Throughout history weight training and other athletic and physical activities have been used by people in various societies as a way to gain strength and power. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks are some good examples.
They would use different weights fashioned from stones and other materials of various sizes to increase their physical capabilities and improve their health. In fact muscular development and aesthetics was regarded very highly in Greek society.
Bodybuilding in its modern competitive form began in the 1890s with the appearance of Mr. Eugene Sandow.
Eugene Sandow, whose image the Mr Olympia trophy is modeled after, is considered the first bodybuilder of the modern controlled sport. He was a late 19th and early 20th century strongman stage performer. What separated Eugene Sandow from the rest of the strongmen performers of his era is that while they all performed fits and acts of strength, Sandow went further and included his physique and its aesthetics as part of the act.
He was a great entrepreneur who packaged physical health and fitness, for the masses while enjoying monetary gain from it. He opened the institute of physical culture, where he offered personal training in physical fitness. He also published a number of books on physical training. He has been remembered as the father of modern bodybuilding.
In 1901 he held the first bodybuilding competition at the royal Albert hall in London, England. It was called, “the great competition”. The winner of this competition was William L. Murrow of England.
Fast forward to the year 1940 and enter the iconic Joe Weider and his brother Ben Weider. They launched the fitness magazine “your physique”.
They also founded the international federation of body builders. The IFBB in the year 1946.
Now! While Eugene Sandows introduced the idea of bodybuilding, to the public eye, Joe Weider together with his brother Ben Weider revolutionized it and played a major role in steering bodybuilding into what it has become today.
Joe Weider established the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition in 1965. It has since grown to be the number one bodybuilding contest in the world today. The holder of the Mr. Olympia title is considered to be the best bodybuilder in the world, and it is the dream of all competitive bodybuilders around the world to hold this title.
How did the competition get its name? Well, the story goes that Joe Weider and other players in the project were thinking of a name for the competition as they were having drinks. There was a beer which they were drinking called Olympia. Joe Weider suggested that they call it Mr. Qlympia. Despite other suggestions by others who did not want the competition to be named after a beer, Joe Weider’s name, Mr. Olympia, won the day.
Joe cleverly added a twist to the name by telling the others to think of Mt. Olympus. Imagine Mt Olympus with its connection to Greek Gods and bodybuilding with its connection to the body of a Greek god. This did the trick and the rest is history.
In the 1950s and 1960s bodybuilding had grown in popularity around the world. In earlier years, prior to this period, bodybuilders like Charles Atlas, John Grimek, Steve Reeves and Reg Park had done a lot of work in contributing to the spread and popularization of the sport worldwide.
So by the 1950s and 60s there was an emergence of strength and gymnastic athletic champions, growth of fitness and bodybuilding magazines, knowledge of nutrition and fitness principles, and growth of bodybuilding contests. The number of bodybuilding organizations also grew, both in numbers and size with the ultimate one being the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding contest.
In the 1970s which was known as “the golden era of bodybuilding” or “the pumping iron era” after the bodybuilding movie/documentary, pumping iron which was shot during that era, bodybuilding became even more main stream than the previous two decades.
Champions like Arnold Swarzenneger , Frank Zane, Lou Ferrigno and Franco Columbo to name only a few became household names and took bodybuilding into the movies. Other movies featuring body builders were shot.
These movies were different from pumping iron because unlike pumping iron which was a movie based on bodybuilding, these other productions like the TV series “the incredible hulk” starring bodybuilder Lou Ferigno and “Conan the barbarian” starring Arnold Shwartzennegger , were mainstream movies starring bodybuilders.
This, you can say, is the period in which bodybuilding truly moved into the mainstream publics world and bodybuilders especially the big names were known by people who were not necessarily bodybuilding fans.
And then came the 1980s. In this decade bodybuilding grew in leaps and bounds as a new era in the sport dawned.
There was a huge advancement in body size and definition. The new breed of bodybuilders came in bigger and more ripped than ever before. Muscle size and definition reached a new peak and new standards were set. Athletes like Lee Haney, Rich Gaspari, Lee Labrada and others took the sport to new levels. Popular culture embraced bodybuilding during this time with movie stars taking it up to improve their physique, health, physical performance and popular appeal. Actors like Sylvester Stallone and Jean Claude Van Damme amongst many, many other stars took up the sport. Bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger also found that there was space for them in the movie scene.
And the public loved it all.
The 1990s brought in the new mass monsters, even bigger than the new breed of the 1980s. Bodybuilders just seemed to get bigger and unbelievably bigger. The mass monsters of the 1980s seemed to be dwarfed by the mass monsters of the 1990s.
Champions like Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman and Markus Rhule appeared on the scene. These guys changed body building forever. Especially size were athletes were coming in at 300 pounds body weight while being shredded to the core with no body fat to talk about.
This trend continued into the 2000s picking through the era of Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler towards the end of the 2000s. Today the bodybuilders are really mass monsters and due to advances in nutrition and supplement use, training routines and information that is readily available to individuals, this is the new norm.
Bodybuilding has by no means reached its limit and just like any other sport it is going to continue improving with previous records being broken and new levels of performance being reached and surpassed.