A Brief History of Bodybuilding



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The Pioneers

Friedrich Wilhelm Müller, better known as Mr. Eugene Sandow, was the first bodybuilding performer who started his career in a strongman competition.

His first bodybuilding performance was in 1889 on the London stage. He organized the first official bodybuilding competition long before gym memberships and Dubai Muscle Show were a thing!


One of the most known bodybuilding pioneers was Charles Atlas, who won the title of the “Worlds Most Handsome Man” and “World's Most Developed Man” in 1921 and 1922. It is essential to mention that weight loss was not a top priority back in the day.


John Grimek was the winner of the first and second “Mr. America” competition. Back in the day, Grimek was unparalleled in muscle development, becoming a model for a new generation of bodybuilders around the globe.


After Grimek, two individuals left a significant mark in 1945, changing the bodybuilding world forever. Clancy Ross and Steve Reeves. Clancy Ross won the 1945 “Mr. America” and was granted the title of the first modern bodybuilder.


Steve Reeves was famous for his perfectly proportionate body and movie-star-like appearance. After winning “Mr. America” and “Mr. Universe,” Steve became referred to as the greatest bodybuilder of all time.


Brothers Ben and Joe Weiber founded the international federation of bodybuilding IFBB in 1946.


Major Competitions

The first official bodybuilding competition was held at Royals Albert Hall in London on September 14th, 1901. The judging team, besides Eugen Sandow, included Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Lawes-Wittewronge. The winner of the competition was William L. Murray of Nottingham.


The first colossal bodybuilding competition was held in New York in 1904, and the winner was Al Treloar.  By 1940, the first modern bodybuilding competition was organized, “Mr. America,” making John Grimek famous for winning the first two competitions.


“Mr. Universe,” later changed to “Universe Championship,” was founded in 1948 in London. However, it did not happen in 1949, yet during that time, the NABBA was established. NABBA hosted the competition in 1950, and Steve Reeves took the first place.


And finally, the most significant competition had arrived in 1963. “Mr. Olympia” was founded by the co-founder of IFBB, Ben Weiber. His idea was to take bodybuilding to another level. The most famous of all “Mr. Olympia” winners, Arnold Schwarzenegger, became the third person to gain that title alongside Sergio Oliva and Larry Scott.


The Rules Through History


Before establishing the actual rules of the bodybuilding competition, strongmen were traveling from town to town and challenged people to lift battles. They lifted everything from rocks to different animals to animate the mass.


The first bodybuilding competition did not have many rules and restrictions about supplements, due to its unpopularity. However, to compete, one individual had to attend a local small bodybuilding show at least once before “the Great Show.” 


Judges decided the winner, and they looked for a proportional body rather than large muscles. The winner was William L.Murray of Nottingham, who, as the judges said, had the most symmetrical shape – which is by some opinions very different from today’s bodybuilding standards.


To cut a long story short, the two main differences between old school competitions and modern bodybuilding are:


  • Today, muscle definition is imperative to be a successful bodybuilder. The old photographs of former bodybuilders show large and strong men, yet without clearly defined muscles and, in some cases, they even had a soft belly. Fitness was not at the forefront.


  • Supplement consumption is now standard for a successful bodybuilding career, followed, of course, by a strict diet and a lot of new-found medical research.


The Exercising Approach Through History


In the beginning, the exercise approach was archaic; they did not bother much about the science behind body development. Instead, bodybuilders hit the gyms harder each day and were known for enormous meals and perfect gym nutrition!

That practice rapidly changed due to new medical researches and the rise of body-health influencers. Bodybuilders around the world published literature about exercise, based on their experience and nutrition research, which motivated enthusiasts to explore the topic further, leading to what we know today.


In Conclusion


Bodybuilding became a global obsession very fast. There are plenty of gyms in every corner of the world, so it’s not challenging to find gyms near me. Most literature and studies are also available online, either for free or for a low price.