Emperor Theodosius 1, also known as "Theodosius the Great."
Most, if not all, bodybuilders today remember the late Joe Weider (1919-2003) as “The Father of Bodybuilding,” yet…
History records show that the very first Olympic Games took place in 776 B.C. The Greeks were dedicated to the gods of Olympia and were performed on the plains of Olympia. This lasted for almost 12 centuries.
In 393 A.D., Emperor Theodosius I decreed that such events were “pagan cults” and were banned.
Ancient Greeks practiced regular exercises to build muscle fast for the purpose of bringing the body to perfection. They also invented the dumbbells.
The Romans weren’t bodybuilders, they practiced fighting. What they really enjoyed was food and sex. The only true Roman weightlifters would the gladiators and possibly slaves if they were told to do so.
As Eugen Sandow said (you’ll hear about him later), “To their laxity in the matter of Physical Culture in later years, may, in a great mixture, be attributed the main causes of the downfall of the Roman Empire.”
The games today bear little resemblance to the first Olympic games, which, as noted above, took place in Olympia, Greece in 776 B.C.
They also differ greatly from the first installment of the modern-era Olympics, which opened in Athens in 1896.
Therefore, bodybuilding can be found all the way back to ancient Greece. The gymnasium of Ancient Greece was used in training for public games, as well as for social events. The name, “Gymnasium” comes from the Greek term “gymnós, which means “naked”.
And yes, the athletes competed in the nude because they believed it promoted the idea that the male body was beautiful. It was also a tribute to the gods, Heracles, Hermes and the Athens god, Theseus.
Yet, even though the exercises they did were for the purpose of transforming the body, they were not of the resistant training, i.e., to build muscle mass. The top priority of their bodybuilding was not muscle building, but to improve their talents of whatever sport they were involved in.
In time, these gymnasiums became more than just a place for competition and training, but for health and education. The children were taught of moral and ethical virtues to help them in life.
Milo of Croton (5– B.C. to 5– B.C.)
Milo was a 6th-century B.C. wrestler from the coastal area of Southern Italy on the Tarentine Gulf, Magna Graecian city of Croton. He had a fantastic wrestling career and won many victories.
It is believed that Milo may have married Myia, the daughter of the philosopher Pythagoras of Samos.
Many tales of fantastic strength and power are told about Milo. One of them was that he would carry a calf on his back every day until it became a bull, which shows the progressive resistance to develop and gain muscle and strength.
The date of Milo’s death is unknown, but the cause of it is believed to be due to while he was trying to tear a tree apart with his bare hands they somehow got caught inside the trunk and a pack of wolves devoured him.
It appears that bodybuilding was first recognized in 11th century India. The Indians used primitive dumbbells created from stone, and unlike the Greeks, the sole purpose was to make their bodies larger and stronger. It has also been reported that weight lifting had become a national event as late as 16th century India.
Hippolyte Triat (1813-1881)
Triat was a Frenchman and has been declared to the be precursor of weightlifting and has been given credit for using the first dumbbell. It was made in 1838 and weighed 185 lbs., but remember it is known that the Ancient Greeks used dumbbells.
Today, Triat’s dumbbell can be found at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris. It has been reported that only Triat and another French weightlifter, Cadine, were able to lift it with one arm.
Triat was born in the south of France and at the age of 4 became an orphan and two years later he was abducted by gypsies. Later he became a rope-dancer and at the age of 13 began weightlifting.
At the age of 16 he entered the Jesuit College of Burgos where he studied for 6 years. From there he resumed his artistic career, along with his athletic activities where he made great success in Spain, England and Belgium.
While Triat made the first modern dumbbell of 185 lbs. Attila and Carl Abs, another German strongman, created the first modern barbell. Using this tool Attila invented very effective exercises, since they were symmetric and stimulated equally left and right muscles.
Louis Cyr (1863-1912)
If you didn’t notice, Cyr’s name is not in the list of men that lifted the Rolandow Dumbbell, but six pictures up shows that he didn’t need to do that to prove his strength to.
Cyr was born in Saint-Cyprien-de-Napierville, Quebec, Canada. Coming from a robust French-Canadian family, developing extraordinary strength, when even at an early age.
Louis’ father was average, but his mother weighed in at 265 lbs., at 6′ 1″. She in turn had a father of 6′ 4″ and 260 lb.
At age 12 Cyr worked in a lumber camp during the winters and on the family’s farm the rest of the year. He impressed his fellow workers with his feats strength.
He learned of Milo of Croton and attempted to mimic him. Mio, as a child carried a calf on his shoulders, continuing to carry it as it grew into a full-grown bull and he into a grown man.
Cyr’s calf was no’t going to allow him to do that and kicked him in his back one day, so he began carrying a sack of grain 1⁄4 mile every day, adding 2 pounds each day.
According to one of his biographers, his mother decided “he should let his hair grow, like Samson in the Bible.” She curled it regularly.
At the age of 17 Louis lifted a farmer’s heavily laden wagon out of the mire in which it had become stuck and from there his fame began.
Michaud of Quebec was recognized as Canada’s strongest man and Cyr was challenged. Cyr beat him by hoisting a granite boulder weighing 480 lbs.
In 1878 the Cyr family immigrated to Lowell, Massachusetts in the United States. And that was when he changed his name from Cyprien-Noé to Louis, as it was easier to pronounce in English.
At the age of 18, Cyr was 5’10”, weighed 310 pounds, with a 54” chest, 21” neck, 33” thighs, and 19” arms. It was at this time he entered his first strongman contest in Boston. Measurements other than his height are debated, others think he was larger.
The feat for Cyr to do this time was to lift a horse off the ground. The fully grown male horse was placed on a platform with 2 iron bars attached enabling Cyr to obtain a better grip. The horse weighed almost 700 pounds.
But this was not his greatest feat, others were:
- Lifting a platform on his back holding 18 men for a total of 4,337 lbs.
- Lifting a 534-pound weight with one finger.
- Pushing a freight car up an incline.
- Lifted a rock from ground up to his shoulder, officially weighted at 514 pounds (he was at the age of 19 at this time).
- On December 1st 1891 at Sohmer Park in Montreal, before some 10,000 people, Cyr resisted the pull of four draught horses, two each side, pulling away at his clenched hands, regardless of grooms cracking their whips to encourage the horses to pull harder and strain their haunches.
- He beat Eugen Sandow’s bent press record (and therefore the heaviest weight lifted with one hand) by 2 pounds to a total of 273 pounds. (Read about him in“Bodybuilders to Mention Twentieth to Twenty-First Century”).
Some have reported that the Rolandow dumbbell was supposed to be 200 lbs. but came out of the mold just over it at 209 lbs. Yet, others say that it weighed 175 lbs. empty, but 299 lbs. fully loaded.
G.W. Rolandow was a Swiss born strongman who came to the United States and became an American citizen in 1896. He lived his entire life in New York City. He was able to Bent Press his Challenge Barbell fully loaded – and lifted it in his nightly strongman performances.
The Rolandow Barbell was purchased by Professor Attila, and later owned by Sig Klein. Sig Klein often used it when he was demonstrating the Bent Press.
After several decades, Rolandow closed his gym and his famous dumbbell eventually became acquired by Sig Klein who featured it as a challenge weight in his own facility.
If someone could succeed in bent-pressing the Rolandow Dumbbell, Klein put their name on an Honor Roll, here’s how it looked:
(1) G.W. Rolandow
(2) John Grimek
(3) Bob Hoffman
(4) Wally Zagurski
(5) John Davis
(6) Jack Kent
(7) Frank Bates
(8) Bob Harley
(9) Siegmund Klein
(10) Aurele Velleux
(11) George Hobby
(12) Elwood Holbrook
The current whereabouts of the Rolandow Dumbbell is unknown.
Sig Klein (1902-1987)
Back to Klein, the man that married Attila’s daughter I mentioned above. Siegmund Klein was a famous all-around old-time strongman. He was well regarded for his physique and posing skills.
In addition to being strong with barbells and other weights, he was accomplished at hand balancing and as a muscle-control artist.
At a bodyweight of under 150 pounds, Klein’s best military press ever was 221.5lbs. He won the title of Welter-Weight Weight-Champion of America. But far from being just a weight lifter, another of his amazing feats was to perform seventeen tiger bends in a row.
If you’re not familiar with the move, a tiger bend involves moving from a forearm stand to a handstand. It requires tremendous shoulder and tricep strength.
Klein’s Studio of Physical Culture was one of the most famous of the era. While a relatively small place, measuring thirty by forty feet, it was well stocked for those wishing to become strong.
It contained all kinds of shot-loaded barbells, solid iron dumbbells, and kettlebells, plus plenty of open space and a Roman column. (Also adorning the gym was Klein’s collection of over 200 beer steins. He was German after all.)
One of the more interesting pieces of Klein’s equipment was the Rolandow dumbbell – a 209 lb. awkward beast that many people struggled to even pick up off the floor. Klein himself succeeded in bent pressing this weight at a body weight of just 147 lbs.
The Rolandow Dumbbell has a very interesting history. It was originally cast by the McLoughlin Iron Foundry in Brooklyn, New York in 1896 at the request of Warren Lincoln Travis who wanted to use it in his act.
Professor Louis Attlia (1844-1924)
Attila was a German and his real name was Ludwig Durlacher. He was well educated and studied with Professor Ernst, in Berlin. Attila also played the piano and spoke five languages.
When Attila saw Italian Strongman Felice Napoli perform his life was changed. At that time a lot of Strongmen made their living by performing in theaters, music halls, and the circus. Attila became a student of Napoli’s and learned all about the strongman profession.
Attila is seen as the forefather of today’s strength coaches and personal trainers.
As the decades passed, Attila was forgotten, unlike Sandow and others who seem to become more popular in certain areas of the world.
Accept that he is known as the trainer of Sandow, but he did much more than just train Sandow. He was the originator of:
- He invented the bent press, the globe barbell, the plate loading barbell and the Roman chair.
- He performed many feats of strength, such as tearing decks of poker card.
- Before his barbell invention, only dumbbells were used.
- He took his nickname from Attila the Hun.
- Apart from being a strongman, Attila was a very well accomplished athlete, especially in swimming, running and jumping.
- He was the first person to bent press more than 200 pounds.
- Attila performed at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee at Buckingham Palace in 1887.
- He won more than two hundred medals in his lifetime.
Without Attila, Sandow may not have been anything. Attila had given Karl Frederick Mueller a job as janitor at his gym in Brussels, Belgium. Through his job he was introduced to bodybuilding and Attila encouraged him to train with weights.
Under Attila’s coaching Mueller grew rapidly and he convinced Mueller to change his name to Eugen Sandow. The rest is history.
Also, Attila was the first man to bent-press over 200 lbs. In 1894 New York, Attila opened his famous studio. Later, his daughter, Grace, married Sig Klein and Klein inherited and continued the family operation until the 1970s as the famous Sig Klein’s Gym.
Sandow was not Attila’s only student, he also trained:
Warren Lincoln Travis,
Adolph Nordquest, “Gentleman” Jim Corbett (World Heavyweight Boxing Champion),
Attila was also an advisor/consultant to:
King Edward of England,
King Haakon of Norway,
King George of Greece, and
Czarina of Russia.
Famous visitors to his studio included:
Baron Rothschild, and
In his day, Attila was one of the most respected in the Iron Game. As stated above, he did much more than discover Sandow.
Luigi Monticelli Obizzi (1863-1946)
Obizzi was born in Crema. At a very young age he began practicing swimming, gymnastics, fencing and rowing. At the age of 20, while he was in the Navy, he began exercising with weights.
In 1885, he moved to Milan and he joined the Strength and Courage. During his trips around he took lessons in French boxing (Savate) and American boxing (method Levigne).
In 1890, he founded the Club Atletico Milanese. Its headquarters are in Via della Maddalena, and it soon became the renowned Italian weightlifting company.
In April 1896, he participated and ranked 2nd in the international competition of Amsterdam behind the German Johannes Schneider, who weighs 92 lbs. more than him.
Read more about the history of bodybuilding in “Bodybuilders to Mention: Ancient to 21st Century, Part 2 of 2”.