Bodybuilding makes up a significant portion of the fitness industry, with some estimates claiming that supplements alone produce more than $32 billion in revenue annually. While bodybuilding today is commonplace, it actually has long and humble beginnings, as this short history of bodybuilding clearly shows.
Early History of Bodybuilding
Bodybuilding was common in ancient Greek and Egyptian societies, when men would use stones in various sizes as weights to help transform their bodies. Gyms became commonplace in India during the 11th Century, during which time stone dumbbell weights known as nals were used to develop strength. By the 16th Century, weight training was known as India’s favorite pastime.
In the late 19th Century, professional strongmen began performing feats such as pulling carts or lifting several people into the air at one time for entertainment purposes. During this time, the primary focus was on strength rather than muscle size or shape. Eugene Sandow, who emerged on the scene in 1890, changed all that. Known as The Father of Modern Bodybuilding, Sandow was different from other strongmen because he sported a muscular physique with little body fat, giving other men new goals to aspire to. Consequently, weight-lifting contests became commonplace in England, with the first strength championship being held in 1891. Sandow’s physique is still featured on the Mr. Olympia statue.
Early 20th Century
Sandow was responsible for organizing the world’s first bodybuilding contest in 1901. Dubbed the “Great Competition”, this event was nearly three years in the making, and drew wide acclaim from journalists. Sandow himself judged the competition, awarding William L. Murray of Nottingham the winner. A similar competition was held in 1904 in New York City, and was hosted by Bernarr Macfadden, an early publisher of several bodybuilding magazines.
Golden Era of Bodybuilding
The 1930s ushered in what was known as the “Golden Era of Bodybuilding.” In California, working out on the beach became a favorite pastime, particularly in Santa Monica’s famous “Muscle Beach.” In 1937, Charles Atlas began promoting his training program by publishing cartoon ads of a bully kicking sand into a thin man’s face while at the beach. It soon became very popular among “skinny guys” who wanted to learn how to defend themselves and score points with the ladies. This was followed by the introduction of the Mr. America competition by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in 1939, a predecessor of the Mr. Universe contest.
1970s to Present
Since 1970, Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe winners such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, Mike Mentzer, and Dave Draper have become household names. There has also been a notable increase in the number of actors who used bodybuilding to help them land certain roles. The International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) also expanded to more than 100 countries. Bodybuilding had finally been established as a legitimate sport, and continues to be widely popular yet today.
Today, bodybuilding enjoys a wide following among amateur and professional athletes alike. There is now a bodybuilding level that is just right for everyone from serious competitors to average guys and gals who are wanting to lose fat and become more toned. By looking at the history of bodybuilding, it’s likely that it will continue to grow and evolve – with the next progression based around smart clothing and the use of apps.