Eugen Sandow was a German bodybuilder, Strongman, showman, model, and businessman. He was known as the Father of Modern Bodybuilding due to his influence. This is his complete profile, biography, training regimen, diet plan, and more.
(Bodybuilder, Strongman, showman, model, and businessman)
|Full Name: Eugen Sandow (Bodybuilder, Strongman, showman, model, and businessman)|
|185 – 195lbs (83.9 – 88.5kg)||5’9″ (175cm)||1900|
|Date of Birth||Died||Nationality|
|April 2, 1867||October 14, 1925||German|
Early Life and Career
“Eugen Sandow (real name Friedrich Wilhelm Müller) was a famous bodybuilder and Strongman who was born in Königsberg, Kingdom of Prussia in 1867. He discovered bodybuilding very young and most notably was believed to have put together the world’s first big bodybuilding competition in 1901 at Royal Albert Hall in London.
In 1885, he left home to avoid serving time in the military and subsequently, became a circus athlete in Europe. It was there, that he adopted the stage name, Eugen Sandow. Not long after, he was mentored by Ludwig Durlacher, who was known to coach several rich and famous individuals.
Durlacher suggested Sandow entered a Strongman competition in London a few years later of which he not only won but upset the reigning champion. This victory made him a superstar in the world of strength sports and eventually, there was a lot of interest in him displaying his muscles at events along with performing feats of strength.
Sandow eventually founded many Institutes of Physical Culture throughout the UK where he educated many on training, nutrition, and also helped train members of the British Army. Here he innovated and became a pioneer for certain methods of which he introduced to the world through tours.
He also offered a monthly publication initially called Physical Culture although it was eventually renamed, Sandow’s Magazine of Physical Culture. Not to mention, he wrote several books that were published, where he offered his expertise of which ‘Strength and How To Obtain It’ is quite possibly his most popular piece.
Sandow was also one of the first to intentionally develop his physique based on the ideal proportions of Greek statues and is known as the ‘Father of modern bodybuilding’. He was even what many would call a “sex symbol” having often posed in minimal to no clothing.
He married his wife Blanche Brooks in 1896 and had two daughters, Helen and Lorraine.
After a very illustrious career, Sandow passed away in Kensington, London in 1925 due to what was believed to be caused by an aortic aneurysm.
A bronze statue of Sandow has been awarded to the winner of the prestigious Mr. Olympia contest every year since 1977, and it’s referred to as “The Sandow”. This is undoubtedly the most sought after trophy in bodybuilding.”
Eugen Sandow Workout Routine
Eugen Sandow had a preference for using dumbbells in his workouts and he’d do full-body training. He was also very strategic about how his choice of exercises. Sandow explained the benefits of each movement w/ the workout routine that he included in the book, ‘Strength and How To Obtain It’ which he wrote 120 years ago.
“Nothing, in my opinion, is better than the use of the dumb-bell, for developing the whole system, particularly if it is used intelligently, and with a knowledge of the location and functions of the muscles.” – Eugen Sandow
Sandow supposedly used 5lb dumbbells for the following workout that consisted of what he termed “light weight exercises” (although there’s some debate about this). So the goal with this workout is to perform the sets and reps as provided for this first session. Then every session thereafter, you’ll increase the number of reps according to what is shown in the parenthesis next to the sets/reps provided below for each exercise.
The goal is to be able to complete 120 reps per each exercise. Then when you can do this, you’ll add 2lbs (1kg) for each exercise and repeat.
While this isn’t exactly realistic or necessarily an effective method for training your muscles, it could be a fun workout to try. We even shared this workout in another article for those interested in trying this routine inspired by the “Father of Modern Bodybuilding”.
Here’s the workout with details…
Alternating dumbbell curl
- 1 set x 50 reps each arm (increase by 5 reps each session)
The alternating dumbbell curl is a staple exercise for biceps training. Sandow would do these (and other curl variations) with bent knees and make sure to fully extend the arms during the negatives.
Reverse dumbbell curl
- 1 set x 25 reps each arm (increase by 2 reps each session)
The reverse dumbbell curl from what we know currently, works the brachioradialis muscle that is a more dominant elbow flexor compared to the basic bicep curl, when the hands are pronated.
Side dumbbell curl (alternating)
- 1 set x 10 reps each arm (increase by 1 rep each session)
To do this exercise, stand with the dumbbells by your sides with knees slightly bent and then raise them up laterally to shoulder level. Turn your palms up and curl one dumbbell toward your head so that it’s above the shoulder. Fully extend your arm back out literally. Alternate arms and maintain the upper arms parallel to the floor during the exercise.
Sandow notes that this exercise also works the deltoids and triceps when done properly.
Side dumbbell curl (two-arm)
- 1 set x 10 reps (increase by 1 rep every three days)
This is the same as the previous exercise except you’ll curl both arms simultaneously. Although, Sandow explained in his book that you can do a variation by bending slightly forward and curling the dumbbells inward and under the armpits/shoulders.
Then you’d still extend your arms back out similarly.
- 1 set x 10 reps (increase by 1 rep every two days)
While Sandow did these standing with dumbbells, we recommend doing the standing cable variation or using dumbbells while lying on a bench. We also changed the reps to 10 rather from what was originally 5.
Sandow said that this exercise opens up the chest, allowing for better mobility.
Alternating shoulder press
- 1 set x 15 reps each side (increase by 1 rep every 2 days)
This is a basic standing shoulder press using dumbbells. Note: The link shows a one-arm press but for the exercise, use two dumbbells and a neutral grip.
Again, Sandow believed that this exercise opens up the chest and improves mobility.
Alternating front raises
- 1 set x 10 reps each side (increase by 1 rep every 2 days)
This alternating front raise works the front head of the shoulders.
Wrist flexor exercise
- To failure
This exercise was utilized by Sandow to loosen up the wrists.
To do it, use a really light weight. Stand with your arms shoulder height and laterally to your sides then rotate your wrists back and forth. Alternatively, you can bend your wrists forward and backward.
- To failure
The body position is the same for this exercise as for the previous one. But we recommend using a small dumbbell or two small weight plates.
You want to hold the weights out with arms extended and then rotate the right hand clockwise and the left, counterclockwise. Sandow advised these for flexibility, strength, and endurance of the forearms.
The next exercise (you can try it) on his list was this same exercise but you’ll rotate both hands in the opposite direction now.
Eugen’s shoulder lunge
- 1 set x 10 reps each side (increase by 1 rep every 2 days)
An interesting exercise that combines two movements in one, the shoulder lunge is performed by stepping forward with one leg bending at the knees as you’d normally do while doing a front raise with the opposite arm. You’ll alternate switching between the left leg lunge and right arm raise and the right leg lunge, left arm raise.
- 1 set x 3 reps (increase by 1 rep every 3 days)
Push-ups are great for working the chest, shoulder, and triceps.
Push-ups w/ resistance
- 1 set x 2 reps (increase by 1 rep every 3 days)
Because Sandow used a different contraption for these, here’s a link for the basic weighted push-up.
- 1 set x 3 reps (increase reps every 2 days)
Sandow believed sit-ups were beneficial for individuals carrying excess body fat and believed it was effective against fatty formation.
We recommend sit-ups on a decline bench with leg support pads. You can add a little weight by holding a dumbbell or weight plate near your chest or with arms extended above.
- 1 set x 10 reps (increase reps every 2 days)
Squats are a very effective lower body exercise that works all leg muscles and the core muscles.
- 1 set x 15 reps each side (increase reps every 2 days)
Side bends are a good exercise to work the oblique muscles which are part of the core and responsible for trunk rotation. Sandow says to do these with or without weights.
He used to do these because he believed they would give flexibility to the backbone and promote the circulation of the feeding veins of the stomach and liver.
Diet and Nutrition
It’s interesting to see what the legends used to eat to build and maintain their physiques and performance. Sandow certainly didn’t have the nutritional knowledge that we’re fortunate enough to have today. However, most would probably agree that his strategy worked pretty well if you just look at his aesthetic physique.
Although, he didn’t have any special diet that he followed. Sandow would eat balanced meals that would satisfy him and prove to be effective in his quest of building his best physique possible. His philosophy about nutrition for health was very admirable and ahead of its time.
He even went as far as to emphasize the importance of chewing food adequately for good health…
“I do not care for anything intoxicating (hard liquor) but do enjoy a beer or some wine on occasion, never touch tea or coffee, eat “plain”, wholesome food for the most part, but do “indulge” on occasion. I have my meals at regular intervals, and prefer simple foods that are easy to digest. I chew my food well and believe strongly that mastication is a key to good health”.
Sandow made sure to get plenty of sleep which he noted was essential to his well-being. Its believed by many that sleep is even more important than nutrition for maintaining good health”.
“I endeavor to have my meals at regular hours and prefer that they shall be simple and easy of digestion. I always take care to chew my food. Proper mastication being a sine qua non of health. I take plenty of sleep and find this essential to my well-being. As I do not generally get to bed before midnight, or even later. I do not rise until eleven, when I take a cold bath all the year round, preceded by a little light exercise with the dumb-bells”.
Sandow was also just very structured with his overall daily routine.
I then have breakfast, and after attending to my correspondence and seeing my friends. I go for a walk or a drive, whatever be the weather. At seven I dine, after which I rest until my evening performance. Then I close the day with another cold bath and supper. Usually, I dress lightly, though always suitable to the season. My nightly exhibitions, I may add, supply me, together with a good constitutional every day, with all the exercise I need. If I want more, I take it, as I sit reading or smoking, by nicking my muscles”.
Coin machine vandalism accusation
It’s only fair to save this one for last…
One time Sandow was accused of vandalizing slot machines that allowed people to test their strength by pulling the lever. So, naturally, being as strong as he was and because he was involved in Strongman at the time, Sandow decided to flex a little.
Well, he ended up breaking the levers off these machines. Consequently, the police became involved and when they learned that it was Sandow rather than gang activity in the area, they arrested him and brought him in for questioning.
But… things definitely worked out in his favor, to say the least, as Sandow’s plan to be noticed for strength worked as he originally intended…
“When I got to the station, I explained that I had paid the necessary coin into the machine, and was entitled to exercise my arms. Of course, they refused to believe that one man could be strong enough to break the machine and sent for the chief officer. When he came along, he, too, was doubtful of my story; but when the strongest man at the station accepted my invitation to try his strength on me, the commissary was not only convinced, but became quite friendly, and I was released on my own recognizance’s.”
Eugen Sandow is an icon whose legacy has carried on well beyond his passing. He was well ahead of his time regarding his knowledge of training and nutrition hence his acknowledgment as one of the original pioneers.
He definitely wasn’t timid about trying his hand at multiple disciplines and it definitely paid off. From a circus performer to organizing the world’s first major bodybuilding competition and beyond, Sandow’s career was as illustrious as it gets.
And we get to remember his contributions every year a new Mr. Olympia is crowned!
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