Toward the end of the 19th century, weight-training took on a new meaning for many, as the ancient tradition of stone-lifting, practiced initially by the Greeks and Egyptians, made way for a completely new system of training, with a new end-goal. Weightlifting for entertainment purposes emerged in Europe, signalling the beginning of a physical culture never before seen.
The intention was not to develop one’s physique into a glorious spectacle per se, but to thrill crowds with amazing feats of strength—the professional strongman was the outcome of this intensified interest in weight-training. The modern sport of weightlifting was somewhat of a natural evolution from the comparatively primitive practice of stone-lifting in dark, dank dungeons.
Not surprisingly, weightlifting exponentially grew in popularity so much so that today the practices during the early period of 1890 to 1929 would seem, at best, archaic. The practices of the late 19th century strongmen included issuing challenges to fellow strongmen to see who could outlift the other as they traveled from town to town.
Other practices included pulling carts and lifting animals, much to the amusement of onlookers. The public loved to watch these men compete, possibly for the novelty value if nothing else. How their physiques looked did not factor into these men’s displays of physical prowess. Indeed, a protruding stomach and thick, fatty limbs were commonplace among these competitors.
Symmentry and aesthetics were a foreign concept at this point. However, as the 20th century approached, a man who was to bridge the gap between the overweight and unsightly strongman and the bodybuilder as we know him today was to emerge.
Officially know as the first famous bodybuilder and the father of modern bodybuilding, Eugene Sandow (born Friedrich Muller), born in 1867, immediately became a phenomenon with his unprecedented combination of muscle quality and strength. He became a turn-of-the-century physical cultural icon who is referred to as one of bodybuilding’s greatest, even in today’s climate of genetic freaks.
Before the emergence of Sandow, proponents of physical culture were trying to find new ways to promote healthy lifestyles in line with the new phenomenon of weight training for the sake of physical demonstration. Tired of the overweight strongman image with its lack of emphasis on correct eating and high body-fat levels, they were looking for a representative who could promote the chiseled physique, and the subsequent ways of achieving this look. They found their man in Sandow.
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