I recently watched a new series on Netflix, titled the ‘Legends of Strength‘, produced by Rogue. The documentary series goes over the history of the sport and show of Strongmen. The episodes aren’t too long, sitting at the 40 minute mark, I found the first episode to be entertaining, motivating as well as educational. The episode documents the story of Eugen Sandow, quite possibly the first aesthetic strongman, who not only impressed the world with his strength and showmanship, but was also an entrepreneurial pioneer in the fitness industry.
The documentary begins during the end of the 19th century, focusing on Eugen Sandow (2 April 1867 – 14 October 1925). Attributed to be the first ‘aesthetic’ strong man some even claiming that he invented the six pack.
At the time, strongmen were the equivalent of professional sports players. It was more than performing feats of strength, the strongmen had a complete show and routine scripted. It was both a spectacle of entertainment and athletic performance. They considered themselves to be show men first and foremost, whom sought to perform for the public.
This goal of entertainment meant that strongmen needed to find ways to demonstrate their strength in a way that was relate-able to the public. Simply lifting barbells and dumbbells was both boring and wasn’t relatable to the average person. One of the prominent strongmen in London would challenge audience members to beat his feats of strength and the perennial showman that Sandow was, took the opportunity to show him up. This upstaging of the popular strongman helped propel Sandow into the spotlight and he would eventually get his own show. One of his famous displays of strength included Sandow performing a glute bridge, with a wooden plank over the top of him, then a horse would walk across. One of Sandow’s performance secrets was using isometric holds to his advantage. He didn’t have to lift a horse, simply carry it at a set height in front of the audience.
Not only was he a great showman and entertainer, but “He was the first to understand the connection between strength, health and entrepreneurship.” Much like today’s fitness entrepreneurs, Sandow saw the opportunity in the market (unlike a lot of other strongmen at the time) to sell training programs to the public. His enterprise grew and grew, including his own patented (potentially useless) dumbbell.
Sandow also wanted to educate the public, part of his branding was getting regular people into the strength and bodybuilding culture. He opened the Institute of Physical Culture, which was a center that offered personal tuition in exercise. As this expanded he created the Sandow brand and started franchising the brand in order to reach more people.
Sandow held, what is considered to be the first bodybuilding competition in 1901 at London Albert Hall.
As his popularity and financial means grew, he lent his name to other products that had the endorsement of Sandow. This apparently went too far when he attempted to enter the food industry by starting a supplement line – a malt cocoa supplement. This caused problems when the war began, as he was unable to source ingredients from Germany, where most of the raw ingredients came from. Sandow had stretched himself too thin, after the supplement line and was the start of the decline of his empire.
He directly influenced how the British army trained their soldiers, with regard to physical training.
At the end of the day, Sandow really wanted to help everyday people improve their own strength and physical . He didn’t push perfection, rather he encouraged the growht of the ambition regular people
- Be more than a strength athlete
- Learn to see opportunities where others haven’t
- Seek to be better than yourself
- Think about how to stand out from the crowd