We all know that exercise is good for our health and that’s why we keep up a workout routine. But there is another reason why we put ourselves through grueling workouts that, sometimes, makes us questions our life choices. That reason is non other that: we want to look good. We have have been conditioned to equate good muscle tone with good looks. Have you ever wondered when did we make the change from: “let’s lift heavy weight so we can build our shelters and survive” to “let’s lift heavy weight so we can look good”? Prepare your mind for a history lesson on bodybuilding.

How bodybuilding started

At the end of the nineteenth century a new interest in muscle building/fitness arose. There was a return to the muscular Greek ideal, not just as a means of survival or defending oneself from an attacker. But as a way to celebrate one’s body. This was the era when the ancient tradition of stone-lifting evolved into the modern sport of weightlifting.  As the sport evolved and developed, it took on different aspects in the cultures around the world which helped shape the sport of bodybuilding.

In Europe, weightlifting was a form of entertainment, the more you could lift the more likely you were to draw in large crowds and get paid.  The physicality of these athletes didn’t matter, what they were training for was to lift or support as much as possible.  This resulted in beefy, bulky bodies, which can still be seeing in strongman competitions.  However in America, a considerable interest in strength and its relation to health was developing.

Why a change was needed

In America the adherents of physical culture stressed the need for eating natural, unprocessed foods.  This idea mainly took root in response to the increase in the use of new food-processing techniques. Also, many people were moving away from small towns into big cities with public transportation, causing them to live sedentary lives.  With life becoming more sedentary and people eating more without being active, many health problems started to appear.

Because of these added health risks. Physical culturists were focusing on overall health and physical conditioning while advocating moderation and balance in all aspects in life. The beefy, bulky body types of European strongman were certainly not their ideal form.  What the experts needed was a model that more closely resembled the statues of ancient Greek athletes.  They found such a man by the name of Eugene Sandow, a turn-of-the-century physical culture superstar.

Sandow made his reputation in Europe as a professional strongman who loved to challenge and beat other strongman at their own stunts.  Leaving Europe for America in the 1890’s, he was promoted by Florenz Ziegfeld as, “The Strongest Man in The World”.  What really set him apart from the other athletes of his time wasn’t just his strength, but the aesthetic quality of his physique.  This celebration of the aesthetic quality of the male physique was something very new and would have far reaching effects into sports in this decade. It is thanks to people like Sandow that we started moving away from “lifting heavy” to “lifting heavy while looking good”. I will tell you more about the history of body building in the coming weeks. In the meantime, feel free to stop by Celebration CrossFit and ask me more about it I have more history to share 🙂

by coach Jack

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