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Who were the first bodybuilders? Learn about the history of this sport and how bodybuilders evolved into a subculture of their own. Then test yourself on your knowledge.

What Is Bodybuilding?

We know that building means to erect, create, construct, or assemble something. Well, bodybuilding is essentially constructing muscles and strengthening one’s body through exercise, typically weight lifting. Bodybuilders are not hard to spot; their muscles protrude from their body and are perfectly curved. They often have visible popping veins due to the muscles pushing them to the surface of the skin. Bodybuilding is no longer just a sport; it has transformed into a subculture.

Bodybuilders spend a lot of time meticulously crafting their physiques.

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Bodybuilding: More Than Just a Sport

The bodybuilding subculture is a group of people who share the interest, and often obsession, of building muscle. These individuals place a priority on exercising and eating a proper diet that will create more muscle. Bodybuilders have a similar mentality in that they all have an insatiable appetite for the ‘perfect’ muscular body – one that some non-bodybuilders deem as bizarre and even freakish.

While more men are bodybuilders than women, women are increasingly penetrating this subculture.
Woman bodybuilder

In fact, they take pride in being eccentric and different from the norm in this aspect. Due to the large amount of time required to spend in the gym exercising, along with their similar goals and interest in bodybuilding, bodybuilders end up spending a lot of their free time together and end up associating with other bodybuilders much more than others.

Background to Bodybuilding

Eugen Sandow, born in Prussia (now part of Russia) in 1867, is known as the ‘father of bodybuilding.’ Sandow’s perfectly chiseled muscular body appeared like one of the Gods to many in the late 19th century. Sandow was one of the first people in history to reach this level of muscular perfection.

At the ripe age of 19, he was using bodybuilding as a form of entertainment, showing off his barbell and strongman stunts. People were impressed by his ability to break a chain tied around his chest or lift people with one arm. Soon enough, Sandow had a following of people who were inspired by his strength and skill.

Eugen Sandow, the father of modern bodybuilding
Eugene Sandow

Bodybuilding became a form of entertainment in Europe in 1890. The point of bodybuilding at this time was not so much for physical appearance, but more for showing an audience one’s immense strength. These entertainers were called strongmen, and they would often compete to see who was stronger than the other.

Many of these strongmen were also overweight and unattractive, though. It would be a while before the bodybuilding culture that we know today, with its emphasis on looks as much as, or more than, strength, materialized.It wasn’t until the 1970s that women began to join the bodybuilding subculture in the U.S.

This came in conjunction with the women’s right’s movement, a new interest in women’s sports, and the fight for girls’ and women’s athletic programs at educational institutions.

Anabolic Steroids

While not all bodybuilders use steroids, many do, making a point of keeping themselves updated on the newest drugs on the market for strength training and bodybuilding. Anabolic steroids are drugs that create more testosterone in the body. Testosterone is a steroid hormone in both women and men, but men produce a much larger quantity in their testes.

Bodybuilders often use Depo-Testostorone, created primarily to treat medical conditions that are caused by a lack of testosterone, as a supplement for gaining muscle.
Depo-testosterone

Testosterone assists in creating secondary sexual characteristics, such as muscles and facial hair, in men. Anabolic steroids increase testosterone in the body, therefore creating a perfect environment for muscle production. In fact, anabolic steroid use can work wonders for women, who don’t naturally produce the testosterone needed for massive muscle growth.

Unfortunately, there are many negative health, cosmetic and reproductive consequences for women who use anabolic steroids.

Women who use anabolic steroids for muscle growth can suffer negative health and reproductive consequences from the heightened testosterone in their bodies.
Woman bodybuilder with supertanned supermuscles

Diet

Diet is very important for bodybuilders in order to maintain and build their muscular physiques. Most eat a large amount of protein – meat, beans, and eggs – and keep track of their caloric and nutrition intake. Bodybuilders must take in enough calories to build muscle, but not too much that they will produce fat; they try to keep their body mass index (proportion of body fat to height and weight) as low as possible.

Most eat many small meals per day instead of three large ones to keep their metabolism going and to properly utilize food energy to build muscle after workouts.

Vegetarian bodybuilders can still consume a large amount of protein in the form of protein powders, vegetables high in protein, and legumes.
Vegetarian bodybuilder

Competitions

People in this subculture often compete in bodybuilding competitions.

This is where they display their muscular bodies for judges and receive points based on how big and defined their muscles are. Prizes for winning bodybuilding competitions can include a trophy, money, store credits, sponsorship, a photo shoot or a spread in a magazine, to name a few.

Bodybuilders often oil and tan themselves before competitions to make their muscles look better and more defined.
Bodybuilding competition

Lesson Summary

The bodybuilding subculture is composed of men and women who place an emphasis on building muscle to achieve a highly sculpted physique, following an optimized regimen of exercise and diet in order to do so. Eugen Sandow is known as the ‘father of bodybuilding.’ Many bodybuilders use anabolic steroids, which increase the amount of testosterone in the body, producing a perfect environment for muscle production.

But anabolic steroid use can have major health consequences, especially for women. Many bodybuilders participate in bodybuilding competitions.

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