Eugen Sandow

Eugen Sandow, father of modern bodybuilding, was a legendary strongman, showman, weightlifter, acrobat, muscle control exponent, physical culture expert, as well as being a hugely-successful businessman in his own right (Sandow was one of the first millionaires of his time, with a fitness enterprise that enjoyed tremendous international reach.).

The name of Sandow is held in great reverence even to this very day, and the coveted Olympia trophy, considered by most to be the pinnacle of contemporary bodybuilding achievement, is a miniature likeness of this extraordinary Victorian-era strength athlete who once enraptured the world with his unparalleled might and physcial development.

Sandow was a leading performer of the strongman feats that found such great favour on the Victorian stages, and he regularly lifted enormous weights overhead and snapped solid metal chains that were bound around his torso with the expansion of his powerful chest.

Besides possessing staggering levels of absolute strength Sandow was also extremely athletic, and he could perform both front and back somersaults, the latter even while holding a 35-pound dubmbbell in each hand. The fact that he could alight precisely from his point of takeoff was duly illustrated by the use of a small handkerchief, from which this incredible athlete would leap from, somersault, and land again, all on the same spot.

Another one of Sandow’s outstanding strength feats was his ability to chin himself on a loop of small-diameter rope with any one finger, even with his thumbs. Although the latter was assisted by the palm of his hand it was nevertheless a most remarkable physical accomplishment.

However, Sandow’s fame stemmed chiefly from the beauty of his physique, which he could display to its best advantage with his skill in muscle control – the art of relaxing and flexing every individual muscle in the body, sometimes without significant joint movement. Sandow’s posing was full of a fluid and natural vigour, and he was widely-acclaimed to have been in possession of the most beautifully-developed physique of all time.

What made the many splendid achievements of this wonderful athlete all the more remerkable was the fact that he was a fine and delicate child whose health was often “despaired of”, and for whom a very short lifespan (only up to an age of 18 years or thereabouts) was predicted by medical authority.

As a boy Sandow laid eyes on classical sculptures of Roman and Greek origins, and was enthralled by the pleasing proportions and harmonious development of the human body as exemplified by these statues. He then resolved to attain similar measurements through exercise, and was one of the first athletes to intentionally develop his musculature to pre-determined dimensions.

Sandow impressed not only on the physical plane. His keen mind, mecurial intellect, artistic temperament and amiable personality made him a huge succes, both on- and off-stage. His great gift at showmanship and his shrewd commercial instincts made him arguably the most celebrated athlete in human history, and he was highly sought-after both as a stage performer, and as an artist’s model upon which Herculean likenesses were fashioned from his marvellous physique.

Sandow left the world at the age of 58 – he probably never truly recovered from an automobile accident in which he was involved. This luminary in the field of strength and athletics may have departed before a time of his choosing, but his unqiue legacy will continue to serve as an inspiration for physcial culturists the world over, for centuries to come.

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton

Many women equate strength training to large, bulky muscles that would look especially unsightly on the female frame. This is very much understandable, for the female bodybuilding scene today is dominated by non-feminine looking athletes sporting huge welts of highly-developed muscle. 

Most of these professionals look more muscular (and masculine!) than the average joe, and your typical girl-next-door will probably scream the roof off her house if she wakes up one day looking like that.

However, more than half a century ago, in a day and age when steroids had yet to see widespread use in the sports and strength industry, there were many women who cultivated muscular, athletic and yet feminine-looking bodies through serious strength and weights training.

Among the greatest of these female athletes was a woman by the name of Abbye Stockton. Nicknamed “Pudgy” when she was young, Abbye took up strength and weights training in her youth because she wanted to lose weight. She exercised with a pair of dumbbells given to her by her boyfriend (and later husband) Les. She also practised swimming and calisthenics, and taught herself basic acrobatics like the handstand and the headstand.

Abbye and her husband were frequent visitors to the California Muscle Beach, which was at that time a nexus of activity for the ongoing strength training and bodybuilding boom in the United States. They practised acrobatics and gymnastics, and became famous for their performances involving hand-to-hand balancing.

One of the couple’s greatest feats was a hand-to-hand balance where Les, who weighed 180lbs, was supported in a handstand overhead by Abbye, who was a dimunitive figure at 5’2″ and approximately 115lbs. Her fame was such that she was featured on the covers of many fitness magazines of her day, and posed for pictures with many of the top male bodybuilders of that era (the likes of Steeve Reeves and John Grimek).

Abbye’s signature two-piece bathing suit, designed to display her figure and to allow her the freedom of movement that was required for her performances, was also something of a fashion statement in a time when most women wore the one-piece. She was highly-publicised, and proved to women across her nation that it was possible to exercise but still look feminine. 

Abbye’s beautiful musculature and outstanding athleticism was the epitome of feminine strength and health. So to all the ladies out there, there’s no need to shy away from the workouts and weights. They are but tools that can help you achieve your physical ideal when properly used and adjusted.

So start training now, for a stronger, healthier and more beautiful you. 😉

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Functional Muscle, Fabulous Physique

Look back to the old-timers at the turn of the 20th century, and you will see many outstanding examples of physical development that were built on functional strength and muscle.

Fast forward to the present day, and you will see professional gymnasts wowing the world with their chiselled physiques that are almost as spectacular as their breathtaking routines.

What do these two groups of men (and women) share in common?

Functional muscle, and fabulous physiques.

These people trained for athletic function first and foremost. This means that their physiques were very much natural by-products of their training. Of course there was a separate school of old-timers who believed that strength followed in the footsteps of muscular development, but even these fellas trained hard, with a level of intensity and with full-body movements that are fast becoming an endangered breed today. 

It lies beyond the slightest doubt that high levels of functional strength will give you similarly high levels of physical development. Whether the converse is true remains an issue for debate. But what is crystal clear is that training for functional strength and functional muscle will give your body that hard, chiselled look that is the dream and envy of every self-respecting physical aspirant.

So what are some methods of funtional training?

1. Bodyweight Skills

Many old-timers and the modern-day gymnasts attribute their phenomenal shoulder and arm development to handstand work. Demanding bodyweight strength skills such as the freestanding handstand pushup and the planche require staggering levels of muscular strength and coordination, and hence result in physiques that are as remarkable as the feats that are being trained and performed by the athletes.

2. Olympic-Style Lifting

These compound movements work the body as a whole and quickly fix up (or force you to fix up) any weak spots. The lifters of yesteryear sported herculean development such as that on the mighty John Grimek and the legendary Steve Stanko. The high levels of absolute strength required in this sport builds a thick and powerful musculature that purely-aesthetic bodybuilding utilising isolation techniques exclusively will be hard-pressed to match.   

3. Strongman Training

Specialist feats like tearing through multiple decks of playing cards, driving nails through wooden boards with the bare hands, bending and breaking metal bars, chains and horseshoes were all commonplace among the strength athletes of the past. Heavy supporting feats that placed thousands of pounds on the athlete’s torso in the human bridge position also featured strongly in the strength acts of the 19th century. All these achievements built rugged physiques that were capable of colossal exertion.     

Many of the old-time greats combined all 3 aforementioned types of training, and they exhibited incredible physical development almost to a man. If you want a classical physique like that of the Farnese Hercules, train for function and form is sure to follow. The principles of science and physics dictate that only bodies that are lean and muscular will be capable of such great all-round strength. So just focus on getting stronger, and the muscles will find their own way to you, naturally.

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Old School Strength, Old School Muscle

The modern strength- and bodybuilding world is dominated by steroid-abusing “professionals” who do not even look remotely human.

The contemporary muscle mags and training books feature drug-inflated muscles and huge weights being pumped in the gym by these chemically-enhanced athletes. Browse through the glossy pages of the typical modern-day muscle mag and you’ll see a full-page supplement advert with almost every flip.

The average strength and msucle aspirant is exposed to these distorted images of the human body that flood the media. Every news stand is filled with pictures of these grotesque parodies of what our herculean forefathers strove to achieve through sensible living and intelligent training.

But humans aren’t senseless sheep, blindly herded by their surroundings. People are starting to look back in time, to admire those legends of a bygone era whose dreams and ideals have been perverted into this current commercialised mockery. Legends like John Grimek, Steeve Reeves, Clarence Ross, and many others, some whose names are forever lost in the mists of time.

In a drug-free era where inspiring physiques were built on hard work and healthy living, the phenomenal feats of strength and athleticism that were achieved by the old-time strongmen are astounding to read and behold.

There was Arthur Saxon, the “Iron Master”, who supported 448lbs simultaneously overhead in the form of a barbell with the right arm and a kettlebell with the left. There was Eugen Sandow, who could chin himself on a loop of rope with any one finger on his hands, including the thumbs, and perform full back somersaults while holding a dumbell in each hand.

There was Joseph Greenstein, the “Mighty Atom”, who could drive nails into 2.5inch boards with his bare hands, bite 25cent coins in half with his teeth and who once resisted the pull of an aeroplane at takeoff with his hair. And there was the incomparable Maxick, who at a bodyweight of under 150lbs regularly pressed heavier men overhead with one hand.

The sheer variety of strength and athletic feats performed by these old-time strongmen, coupled with their often incredible muscular development in a day and age where there were no fancy gyms or expensive supplements, stands testament to the fact that the fitness industry today is alot of useless hype.  

The strongmen of the past did not need the wide array of artificial supplements that the modern gym rat ingest on a regular basis, neither do they need air-conditioned environments and flashy workouts that boost only the ego.

Many of them displayed a combination of strength, flexibility, muscular development and most importantly, health. Which is much more than can be said for many of today’s fitness enthusiasts, who are more often than not misled and misguided by profit-driven marketing schemes.

For those of you want want to build strength and health the safe and natural way, read up on the lifestyles and training methods of the old-timers. The Internet is a wealth of information, but discernement must be exercised as with all other material.

For those of you who have lost faith along the road to health and fitness, look to the past for guidance and inspiration, and perhaps one day you too will become a legend that future generations can look to for wisdom and motivation.

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~