Eugen Sandow

  • Who was Eugen Sandow?
Friedrich Wilhelm Müller, also known as Eugen Sandow was one of the first who performed what we call bodybuilding today. “The Father of Bodybuilding”, as he is often called, was famous for exhibiting unbelievable feats of strength, many of which remain unmatched to this day. Many of the exercise methods taken for granted today were invented by him. Regarding them, Sandow wrote a series of books, in one of which he coined the term “bodybuilding”. In the year of 1901, he also went on to create the world’s first major bodybuilding competition. Sandow has spread his message about physical culture all around the world through his posing, or what he called “muscle display performances”. This was because his audience was more interested in his muscularity than his strength feats, although the latter would be more impressive today due to the prevalence of PEDs of the current time. Today, the grand prize of Mr. Olympia, the most prestigious bodybuilding competition is a “Sandow”: a statuette of The Father of Bodybuilding himself.


  • History:
Born on the 2nd of April, 1867 in Königsberg, in what at the time was Prussia, and now is a small territory of Russia between Poland and Lithuania.  Back when he was a little boy, Sandow claims that he was quite delicate and had no strength predisposition- nothing that could predict his later success. At the age of ten, he went on a vacation to Italy, with his father, where he was astonished by statues of bronze and stone. That is when Eugen Sandow fell in love with developing his body. At the age of 18, he joined a circus travelling across Europe, in order to avoid the German obligatory military service.


Four years later, in 1889, he was told about a strongman competition in London by his mentor, best known as “Professor Attila.”. Sandow was off to London on the same day, where he was forced to pay an acquaintance to interpret for him, as he could not speak English. The prize pool for the competition was as follows:  £100 for anyone who could outmatch “Cyclops”, the pupil of Charles “Samson”, a man who was a well-known strongman at the time, and £1000 for anyone who could outmatch him himself. The prizes would be worth around $16.000 respective $160.000 today, due to the inflation over the years. The audience was puzzled with the sight of Eugen Sandow on stage, as he did not fit the typical “strongman look”. Cyclops laughed at him, until he took of his shirt. Once everyone saw the Roman statue-resembling body Sandow had, they stared in awe. The first feat had the two grab onto a 240lb bar each and put it above their head. Whether the movement was supposed to be a press was not declared. Once they both did it, Eugen took the bar again, and performed the same feat- only with one arm this time. He matched or outmatched Cyclops in every feat that they did. Once they were done, and Cyclops was to pay up, he said that they were to perform two more feats. Eugen proposed to do twenty more. It ended with him outperforming Cyclops by doing a floor press with over 500 lb. Immediately, he wanted to take on Samson, the mentor. He refused, saying that he was unprepared and that they were to do it on the next Saturday.


There was a great crowd outside the place where they were performing, and Sandow was late as the result, as he could not get through. He went to the back door, but the security would not let him in. He proceeded to smash the door open, slightly injuring the guard, handing him some cash for the troubles. In the meantime, Samson was confident that he wouldn’t show up, and exclaimed that he knew it would happen. He was to leave 10 minutes after the event was supposed to begin. Sandow made it only 30 seconds before the 10 minutes had passed. The first feat they did was bending steel bars over their calves, neck and arms. As with Cyclops, Sandow outmatched his opponent with ease once more. Samson did not want to lose. He said that if either Samson himself or Cyclops could do the next feat that they were to attempt, they would call it a draw. The feat involved deadlifting a 280lb dumbbell with one arm. Eugen could not let himself get tricked out of his money like that. He did the feat, and then took a 240lb dumbell, which he lifted to his chest, with both arms. He had chains put around his body and snapped them with his arms before putting the dumbbell down. Unfortunately, Eugen never recieved the money, as Samson refused to pay.


Once, when on vacation, he met a stone worker that he called “The Goliath”. The man was 6′ 2″ in height and weighed over 400lb. Sandow made an offer to pay him four times his daily payment if he were to go to England to perform with him, which he accepted. He tried to train the Goliath, to no avail. The Goliath was simply a brute, unable to use his brain and only relied on pure muscular strength. They had a performance in which they wrestled with each other. The Goliath was naturally unable to defeat Sandow. Sandow lifted him and the cannon which he was carrying, with one finger, a few inches off the ground. The performance was ended by Eugen carrying the Goliath off the stage with one arm.


He became a superstar and moved to America. Already in 1893, he started performing what he called “muscle display performances”. These included posing which in which he flexed and showed his muscular development. Some of his poses bear a striking resemblance to the ones performed today. Sandow featured in a few short films shot by the Edison Studios, owned by Thomas Edison. In these films, he performed his well known muscle display performances. In 1897, he opened an Institute of Physical Culture. There he taught his renowned methods of training as the means to achieve maximum physical development and strength. He also taught about nutrition. The Institute was open to the public for weight training. Only a year later, he established the world’s first bodybuilding magazine, “Sandow’s Magazine of Physical Culture”.


In 1901, he organized what is known as the first major bodybuilding competition. More people were there than allowed, so many were turned away at the doors. In 1911, he published a book called “Strength and How to Obtain It”. Multiple testimonials of the great function of his training regime are featured, with signatures. The testimonials included the measurements of the body-parts before and after trying his training regime. His measurements were also featured and are mentioned below.


Eugen Sandow was the first to promote many things still used in training today. First of all, he promoted the usage of dumbbells. Especially for isolation of muscle groups, something which he invented. He also patented a type of rubber bands that were used for stretching and exercise. Although he did smoke, he avoided stimulants in other forms, such as coffee and tea. Sandow had no special diet as he did not believe in any. Cold baths were something he indulged in daily, although in a different form than expected. He would jump in the tub and stay there for 15-20 seconds, and then he would put his clothes on while still wet. He believed that drying off with a towel negated the effects of the cold baths.


  • Feats:
The feats already mentioned in the “History” segment will not be discussed here.


    • Supporting a 800 lb bridge on his chest with a chariot and a horse crossing over it.
    • Tearing three combined decks of cards.
    • Supporting 4 men on his body with head on one chair and feet on other, while holding two 56 lb dumbbells with arms outstretched.
    • Wrestling a lion with mittens, which he lifted to the chest and threw on the ground.
    • Front flip while holding two 56 lb dumbbells.
    • Lifting a grand piano with 8 players on top of it.
    • Pressing 300 lb of dead weight overhead.
    • Holding a horse overhead and walking with it.
  • Eugen’s Measurements:
Weight – 202 lb / 90 kg
Height –  5′ 9.25″ / 175 cm
Neck – 18″ / 45.75 cm
Chest – 48″ / 122 cm
Thigh – 26″ / 66 cm
Calf – 18″ / 45.75 cm
Upper Arm – 19.5″ / 49.5 cm
Forearm – 17″ / 43 cm


  • Note:
Most of the feats were claims made by Eugen Sandow himself, in his book. So were the measurements. This means that the text may not be 100% accurate. We should still let his appearance speak for itself.

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