Where it all Began

The physical culture of muscle-building has attracted followers for many years; well before the advent of competitive bodybuilding as we know it today. Fans of the iron game will know that bodybuilding in its popular form began in the 1890s with the arrival of Mr Eugene Sandow, of whom the Mr. Olympia statue is modeled on.
This is Eugene Sandow in his prime.
However, weight-training, as a general athletic activity, was initially practiced as a way to gain strength and measure power in ancient Egyptian and Greek societies. These societies would primarily use stones of various sizes and weights in their quest for bodily transformation. The celebration of the human body through muscular development was, in fact, one of the Greek ideals.

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 an entirely new end-goal. Weight-lifting for entertainment purposes emerged in Europe signaling the beginning of a physical culture never before seen.  And thus the "strongman" had been born. 


The intention was not to develop ones physique into a chiseled form of what we expect to see in bodybuilders today, but to thrill crowds with amazing feats of strength! The professional strongman was the outcome of this intensified interest in weight-training and achievement of strength. Not surprisingly, weight-lifting exponentially grew in popularity so much so that today the practices during the early period of its development from 1890 to 1930 would seem, at best, archaic.

The practices of the late 19th century strongmen included issuing challenges to fellow strongmen to see who could out-lift the other as they travelled from town to town. Other practices included pulling carts and lifting animals, much to the amusement of onlookers. In fact, the public loved to watch these men compete, possibly for the novelty value if nothing else.
A typical strongman of late 1800's.  Overweight, stocky and a bit of muscle mass lifting alot of weight
for entertainment.

How their physiques looked did not factor into these men's displays of physical prowess. The usual strongman resembled more of today’s power-lifters who compete to display brute strength.  They displayed a large stomach, thick neck, and had a high amount of body fat.  The bigger the gut of the strongman usually accompanied a bigger amount of strength.

Physical culture can be traced back beginning in 11th century India and lasting all the way to 16th century India.  This culture was ahead of its time in development of weight training, where stone dumbbell weights known as “Nals” were lifted by those wanting to develop their bodies to enhance health and stamina to help overcome the challenges of daily life.
1800 style dumbbells formed from iron, some of the oldest modern weight training equiptment.
There was to be a long period between the 16th century physical movement in India and the beginning of bodybuilding as we know it today.  And since its arrival and development in Europe, America, and many other countries this often looked down on sport has increased exponentially.