Home Physiological Lifestyle Eugen Sandow, Father of Modern Bodybuilding

Eugen Sandow, Father of Modern Bodybuilding


The 18th and 19th centuries saw the first examples of bodybuilding that kept the world in awe. Considering that there were no fitness supplements or modern gyms with adequate equipment at that time, it is certainly worth looking into the methods and techniques of that distant past.

Who was Eugen Sandow?

A performing strongman, Sandow is known as the father of bodybuilding. He was born in 1867 in Germany and was the world’s first bodybuilding star, touring, being featured in short films and writing his own fitness books. He could bend iron bars, bear the weight of a horse or cow, and break chains. Besides his incredible strength, he also had amazing flexibility. His training methods and sculpted physique turned him into one of the world’s most famous people and a legendary strongman. The inspiration came when he visited Italy and noticed the strong, muscular bodies depicted in art. Sandow thus felt inspired to achieve a similar figure; therefore he trained not only for strength, but also with the goal of developing an esthetic physique. His story is highly motivational, considering he had been very frail as a child.

Eugen Sandow’s Training Methods

Sandow mostly relied on heavy weight lifting using barbells and dumbbell training. Because dumbells are small, it’s easy to do various exercises with these and target many muscle groups. Barbells are heavier and can train long muscles effectively. However, this is far from being everything. Sandow employed his mind by concentrating his mental power on every muscle and each movement. Without this, the exercises alone would not lead to spectacular muscle growth. The method also implied skipping days in order to rest and recover properly.

Here are the exercises he used:

  • dumbbell biceps curls
  • side dumbbell curls
  • standing chest flyes
  • reversed barbell curls
  • alternating shoulder presses
  • front raises
  • shoulder lunges
  • wrist rotations
  • push-ups with and without added resistance
  • side bends
  • squats

Sandow advises increasing reps gradually, until you reach 120 reps per exercise. Then, you may increase the weight by adding 1 kg or 2 lbs and returning to the initial rep cunt to start it all over. Two or three training sessions per week are enough to give you the workout and recovery time that you need. Unfortunately, he did not know the importance of cardio and didn’t give it the time it deserved. He never mentions any activity that would classify as cardio.

His diet

Sandow, as other strongmen of his time, discovered that each athlete needs to find their own diet. What works for one may not work for the next. It’s important to experiment instead of copy. In his words, a good diet should never be a fixed or too rigorous one. He advocated for moderation, too. Interestingly enough, he never relied on stimulants, like tea or coffee. He got everything he needed from ordinary but wholesome foods. All meals were following a strict schedule though. Eugen Sandow also placed a great emphasis on chewing well and eating food that’s easy to digest – two aspects which are being vastly ignored these days.

All of these aspects were mentioned and practiced by Sandow 120 years ago, but time never proved him wrong – on the contrary. What modern bodybuilders need to understand is that they can base their training and diet on these timeless methods, at the same time taking advantage of recent discoveries, such as new exercises, fitness machines, and supplements. Also, it must be noted that cardio sports should be given as much attention as strength training.

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