Tag: Eugen Sandow

Sandow, Hercules and the Birth of Modern Weightlifting

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While Eugen Sandow has long been been held in esteem in the lore of bodybuilding, fans of weightlifting have seldom seen the Prussian as a figure of great importance for their sport. This is unsurprising given that over the past half-century, Sandow’s image has become so integral to bodybuilding that the sport’s top contest, the Mr. Olympia, hands out miniature Sandow busts as trophies. Nevertheless part of Sandow’s fame, at least initially, came from his raw strength which he used to set records, wow audiences and defeat opponents.

With this in mind, today’s post looks at Sandow’s 1890 weightlifting contest with ‘Hercules’ McCann, a controversial bout during which the men’s weights measured to a tee, the first time such precision had ever been introduced to the growing sport. The contest can thus be seen as a pivotal moment in the evolution of weight lifting as a recognised sport in its own right.

Forgotten Exercises: The Roman Column

While many exercises, such as the squat, appear to be timeless in the lore of exercise history, there are many movements and machines that fall away with the sands of time.

Today’s post looks at the Roman Column, an inverted strongman exercise created in the mid-eighteenth century and used by famous performers such as Eugen Sandow and his mentor, Professor Atilla.

What is the Roman Column?

Sandow the Lion Tamer

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Though more synomous with bodybuilding than wrestling, the late 1890s saw Eugen Sandow, the man many credited with possessing the perfect physique, wrestle a caged lion in front of a US audience.

The bout was undertaken during Sandow’s extensive tour of the United States under the tutelage of promoter Florenz Ziegfeld. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many viewed the event as an exercise in futility during which a half dazed lion lazily swiped at the Prussian showman.

Today’s post focuses on the circumstances leading to this bizarre encounter, the fight itself and it’s aftermath, to explore just how far Sandow was willing to go to promote his body and his business.

A Life in Strength: William Joseph Murray

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Oftentimes this blog has focused exclusively on the star names of the physical culture industry. This, as perhaps can be guessed, is due to the extensive documents such men and women have left behind. The true physical culturists, that is those people who exercised for the joy of it, are much harder to track down.

Luckily, a discussion on a previous article has thrown up a fascinating source on one William Joseph Murray, an English born strongman of considerable interest to those studying the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. A keen athlete, Murray’s life exemplifies several of the trends discussed in previous posts as well as reminding us that fitness is inevitably, a lifelong pursuit.

Lies, Snake Oils and Downright Deception: Selling and the Fitness Industry

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The fitness industry, was and is, a notoriously dubious business place. For every honest athlete seeking to help his fellow trainer, there are dozens of genetically blessed individuals who seek to make a living with half-truths.

This chicanery, is however, a time honoured tradition as evidenced by today’s article. Surveying the great names of the physical culture game, today’s post looks at the forerunners to the current market industry and demonstrates how many sought to promote their products over the truth. Unsurprisingly names like Sandow, Sick and Inch all feature.

So if you thought that deceit was a new phenomena in bodybuilding, you are sorely mistaken!

Bodybuilding’s First Champion: William Murray

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While many credit Eugen Sandow as the father of modern day bodybuilding, very little is said about William, ‘Billy’, Murray, the world’s first recognisable bodybuilding champion. Today’s post will look at the interaction between Sandow, the unofficial father of bodybuilding and Murray, its first official king.

So who was William Murray? How did he win? And why has his place in bodybuilding history been largely forgotten?

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“One thousand dollars to any charity if I cannot conclusively prove that every alleged instructor of physical culture in this country is either a former pupil of mine or using one of the systems I have originated and perfected.”

Professor Attila,  1894

Can you build muscle with just five pound dumbbells? For Professor Attila, the man who kickstarted Eugen Sandow’s career, the answer was an unequivocal yes. Today’s lost read is Professor Attila’s Dumbbell Exercises, a short monograph published in 1913 by the publishing house of Richard K. Fox.

Although many may scoff at the idea of training with five pound dumbbells, it is important to remember that Attila trained in a way very different to modern lifters. For Attila, dumbbells acted merely as grippers to allow maximal tension within the muscle. For example, in doing a bicep curl you would tense every muscle in the arm and slowly execute the movement for reps. This method was hugely similar to the dynamic tension advocated by Charles Atlas and a more intense form of training than the mind-muscle connection advocated by modern bodybuilders.

Aside from describing a new way of training Attila’s work also has some fascinating insights such as the use of one legged squats or back extensions to build muscle, exercises, which truth be told, I thought were more ‘modern’ methods.

So click below, have a read and enjoy!

Professor Attila’s Five Pound Dumbbell Course (1913)