Iconic Image of Eugen Sandow Flexing His Muscles

Eugen Sandow’s Physical Training Leg Machine (1894)

Picture of Sandow Using his Physical Training Leg Machine
Picture of Sandow Using his Physical Training Leg Machine

In 1894 Eugen Sandow traveled to the United States. While this was not the birth of Sandow’s celebrity, it marked an intensification of interest in the Strongman’s life. Under the tutelage of Flo Ziegfeld, Sandow’s time in the United States, which lasted from 1894-1896, was spellbinding. It was in America that Sandow reinvented his posing routines to focus more on classical imagery, it was in America that Sandow wrestled a lion (yes really!) and it was in America that Sandow appeared in a film produced by Thomas Edison. In short, Sandow benefited a great deal from his American tour.

Where Sandow’s real education came was in capitalism. Today’s post highlights the many ways in which Sandow’s American experience challenged him as an entrepreneur.

Sandow, whom many still regarded as the ‘father of modern day bodybuilding‘, first came to public attention in the late 1880s when he challenged, and defeated, his fellow strongman Sampson. From 1889 to 1893, Sandow toured Great Britain, performing feats of strength, challenging others to weightlifting competitions (not always successfully!) and generally impressing individuals with his physique.

What he did not do, however, was sell products. At that time Sandow was a traditional strongman by which I mean he made his money predominately from stage shows. It was only during and after Sandow’s time in America that he began to sell products and services in a much greater way.

From Sandow’s return to Britain in 1895 he sold a variety of products including, but not limited to, books, magazines, medical services, women’s corsets, nutritional supplements, children’s toys and even cigars. This ‘path to profit’ began with his time in America.

First, in 1894, Sandow, alongside G.W. Mercer, produced Sandow’s first ever book on physical training. Even allowing for the undoubtedly prominent role Mercer played in actually writing the book, it is significant for a number of reasons.

First, it claimed that Sandow had an athletic background as a child – a point he later ignored in Strength and How to Obtain It. Second it discussed light and heavy weight lifting and even harness lifting. Finally, it also included words on a little known, and short-lived, Sandow endorsed exercise machine – the Physical Training Leg Machine.

I have to admit, the Physical Training Leg Machine is not something I immediately associate with Sandow. It is strange looking, very unwieldy and not something that has stood the test of time. While the same could arguably also be said about Sandow’s ring dumbbells, the basic function of the dumbbell lives on. This is … well … strange but is nevertheless an insight into the beginnings of Sandow’s endorsements.

If nothing else, it is a weird and wonderful part of fitness history. The descriptions below come from said 1894 work. As always, Happy Lifting!

IN the previous pages we have more than once referred to this ingeniously contrived and useful machine, designed and patented by the great athlete, with the object of providing the necessary apparatus for exercising the lower limbs. With the bar-bells, and the dumb-bells, of heavy and light weight, the leg machine is the only mechanical appliance which Mr. Sandow uses or finds essential to his simple and efficient methods of physical training. It completes and rounds off his system of muscular exercise by bringing into play (1), the extensor and flexor, that is, the stretching and pulling-up muscles of the leg, and (2), the abductor and adductor muscles, viz., those muscles that separate or draw apart, and bring together again, the lower limbs. The adduc- tor muscles of the leg, more popularly speaking, are those which we use in gripping the sides of a horse in equestrian exercise. It is these abductor and adductor muscles that Mr. Sandow, with his accustomed thoroughness in seeking to develop the whole body, and not parts of it merely, has had in view to exercise by means of this invention, for these muscles of the inner and outer thigh, which supplement and re-enforce those used in the act and motions of progression, usually come into play. The value of the machine will be better appreciated if one reflects on the fact that the customary movements of the legs, if one is not a horseman, are chiefly forwards and backwards, as in walking, running, jumping, rowing, and bicycle-riding; while the lateral movements are little, if at all, exercised, and the muscles situate on the inner and outer thigh are neglected or kept dormant.

The leg-machine, which is of simple design and comparably cheap in its construction, is so made as to be easily taken apart, packed up, and, when desired, transported from place to place. The illustrations, Nos. 45 a, b, c, and d, will show its design and uses, while a previous illustration (Nos. 14 and 14a), referred to in Exercise No. 14, exhibits another adaptation of the invention in developing the muscles of the arms, shoulders, and back. The machine consists of a base- board or platform, from five to six feet in length, having at either end an upright post or standard, secured by screws to the baseboard, and capped by ferrules with attached hooks or eyes, and a cross-bar for the hands to rest upon and give steadiness to the upright posts. About the middle of the cross-bar or brace, and a little apart, are two fixed hooks upon which are hung stirrups, connected by one or more rubber straps or elastic cables; into these stirrups the feet are placed for the purpose of exercise, either by a direct up-and-down tread, or by alternate lateral thrusts to the outer base of the machine.

To the hooks on the top of the upright posts are fastened single, double or treble cables, which are attached at the other end to strong leather straps, padded on the inside. These straps are buckled round the legs, below or above the knee, so as to exercise the abductor and adductor muscles. The cables pull the separated legs together, as shown in illustration No. 45b, and the exercise is derived by stretching the legs apart and allowing the cables to pull them slowly together again. The position of the pupil in this exercise is that shown in the photo., seated on a chair, hands clasping the brace, heels together, toes alone resting on the platform and aiding the limbs to press themselves apart. The movement should be repeated as long as the operator care to give to the exercise; it will be found good for the sartorius and the triceps muscles of the leg. If one cable coupled to each leg is not sufficient of a strain, then two or more may be used. In this exercise, the cables should cross each other and hook in the straps of the far leg, one being fas- tened above and the other fastened below the knee.

A little distance below the upper end of the standards are additional hooks, to which are at- tached shorter elastic cables, provided at the further end with snap-hooks, to be attached to the outer side of the padded straps that encircle the legs just below the knee (see illustration of the operator, No. 45a). In this exercise the position of the operator is much the same as in that of the previous exercise, with this difference, that the knees are brought together by a strong pressure and allowed slowly to be pulled apart by the tension of the rubber cables, the movement being good for developing the biceps muscles of the leg.

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