Know All About The Father of Modern Bodybuilding – Eugen Sandow

  • By: Dave Moffat
  • Date: January 9, 2023

Bodybuilding is one of the most exciting, structured, and controversial sports in modern-day society. The foundation of the sport started in Europe as Western weightlifting in the late 1880s.

In the early days, the sport was more focused on strongmen displaying exceptional strength for public consumption.

These strongmen challenged each other by lifting an immense amount of dead weight during competitions, but the sport would evolve under the term of aesthetics in later years.

The focus today has shifted from lifting the most possible weight to showcasing the most impressive physique.

Modern bodybuilders use a range of advanced training techniques, dietary supplements and even steroids in some cases to win competitions.

The 2008 documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster* available on Prime Video covers the consequences of drug use in bodybuilders.

Introduction to Eugen Sandow

Eugen Sandow is one of the biggest names and is also known as the father of modern bodybuilding.

Sandow rightfully earned this title thanks to building an impressive physique while exhibiting exceptional strength during competitions.

This includes one-arm snatches with 180 pounds. He has made a lasting impression on the sport of bodybuilding, as the Mr. Olympia trophy is named in his honor.

Early Life

Born in Konigsberg, a young Sandow would become interested in bodybuilding by the age of 10. His birth name was Fredrich Muller.

Italy was the perfect change of scenery, and this is where young Sandow developed his perspective on health and strength.

He studied many sculptures and paintings at museums, which only fueled his training appetite. “I came home from Italy with a determination that I’d become a strongman if training could do it,” said Sandow.

His love for the sport would continue to grow during adolescence, but his Jewish parents wanted him to become a Lutheran minister.

Despite his parents’ wishes, Sandow would leave home to avoid military service. He traveled throughout Europe and became a circus athlete before the age of 21.

Large crowds came to view his feats of strength, and the crowds were even more fascinated with his bulging muscles.

This strong interest in viewing large muscles furthermore inspired him to develop his own posing routines. At the time, the routines were known as muscle display performances.

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Rise to Fame

After visiting a gym in Brussels, strongman Ludwig Durlacher began training and mentoring him after seeing Sandow’s potential and love for the sport.

In 1889, Sandow participated in a strongman competition after visiting the city of London. He gained instant fame after easily beating the reigning champ, which eventually launched his career as a superstar.

Eugen Sandow started receiving requests to perform all over Europe, which caused his fame to grow even more.

This includes feats such as back flips with 35-lb weights and one-finger pull-ups. These posing and strength competitions lasted until 1893.

Sandow touched down on the shores of America and continued his success at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

This was the same exhibition that featured strongman Milo Steinborn lifting an elephant on his back. Sandow worked under contract for a Chicago native by displaying his feats of strength and posing displays.

At the age of 27 in 1894, Sandow was featured in a short film series. Later that year, he was featured in his first commercial motion picture exhibition that was named after himself.

His magnificent posing routine transferred to a performance at the Californian Mid-Winder International Exhibition at the Golden Gate State Park.

Eugen Sandow parlayed his experience and wealth of knowledge into a fitness coaching career in 1897. Many aspiring athletes at the time would train under the 31-year-old’s tutelage thanks to his reputation.

His coaching career lasted between 1897 – 1904. During this time, he used his business-savvy sense to go even further by publishing several books.

He also created a monthly periodical that was named “Sandow’s Magazine of Physical Culture.”

Unique Qualities

In addition to all of his previous success in the fitness field, the former strongman would go on to separate himself from the pack thanks to having unique qualities.

Sandow learned and worked with many interesting figures ever since he was a teenager. He used his travel experience, cultural studies, and fatherly guidance to build an impressive legacy.

Thanks to being business-savvy, Sandow opened his first gym. The gym was titled ‘Institute of Physical Culture’ and was also a success for many years.

Sandow had a knack for product development. This is when he began using his ingenuity to develop workout equipment from used devices that he felt were inadequate. Some of the devices were:

  • Spring-loaded dumbbells
  • Rubber strands for stretching
  • Resistance band machines
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His business success would unlock other opportunities as he was known for hosting the first-ever bodybuilding competition.

This sanctioned event took place in 1901, and it was called The Great Competition. In 1909, he began working/training army recruits for the United Kingdom’s military.

Sandow also worked closely with King George V in 1911. King George used Sandow’s health and fitness guidance to maintain stable health.


In 1928, the 58-year-old strongman passed away at his home in Kensington, London. Many speculations were passed along at the time of his death.

Some newspaper reports speculated that he died of a brain aneurysm while others stated the cause of death was by stroke.

Some reports go as far as to say that Sandow strained himself by lifting his car out of a ditch after getting in a road accident.

The autopsy report showed that Sandow suffered from an aortic aneurysm, which is an enlargement of the aorta within the heart. His burial site is located in an unmarked grave at Putney Vale Cemetary.


Eugen Sandow has left a lasting impression in the sport of bodybuilding and strongman competitions. Films such as “Sandow” were released in the 21st century to commemorate his life and achievements.

Sandow lived a fulfilled life while achieving great feats that the average person may never obtain. He was married to a woman named Blanche Brooks and fathered two daughters.

Sandow is also stated to have the most influence on modern yoga, which includes a variety of exercise routines from America’s early physical culture.

Dave Moffat

Hi, I'm Dave Moffat the founder and Chief Editor of and certified International Personal Trainer and Certified Nutritionist. My passion has always been bodybuilding but with 15 years' experience in weight loss programs too, it's hard not to mention all that when you're working at your fitness level fullest (I hope). When Im not in the gym or spending time away from my family i often think about what advice would help others achieve theirs goals just like these inspired mine.