How Sandow Became Muscular (1894 Article)

SANDOW, as a muscular phenomenon is of comparatively limited interest to the public, save as an exciting, and doubtlessly engaging, curiosity; but Sandow, as the culmination of a system which will enable even the weakest to attain a perfect physical development, is an object of stu- pendous interest to everybody.” The above forceful dictum is the shrewd and frankly-phrased judgment of the publishers of this work, expressed in a letter of instructions to the editor on his undertaking his congenial task.

The writer takes the liberty to preface this section of the book with the intelligent observation, as it is helpful in indicating the scope and design of what, if we do not fail in our purpose, ought to be the most important and serviceable division of the work. In a matter of such paramount moment, the difficulty is not so much to recognize the importance of the real issue, as to lay the finger precisely upon those forces, physical and temperamental, which, in Mr. Sandow’s case, have been at work in the evolution and equipment of the athlete, and have made him the structurally perfect type of man he has become. The inquiry is somewhat simplified by our having to leave out hereditary gifts, of any abnormal kind, among the accounting factors for Mr. Sandow’s rare physical attainments and phenomenal strength.

A careful inquiry has elicited the fact that Mr. Sandow, as we have elsewhere stated, was no youthful prodigy—physical or mental—and inherited from his parents little beyond a well-made but normal frame, and a healthy but by no means vigorous infantile constitution. What he has become, therefore, is the result of his own earnest, persistent and assiduous training, coupled with a tempera- mental predisposition to all manner of health-giving exercises, with an æsthetic eye for beauty and grace of physical form. To an innate love of the beautiful and the strong, the influence of education has to be added, in the direction it gave to young Sandow’s classical studies, and the ability to appreciate, as was exemplified in his youthful visit to Rome, the manly proportions and rare physical beauty of Old World types of manhood, preserved to us in the painter’s canvas or in the chiseled forms of the sculptor’s art. The prominence given in his German Fatherland to wrestling and gymnastic sports had also, no doubt, its influence upon the budding athlete, to which, in time, must be added the fostering force and molding power of habit.

If we seek further for the predisposing causes which led Sandow to attain his high degree of physical perfection, we may find an ingredient, of no mean value, in his great natural capacity for work, especially as a youth, and, in the man, a determination and will-power of undeviating and inflexible purpose. All those things, severally, had their proportionate influence; but nothing told with so much and gratifying effect as ceaseless and hard training—happily directed on an intelligent physiological basis—ever stimulated by a lively ambition and an unflagging enthusi- asm. Our inquiry, however, will be most satisfactorily met by reference to the renowned athlete himself, aided by such responses and Mr. Sandow has made in interviews and inquiring journal- ists and reporters in pursuit of their daily or nightly tale of “copy.” One of these interviews Mr. Sandow has handed to us, and, in spite of its occasional inconsequential and interrogative form, we take leave to incorporate it in these pages. The interview is as reported for the London edition of the New York Herald, for Oct. 5, 1890, from which we copy it.


“To see such a man as Sandow is to look on an almost ideal form of muscular development. Statistics of the strength and muscular tissue make it not impossible to believe many extraordi- nary stories with regard to the feats of strongmen who have lifted 300 lbs. with their teeth and 1,200 lbs. with their hands; but Sandow’s one-handed jugglery with dumb-bells weighing over 300 lbs., a ‘Roman Windmill’ game, in which nearly double that power is exercised, and a proof of his endurance under the fell weight of 2,600 lbs., are performances which knock out all previ- ous records in the same line.

“A natural adaptability for work which will develop the bulk and vigor of the muscles in men who, thanks, mayhap, to hereditary causes, are naturally framed for such exercises, forms but small part of the conditions necessary to success. The important question of training is here of paramount consideration, just as in all other athletic pursuits. The old authority who laid it down that an athlete, to be of any use, should have a comely head, brawny arms and legs, a good wind, and considerable strength, would have more than these requisites in Sandow, who is about mid- dle height—5 ft. 81⁄2 in.—but full-breasted and broad-shouldered beyond all ordinary men, and with thighs and lower limbs of wonderful balance and power. Withal, the young German carries himself gracefully, and might rival in statuesque beauty the Farnese Hercules.


“It should be of interest to know how such perfect muscular manhood was reached. Had such a man been a very wonderful baby, of great prowess as a boy, or how did it all come about? Has it been due to some super-excellent system of training?

“Sandow, with a smile, remarked to a New York Herald representative that he believed as an infant his physique was somewhat above the average, but as this rested on maternal authority only—which is ever the same whatever the baby—it may be taken lightly by the skeptical. In boyish exercises, however, he in time proved himself master of the town. But, granting every natural endowment which might fit mortal for athletic honors, Sandow, now in the flush and

prime of manhood, thinks that his present bodily status is due more to training than to natural physical gifts. Not that any amount of muscle culture could possibly bring one person in a thou- sand to the same pitch of excellence, but that in any particular case the regimen is as necessary as the primal physique on which it is exercised.

“Curiously enough, Sandow is a firm believer in the rational free-and-easy style of living and training which most enlightened modern professors use in preference to the violent methods of older days. Regarding as inimical to health any violent changes in one’s habits at any period, Sandow advocates nothing beyond mere temperance in the gratification of every natural desire, the strictest discipline being, in his esteem, not inconsistent with the enjoyment of all the rational pleasures of life. Everywhere the theory of constant light exercise has succeeded the older and heavier methods, and no one more eloquently than our accomplished visitor speaks of the utility of light weights in clubs and dumb-bells, and easy, graceful exercise of all sorts for ordinary practice. All, too, should be done on the ground, as he rigidly insists, and, if possible, under proper supervision of skilled instructors. Sandow himself underwent two years’ training at Brus- sels under a distinguished physician, who had the enthusiasm of an athletic preceptor, tempered by the milder knowledge of the scientific anatomist.


Sandow, Eugen. Sandow on Physical Training: A Study in the Perfect Type of the Human Form… Gale & Polden, Limited, 1894.

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  1. I am curious about the identity of the “distinguished physician” who mentored Sandow and is mentioned in the above article. The only “mentor” I knew that Sandow had in Brussels was “Professor Attila.” The latter, as you well know, got his start in the vaudeville circuit as a song and dance man and then became a strongman, but I don’t think he could be considered a “distinguished physician.” Any thoughts? (And my very best wishes for the coming year!)

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