History Of Bodybuilding

Early Beginnings

Image Of Milo With A Bull

The roots of bodybuilding go all the way back to ancient Greece. It was the athletes of ancient Greece who used to train in the gymnasiums (Greek for "naked place"); however, they did not use resistance training as a form of body modification but rather a means to improve at the sport they participated in.

The most notable of such athletes was Olympic wrestling champion Milo of Croton who reportedly would carry a calf on his back every day until it became a bull, thus demonstrating progressive resistance as a means of developing strength.

The "Grecian Ideal" would also go on to influence modern day bodybuilding as the aesthetic standard that modern bodybuilders would aim to achieve.

It was in 11th century India that bodybuilding as we know it first arrived on the scene. It was back then the Indians would use primitive dumbbell weights carved from stone for the sole purpose of getting bigger and stronger, it is also reported that by the 16th century weight lifting had become a national past time in India.

Eugene Sandow and the Physical Culture

Picture Of Eugen Sandow

By the mid-19th century weight training as a means of improving health and increasing strength was becoming increasingly popular. People began to be exposed, to what was to become known as, the physical culture: through the travelling strongmen of the time. The strongmen would entertain crowds with feats of strength, such as lifting and pulling massive weights. However, it was purely the feats of strength that the audiences were interested in; the actual aesthetics of the strongmen was not important -- this would all change with the arrival of Eugene Sandow.

Born 1867 in Prussia by the name Friedrich Muller, Eugene Sandow later became referred to as "The Father of Modern Bodybuilding."

Not only was Sandow incredibly strong, he also had a muscle quality and an aesthetic comparable to that of a modern day bodybuilder. He first traveled Europe and later in the 1890's America -- where he was billed as the "world's strongest man".

It soon became apparent that as well as his feats of strength the audiences were just as interested in the physical appearance of Sandow. This led to the development of what is now referred to by modern day bodybuilders as a posing routine. Previously being called "muscle display performances."

Sandow was the muscle superstar of his age; he developed some of the first bodybuilding equipment as well as also being responsible for the first ever bodybuilding magazine. Originally called Physical Culture but later the name changed to Sandow's Magazine of Physical Culture.

Through Sandow's promotion of bodybuilding, weightlifting competitions began to officially take place for the first time. 1) the World Championships in 1891 in England and 2) two weightlifting events in the 1896 inaugural modern Olympic Games.

In 1901 the first major bodybuilding competition was held in the Royal Albert Hall, London. It was to be known as "The Great Competition". And Sandow was one of the judges alongside Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as athlete and Sculptor sir Charles Lawes.

In 1925 Eugene Sandow suffered a stroke and died at the age of fifty-eight. His legacy still lives on as a statuette known as a 'Sandow'. It's given to the winner of the most prestigious bodybuilding competition in the world: Mr Olympia.

Early 1900s

Charles Atlas' Magazine Advert

Another massively influential figure in bodybuilding during the early days was Bernarr Macfadden, he zealously promoted the 'physical culture'. It was Bernarr Macfadden's firm belief that weakness was a crime! He would even change the spelling of his name from Bernard Mcfadden to Bernarr Macfadden because he believed it to sound stronger.

Macfadden wrote many books and was also responsible for the creation of what was to be the forerunner of today's bodybuilding magazines -- Physical Culture Magazine -- a magazine that would stay in publication for fifty years.

It was in 1904 that Macfadden began to organize and promote bodybuilding competitions for both men and women. These competitions would go on for many years and would be responsible for the emergence of Charles Atlas - the winner of 1921's "Most Perfectly Developed Man" contest.

Charles Atlas would later go on to develop his physical fitness course Dynamic Tension; the advert became one of the longest running in history. The basic premise of the advertising campaign was that a scrawny kid would be with his girlfriend and be humiliated by a bigger teenager. As a result of this humiliation the scrawny kid went home frustrated, discovered the Dynamic Tension program, became muscle-bound, went back to beat up the bully, and became a hero. People everywhere saw this advert and it led to bodybuilding being accepted by wider audiences.


By the late '30's it was not uncommon to see physique competitions, however, these competitions did not comprise of just weightlifters but also other athletes at the time such as boxers, gymnasts and swimmers. Weightlifting by the '30's was still not considered a sport and as such athletes and competitors were expected to achieve their physiques through a variety of other sports.

In 1939 the Mr America competition was created. The competitors were not all fully fledged bodybuilders, and it became apparent that lifting weights gave a distinct advantage.


Photo Of Clancy Ross

John Grimek would begin to dominate the Mr America competition. Because Grimek was predominantly a weight lifter it sent a message to anyone who wished to compete against him that a training program similar to Grimek's was needed.

1945 would see the emergence of, who many would consider the first modern body builder, Clarence (Clancy) Ross. Clancy Ross would not only train with weights but would use them to shape and proportion his body similar to the "Grecian ideal".

During this time bodybuilding started to come into its own. Previously, the bodybuilding scene was controlled by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU); however, there were concerns that the AAU was not so concerned with bodybuilding but rather the Olympic sport of weightlifting. Because of this the Weider brothers decided to form the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) which would cater for the needs of bodybuilders and ensure they had a stable platform to promote from. The first IFBB contest was the 1949 IFBB Mr America.


Photo Of Steve Reeves

During this decade Steve Reeves put bodybuilding on the map. Before the arrival of Reeves many people had little knowledge of bodybuilding, or bodybuilding champions. The movies helped catapult Steve Reeves and bodybuilding to fame.

Steve Reeves was a former bodybuilder who won the 1947 Mr America, 1948 Mr World, and 1950 Mr Universe and at his acting peak would become the highest paid actor in Europe. Reeves had it all, proportion, mass, definition, as well as being very good looking. He was considered the "Arnold Schwarzenegger of his era". Reeves played many roles and would go on to play the bodybuilding icon Hercules in a series of Italian made films -- a role that would later be an inspiration to a young Arnold Schwarzenegger himself. Alongside Charles Atlas, Steve Reeves would be the biggest name in bodybuilding so far.

In the wake of Reeves' departure from bodybuilding Reg Park was the next major champion to dominate bodybuilding. Park became 1951's Mr Universe, became Mr Professional Universe in 1958, and again in 1965, dominating bodybuilding for two decades. Reg Park would also follow in Reeves' footsteps by playing Hercules in a series of Italian made films. Bodybuilding was beginning to carve out a small niche in the movies.


Photo Of Larry Scott

The 1960's heralded the arrival of the "mass monsters". Bodybuilders started to look bigger, and arguably better, as time went by. This was due to a better understanding of the science behind bodybuilding: conditioning and nutrition.

In 1965, Joe Weider created Mr Olympia so that the winners of Mr Universe competition could continue to compete and earn money. From its inception the title of Mr Olympia would now be considered the highest accolade in the sport of professional bodybuilding, the winner of which would be known as the best bodybuilder in the world. The first winner of the Mr Olympia title was Larry Scott who would then go on to win a second title in 1966. Olympia would herald a new era in bodybuilding competition, the standard of competition would increase year upon year, and Larry Scott would be a fine first champion. Scott set the bar high with his thick mass and freakishly large arms. Larry Scott was the most popular bodybuilding star of his time; also a fitness model he appeared regularly in magazines such as Mr America, Muscle Builder, Demi Gods, Muscleboy, and The Young Physique the phenomenon saw to become known as "Larry Fever."

1960s — Sergio Oliva

Black And White Photo Of Sergio Oliva

After the retirement of Larry Scott in 1966; the winner of the next three Olympia titles was Cuban born Sergio "The Myth" Oliva. He displayed a level of muscle mass never before seen. Oliva started being called "The Myth" because everyone who saw him at the 1967 Montreal World's Fair said he was "JUST UNBELIEVABLE".

Sergio Oliva was a successful weight lifter in Cuba and because of such he was chosen to represent Cuba at the 1962 Central American Games in Kingston, Jamaica. It was in Kingston Oliva took the opportunity to sneak past the guards and make his way to the American Consulate where he claimed political asylum and would now live in America to become a bodybuilding champion.

Sergio Oliva has been considered by many to be one of the greatest bodybuilders who ever lived, and possibly the most naturally gifted ever. At the current time not much was known about training techniques and dieting yet Oliva was a freak at 240lbs and 5ft 10ins, his chest measured at 59 inches and would taper down to a 28 inch waist. The dominance of Oliva would soon be out matched at the turn of the new decade by a bodybuilder who may be considered one of the greatest of all time: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

1970s and Arnold Schwarzenegger

Photo Of Arnold Schwarzenegger In The 1970s

After much success in Europe, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became known as the "Austrian Oak", burst onto the international bodybuilding scene. In 1966, his first big international victory was the National Amateur Bodybuilders' Association (NABBA) Mr Universe contest. Arnold's first attempt at being the best, and capturing the Olympia title came in 1969, was unsuccessful. He finished second place, behind Sergio Oliva. It would be the only time Arnold was defeated in the competition.

On his second attempt, at a record breaking age of twenty-three, Arnold won the title of Mr Olympia. Beating Sergio Oliva in the process. Schwarzenegger would now go on a winning streak and be crowned Mr Olympia every year up to 1975 -- a record breaking six times.

Bodybuilding had a new star.

By the time Arnold Schwarzenegger won the title five times in a row he began to attract attention from filmmakers George Butler and Robert Fiore. They filmed Arnold training and competing in the 1975 Mr Olympia for a docudrama called Pumping Iron. It was actually Arnolds plan to retire from bodybuilding in 1974 but he was persuaded to carry on so the film could be made. Pumping Iron would do a lot to popularise bodybuilding, as well as introduce Arnold Schwarzenegger as a household name.

1970s and Lou Ferrigno

Photo Of Lou Ferrigno Training

Arnold's co-star, Lou Ferrigno, would also help to popularize bodybuilding even further. Although Lou Ferrigno didn't ever win the title of Mr Olympia he became very influential through the medium of film. Ferrigno's appearances as Hercules and the Incredible Hulk pushed bodybuilding deeper into the mainstream.

1970s and Franco Columbo

Photo Of Franco Columbo Posing

The Mr Olympia competition was split between two size categories: the small man and the tall man. Before 1976 it was the tall man that had always won overall, however, that year Franco Columbo became the first small man to win Mr Olympia. Previously to '76, as the shorter man, Franco was overshadowed by his Pumping Iron co-star Schwarzenegger.

Franco would later win the title of Mr Olympia again in 1981. This is considered one of the most controversial Olympia decisions of all time; Franco's leg development was considered to be substandard, which meant that he was not the best man on stage, and therefore shouldn't have won.

1970s and Frank Zane

Photo Of Frank Zane

For the remainder of the 1970's extremely low body fat would start to become a deciding factor. This allowed Frank Zane, with his ultra-lean look, to win three consecutive Olympia's in '77, '78, '79.

Although in the '60's Frank Zane competed at over 200lbs it was at a modest competition weight of 180lbs that he managed to dominate bodybuilding for three years. Zane is known not because of his size but because he was extremely well proportioned and conditioned. Zane, a mathematics and chemistry teacher, gained the nickname "The Chemist" because of his Bachelor of Science degree and because he used to take a lot of amino acids -- this was considered unusual back then. Another reason was that Zane's scientific approach to his competition preparation meant that he would peak at exactly the right time.


Color Photo Of Chris Dickerson

Before the 1980's Mr Olympia contest it was rumoured that Arnold Schwarzenegger would be guest posing along with Reg Park, however, much to the dismay of the other competitors he entered the competition at the last minute, winning in controversial fashion. 1980 was the final appearance by Schwarzenegger on the bodybuilding stage, and never again did "The Austrian Oak" appear in competitive bodybuilding.

As the popularity of bodybuilding increased so did the competitors, not just in size but also in number. This was described by Schwarzenegger himself in his book, The New Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding: "Once, I could stand on the Olympia stage and be challenged by one or two other competitors. In 1980 the Olympia stage included Frank Zane, Chris Dickerson, Boyer Coe, Ken Waller, Mike Metzer, Roger Walker, Tom Platz, Samir Bannout and Roy Callender, among others".

With the retirement of many of bodybuilding household names there was room for a new champion to emerge, and in '82, that champion was Chris Dickerson. Although he only ever won one Sandow he had an illustrious bodybuilding career, spanning thirty years. Dickerson was the first African-American winner of Mr America, as well as being the oldest winner of Mr Olympia, aged 43. And in 2000 Chris Dickerson was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame.

Before 1982 there were more Mr Olympia's under 200lbs than over; this would start to change in the 80's. The 80's ushered in a new era of massive bodybuilders. It was now size that was becoming the winning factor, with aesthetics and balance taking a back seat.

1980s And Lee Haney

Photo Of Lee Haney

The next dominant bodybuilder to arrive on the scene was Lee Haney. He broke Schwarzenegger's record and won eight consecutive Olympia's from 1984-1991. Haney had everything: symmetry, proportion, conditioning, and at his heaviest he was a massive 245lbs.

During the '80's Arnold Schwarzenegger, although retired from competition, would continue to promote bodybuilding through his physique in film. More and more film stars with developed physiques appeared. Bodybuilding stars like Jean Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lungdrum and Sylvester Stallone. Bodybuilding was now everywhere! As popularity increased so did sponsorship deals and prize money and therefore the quality of competitors.

In the year 1989 Arnold Schwarzenegger teamed up with long-time associate Jim Lorimer and created what was to become the second most prestigious event in professional bodybuilding: the Arnold Classic Weekend. Later to be renamed the Arnold Sports Festival. Considered the most lucrative of bodybuilding events the Arnold Classic has huge prizes up for grabs, however, the title of Mr Olympia is considered to be the more sought after . Winners of the Arnold Classic later went on to win Olympia. Bodybuilders such as Jay Cutler, Dexter Jackson, and the more recent champions Kai Greene, and Branch Warren.


Color Photo Of Dorian Yates With Medals

In 1992 Lee Haney's dominance came to an end. Picking up where he left was, the huge, Dorian Yates. Weighing in at 268lbs, and winning Olympia from '92 until his retirement in '97. As in the 80's bodybuilders got larger. The competitors who were able to achieve a blend of proportion, conditioning, and freakish mass, becoming the most successful. After Dorian Yates' retirement everyone thought that Mr Olympia couldn't get any larger, then the biggest ever arrived: Ronnie "Big Ron" Coleman.


Photo Of Jay Cutler

Coleman reached a competition weight of 297lbs and became the joint record holder for Mr Olympia; winning eight from '98-'05. Ronnie Coleman also holds the record for most wins as an IFBB professional, with 26.

Returning to the stage in 2006 to defend his title, and make it a record breaking nine Olympia's, Coleman was defeated by Jay Cutler.Previously, Cutler was a runner-up for five years consecutively.

Jay Cutler's win reversed the trend of Mr Olympia getting bigger and bigger every year. This was further demonstrated when a smaller and highly conditioned Dexter "The Blade" Jackson stole victory from underneath Jay Cutler's nose in '08. Cutler is no stranger to adversity, and won back the title the next year. He's one of only three men to do so. And being the first to win back the title straight after losing it. Currently, Cutler is the dominant bodybuilder of our time. Winning the Mr Olympia title four times. The most recent in 2010. His era could be coming to an, and if he's toppled, the next bodybuilding super-power may emerge...

Top Λ

© HistoryOfBodyBuilding.org