When most of us think about the sport of bodybuilding, famous muscle men like Arnold Schwarzenegger come to mind. But the truth is that bodybuilding did not spring into existence when Arnold became famous after the big bodybuilding move, Pumping Iron. There is a long history to the sport that is worth understanding particularly if you or a family member is active in the world of bodybuilding.
Some of the earliest recorded history of bodybuilding nutritional concepts and training techniques goes all the way back to the 12th century where the sport was being developed in India. The sport spread from India so that by the 1500s, bodybuilding was tremendously popular in India and the popularity was catching elsewhere in the world as well. The equipment of bodybuilding was also being developed rapidly as well. It is interesting to see archives of bodybuilding equipment from these ancient times, which include barbells that are made of wood and stone.
The actual sport of bodybuilding began to take shape later in the 1800s. Probably one of the earliest famous bodybuilders was Eugene Sandow. Sandow might have ranked as the Schwarzenegger of his day and many consider him to be the father of what modern bodybuilding has become. It was because of his vision for what bodybuilding could become that the sport began to come together into a national and international sport by the early 1900s. It was Sandow’s efforts through his personal appearances, his bodybuilding exhibitions and his bodybuilding magazine, Physical Culture that made that happen.
Sandow’s work lead to one of the biggest breakthrough moments in bodybuilding when weightlifting became an official Olympic sport at the Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. Not long after this, in 1904, Sandow became a featured judge at one of the first important bodybuilding events to be held in London at the Royal Albert Hall. 2000 people showed up at that event to watch bodybuilding as a sport.
Probably the next big personality to take bodybuilding to then next level in the 1920s was Charles Atlas. Not only was Atlas an amazing bodybuilder, he was an outstanding spokesman for he sport and an image that sold a lot of bodybuilding courses and equipment. But that explosion in marketing of bodybuilding programs, diets and the popularity of bodybuilders as sports heroes represented the first wave of popularity that would make bodybuilding a major international sport.
It is no accident that some of the biggest movies to follow the explosion of bodybuilding featured well sculpted bodybuilder types like Steve Reeves and Johnnie Weissmuller. It wasn’t long after this period that forces came together to propel bodybuilding into the national spotlight again. That event was the creation of the movie, Pumping Iron. The outcome of that surge of interest in bodybuilding gave us such international stars as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno.
The rest, as they say, is history. Since bodybuilding became such a prominent sport, the imitation of a bodybuilders pose has become part of the national way of expressing ourselves. We commonly see the image of the bodybuilder show up in popular culture such as the very funny comedy bit that the highly successful sketch comedy show, Saturday Night Live did called “Pumping up with Hans and Franz”.
These uses of the image of the bodybuilder, while humorous, are not insulting to the sport of bodybuilding. Instead, they are reminders that bodybuilding is no longer a “fringe sport”. Bodybuilding is just as much a part of the culture as football or baseball. And the odds are it will stay that way for a long time to come.