referred to as “The Father of Bodybuilding”.


Eugen was born in Königsberg, Prussia on April 2nd, 1867. His mother was Russian and his father was German. Some may argue that this is a recipe for the holy cocktail of bodybuilding genetics. The time he spent in Prussia was limited and he left at the age of 18 to avoid military service.

On his travels throughout Europe he became a circus athlete and adopted the name Eugen Sandow. While working as a circus athlete, he met a fellow athlete named “Professor Attila”. Eugen and Professor Attila began weight training together and Professor Attila quickly noticed Eugen’s outstanding strength. Professor Attila then took Eugen under his wing and taught him the ways of a strongman. Professor Attila encouraged Eugen to compete in a strongman competition and Eugen Sandow ended up beating the current strongman champion. This victory brought Eugen Sandow fame and recognition because his strength was unbelievable.

Strength wasn’t the only thing that Eugen Sandow had going for him. His muscular and proportional physique provoked awe. No one had ever seen anything like it.

Eugen Sandow’s Training Routine

Eugen Sandow never followed a specific routine. He did incorporate variation, progressive overload, and some aspects of periodization into his regimen but he didn’t follow a specific plan.

“My faith is pinned to dumbbells, and I do all my own training with them, supplemented with weightlifting (barbells).”

In the late 1800’s weights were much different than are today. Barbells had a fixed weight, meaning that you couldn’t change the load. There were no 10, 25, 35, or 45lb plates that you could add onto each end of the barbell. I’m guessing that all barbells were pretty heavy because he mentions that they were used mainly for competitive or exhibition lifting.

“Exercises should be performed progressively, for the muscles become accustomed to the work they are asked to perform, and if the demand is not steadily made greater, the desired growth in size, strength and shapeliness will not be attained.”

It’s amazing how even in the earliest stages of bodybuilding, progressive overload was applied and understood. Since muscle growth is such a slow process, it’s difficult to figure out what techniques work the best. He put in the time and experimented with different techniques. He realized that progressive overload is at the core of a developed physique.

“You may go through the list of exercises with dumbbells a hundred times a day, but unless you fix your mind upon those muscles to which the work is applied, such exercise will bring little, if any, benefit. If, upon the other hand, you concentrate your mind upon the muscles in use, then immediately development begins.”

The mind muscle connection is a popular idea today. There are some truths and some falsehoods associated with the idea of the “mind muscle connection”. Many people think that you can still make great gains by using light weight and focusing on the contraction, really using your mind to activate every fiber that makes up the muscle. Although you may be activating more fibers, this doesn’t necessarily mean you will grow. Growth is an adaptive process and the loads have to be gradually increased in order to create an environment for growth. It’s obvious that if you aren’t focused on the task at hand, you won’t get the most out of it. If you are talking to people while performing bicep curls, you aren’t bringing the intensity and focus that is optimal for growth.

“These very vigorous days should not be practiced by the average man more than once or twice a week. Of course I go through my program from one to three or four times a day, depending upon where I am appearing. But years of progressive training and proper living as I am recommending led up to my ability to withstand this rigorous program and to continue to gain in strength and development while maintaining perfect health”

Beginners don’t need to train 7 days a week to maximize results. As you become more advanced with weight training, the protein synthesis response triggered by weight training gradually diminishes. This means that a beginner could be packing on muscle for 3 days after a workout and someone who is advanced could only be adding muscle for a period of 16 hours. These numbers aren’t exact, it varies from person to person.


The Birth of Bodybuilding

Eugen Sandow organized the world’s first major bodybuilding competition in London’s Royal Albert Hall on September 14th 1901. The competition had three judges (Sandow being one of them) and it was tremendously popular. The hall was the largest place in London to hold an event and hundreds of people were turned away at the door because they sold out!

Sandow created the first judging criteria, it is as follows:

  • General development
  • Equality or balance of development
  • Condition and tone of the tissues
  • General health
  • Condition of the skin

Judging was done much differently than it is done today. Instead of the judges sitting at a table, they walked up to the competitors and closely inspected them while they were posing. This way, there was no way to hide weaknesses and every competitor had their weak points and strong points taken into account. In bodybuilding today, there are ways to hide your weak points by manipulating your posing techniques. For example, if someone has a thick waist, they can twist their waist to give it a slimmer appearance.

After the intermission, it was Sandow’s time to perform. He performed his posing routine and acts of strength by ripping a pack of cards in half and lifted weights that the average man would deem impossible. This has evolved into the guest posting that bodybuilding shows have today. After Sandow finished, finals began. There were 12 athletes that made it to finals and they were examined with an even closer eye than at pre-judging. William Murray of England was the last man standing and thus the winner! He received a solid gold statue of Sandow while the band performed “See the Conquering Hero” and the crowd roared with excitement.

Eugen Sandow’s Final Years

Eugen Sandow left behind a huge legacy and some amazing works; these include:

  • Sandow’s System of Physical Training
  • Strength and How to Obtain it
  • Body-Building
  • Strength and Health
  • Life is Movement
  • The Construction and Reconstruction of the Human Body
  • Sandow’s Magazine of Physical Culture

Eugen Sandow died of an aortic aneurysm shortly after pushing his car out of the mud at 58 years old. He holds the title “The Father of Bodybuilding” for a good reason. It’s one thing to leave behind a few books to carry on your message, but creating an art form that is alive and well hundreds of years later defines the word legacy on an entirely different level.

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