By Medifit Biologicals





Over the past 150 years, bodybuilders have gone from circus sideshows to celebrities, imparting fitness lessons along the way.



It is said that bodybuilding dates all the way back to ancient Greece. It was only after the 19th century that bodybuilding was promoted by Eugene Sandow, known as “The Father of Modern Bodybuilding”. Not only was Sandow incredibly strong, it is said amongst bodybuilding circles he was the pioneer for the craze of physical aesthetics. Due to his high profile within the industry, Sandow capitalised on his dedication and built several businesses around bodybuilding equipment. Shortly after, Sandow then organized the first ever bodybuilding contest in September 1901 called the “Great Competition” it was a great success. Today the most prestigious bodybuilding competition held for bodybuilding is the Mr. Olympia.


BB History 1

Stone-lifting traditions were practiced in ancient Greece and Egypt. Western weight lifting developed in Europe around 1880 to 1953, with strongmen displaying feats of strength for the public, and challenging each other. The focus was not on the make up of their physique, and these strongmen often had a large stomach and fatty limbs.


BB History 2

The roots of bodybuilding go all the way back to ancient Greece. It was the athletes of ancient Greece who used to train in the gymnasiums (Greek for “naked place”); however, they did not use resistance training as a form of body modification but rather a means to improve at the sport they participated in.

The most notable of such athletes was Olympic wrestling champion Milo of Croton who reportedly would carry a calf on his back every day until it became a bull, thus demonstrating progressive resistance as a means of developing strength.


By the mid-19th century weight training as a means of improving health and increasing strength was becoming increasingly popular. People began to be exposed, to what was to become known as, the physical culture: through the travelling strongmen of the time. The strongmen would entertain crowds with feats of strength, such as lifting and pulling massive weights. However, it was purely the feats of strength that the audiences were interested in; the actual aesthetics of the strongmen was not important — this would all change with the arrival of Eugene Sandow.

Eugen Sandow 1

Born 1867 in Prussia by the name Friedrich Muller, Eugene Sandow later became referred to as “The Father of Modern Bodybuilding.”

Not only was Sandow incredibly strong, he also had a muscle quality and an aesthetic comparable to that of a modern day bodybuilder. He first traveled Europe and later in the 1890’s America — where he was billed as the “world’s strongest man”.

For more details on Eugen sandow, refer to EUGEN SANDOW section on this website.


In 1901 the first major bodybuilding competition was held in the Royal Albert Hall, London. It was to be known as “The Great Competition”. And Sandow was one of the judges alongside Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as athlete and Sculptor sir Charles Lawes.



On 16 January 1904, the first large-scale bodybuilding competition in America took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The winner was Al Treloar and he was declared “The Most Perfectly Developed Man in the World”. Treloar won a $1,000 cash prize, a substantial sum at that time. Two weeks later, Thomas Edison made a film of Al Treloar’s posing routine. Edison also made two films of Sandow a few years before, making him the man who made the first three motion pictures featuring a bodybuilder. In the early 20th century, Bernarr Macfadden and Charles Atlas, continued to promote bodybuilding across the world. Alois P. Swoboda was an early pioneer in America and the man whom Charles Atlas credited with his success in his statement: “Everything that I know I learned from A. P. (Alois) Swoboda.”



Other important bodybuilders in the early history of bodybuilding prior to 1930 include: Earle Liederman (writer of some of the earliest bodybuilding instruction books), Seigmund Breitbart (famous Jewish bodybuilder), Georg Hackenschmidt, George F. Jowett, Maxick (a pioneer in the art of posing), Monte Saldo, Launceston Elliot, Sig Klein, Sgt. Alfred Moss, Joe Nordquist, Lionel Strongfort (Strongfortism), Gustav Fristensky (the Czech champion), and Alan C. Mead, who became an impressive muscle champion despite the fact that he lost a leg in World War I.


THE “GOLDEN AGE – 1940 TO 1970”

The period of around 1940 to 1970 is often referred to as the “Golden Age” of bodybuilding because of changes in the aesthetic for more mass, as well as muscular symmetry and definition, which characterised the “early years”. This was due in large part to the advent of World War II, which inspired many young men to be bigger, stronger and more aggressive in their attitudes. This was accomplished by improved training techniques, better nutrition and more effective equipment. Several important publications came into being, as well, and new contests emerged as the popularity of the sport grew.

This period of bodybuilding was typified at Muscle Beach in Venice, California. Famous names in bodybuilding from this period included Steve Reeves (notable in his day for portraying Hercules and other sword-and-sandal heroes), Clancy Ross, Reg Park, John Grimek, Dan Lurie, Larry Scott, Bill Pearl, and Irvin “Zabo” Koszewski.


The rise in popularity of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) added a bodybuilding competition to their existing weightlifting contest in 1939 – and the following year this competition was named AAU Mr. America. Around the mid-1940s most bodybuilders became disgruntled with the AAU since they only allowed amateur competitors and they placed more focus on the Olympic sport of weightlifting. This caused brothers Ben and Joe Weider to form the International Federation of BodyBuilders (IFBB) – which organized their competition IFBB Mr. America, which was open to professional athletes.

In 1950, another organization, the National Amateur Bodybuilders Association (NABBA) started their NABBA Mr. Universe contest in the UK. Another major contest, Mr. Olympia was first held in 1965 – and this is currently the most prestigious title in bodybuilding.

Initially contests were only for men, but the NABBA added Miss Universe in 1965 and Ms. Olympia was started in 1980.




In the 1970s, bodybuilding had major publicity thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, Lou Ferrigno and others in the 1977 film Pumping Iron. By this time the International Federation of BodyBuilding & Fitness (IFBB) dominated the competitive bodybuilding landscape and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) took a back seat.

The National Physique Committee (NPC) was formed in 1981 by Jim Manion, who had just stepped down as chairman of the AAU Physique Committee. The NPC has gone on to become the most successful bodybuilding organization in the U.S., and is the amateur division of the IFBB in the United States. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the decline of AAU sponsored bodybuilding contests. In 1999, the AAU voted to discontinue its bodybuilding events.


BB History 5

After much success in Europe, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became known as the “Austrian Oak”, burst onto the international bodybuilding scene. In 1966, his first big international victory was the National Amateur Bodybuilders’ Association (NABBA) Mr Universe contest. Arnold’s first attempt at being the best, and capturing the Olympia title came in 1969, was unsuccessful. He finished second place, behind Sergio Oliva. It would be the only time Arnold was defeated in the competition.

On his second attempt, at a record breaking age of twenty-three, Arnold won the title of Mr Olympia. Beating Sergio Oliva in the process. Schwarzenegger would now go on a winning streak and be crowned Mr Olympia every year up to 1975 — a record breaking six times.



By the time Arnold Schwarzenegger won the title five times in a row he began to attract attention from filmmakers George Butler and Robert Fiore. They filmed Arnold training and competing in the 1975 Mr Olympia for a docudrama called Pumping Iron. It was actually Arnolds plan to retire from bodybuilding in 1974 but he was persuaded to carry on so the film could be made. Pumping Iron would do a lot to popularise bodybuilding, as well as introduce Arnold Schwarzenegger as a household name.



Olympic approval 2

In the early 2000s, the IFBB was attempting to make bodybuilding an Olympic sport. It obtained full IOC membership in 2000 and was attempting to get approved as a demonstration event at the Olympics which would hopefully lead to it being added as a full contest. This did not happen. Olympic recognition for bodybuilding remains controversial since some argue that bodybuilding is not a sport because the actual contest does not involve athletic effort. Also, some still have the misperception that bodybuilding necessarily involves the use of anabolic steroids, which are prohibited in Olympic competitions. Proponents argue that the posing routine requires skill and preparation, and bodybuilding should therefore be considered a sport.

In 2003, Joe Weider sold Weider Publications to AMI, which owns The National Enquirer. Ben Weider is still the president of the IFBB. In 2004, contest promoter Wayne DeMilia broke ranks with the IFBB and AMI took over the promotion of the Mr. Olympia contest.



Coleman reached a competition weight of 297lbs and became the joint record holder for Mr Olympia; winning eight from ’98-’05. Ronnie Coleman also holds the record for most wins as an IFBB professional, with 26.

Returning to the stage in 2006 to defend his title, and make it a record breaking nine Olympia’s, Coleman was defeated by Jay Cutler.Previously, Cutler was a runner-up for five years consecutively.

BB History 4

Jay Cutler’s win reversed the trend of Mr Olympia getting bigger and bigger every year. This was further demonstrated when a smaller and highly conditioned Dexter “The Blade” Jackson stole victory from underneath Jay Cutler’s nose in ’08. Cutler is no stranger to adversity, and won back the title the next year. He’s one of only three men to do so. And being the first to win back the title straight after losing it. Currently, Cutler is the dominant bodybuilder of our time. Winning the Mr Olympia title four times. The most recent in 2010. His era could be coming to an, and if he’s toppled, the next bodybuilding super-power may emerge…

By Medifit Biologicals