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A Brief History Of Bodybuilding

A Brief History Of Bodybuilding

What is Bodybuilding?

Competitive bodybuilding is a sport largely misunderstood by a vast majority of the society. Even so, individuals from all over the world enjoy competing among themselves every year while others engage in the sport purely as a hobby. There are certain aspects of the sport that may be unclear to those who don't fully understand the sport. The intake of steroids is perhaps one of the most obscure factors of the sport. Even though steroids play a major role in many high level-sporting activities than we may know, blatant abuse of steroids is mostly common in bodybuilding considering it has happened for more than half a century. Without the research into anabolic steroid, we probably would not know much about nutritional principles and general fitness as we know it today. Even though steroids are widely used in many sports and they play a significant role in the everyday lives of some individuals, we shall dwell more on the competitive aspect of bodybuilding, bodybuilding as a sport, and the impact steroids have had on the sport. Without steroids, it would be difficult to get a clear understanding of the principles of nutrition, exercise, and fitness. Because of steroids, continuous research is being conducted on the aspects of fitness and health. For this reason, steroids and the impact they have on various sporting activities we love cannot be downplayed. It is advisable that we get a better understanding of the substances as well as the possibilities it presents in sports. We take you through everything right from the beginning. This way, you will get a clear understanding of its origins and why they have gotten the negative pubilicity over the years.

A History Lesson In Bodybuilding

From the moment man walked the earth, the muscular physique is something that has been admired by many. By simply examining the lifestyle of the ancient Greeks we can support this fact. Although a toned and muscular body shape has been admired for the longest time ever, the competitive aspect of the sport and what we nowadays know as bodybuilding traces its roots from the late 1800s by the father and pioneering German bodybuilder Eugen Sandow. Mr. Sandow was among the first individuals to sculpture his physique through bodybuilding routines as a form of entertainment and to earn his daily bread. From the show of strength and display of a lean and muscular shape, Sandow soon discovered he could parlay the fame to the business world. He started by promoting similar shows where he could showcase his strength and physique then later moved to the production of mass produced weightlifting equipment. Besides stumbling upon fame and fortune, he became an icon in the industry as well.

Sandows became so successful that Mr. Olympia, a popular show with a worldwide following rewards winners by awarding them a bronze trophy that resembles Sandow himself. The trophy is the same as the one Sandow commissioned and produced for the initial bodybuilding show that took place in 1901. Just like Vince Lombardi is linked to football, so is Eugene Sandows to the sport of bodybuilding. So, what is the link between the sport and steroids or other related substances? We can authoritatively say that Sandow never used synthetic steroids considering they substances were not made available until the 1930s. Even so, there were certain similar methods made available during this period. In the era of Sandow, it was a common to find competitors of other sports take in supplements in the form of animal testicular extracts. Did Eugene Sandow partake in any of these substances? We may not know this, but what we know is that Sandow pioneered a sport that has led to where we are today. 

The Modern Age Bodybuliding

While the competitiveness of bodybuilding pioneered by Sandow is new and thrilling to many, the sport remained socially unpopular for several decades. However, this would change over time. Synthetic testosterone as we know it today was readily available from the 1940s, in the 50s, one of the most widely used steroids would then be sold in a Dianabol form. Athletes began using the substances heavily, but the greatest gratitude goes to bodybuilding. Between the 1950s to the 60s, we began seeing physiques that were more impressive. These body types looked more well defined, bigger, and better. With the coming of popular bodybuilders such as Reg Park, Clarence Ross, and Steve Reeves into the sport, The history of bodybuilding started gaining legitimate notice from enthusiasts from the 50s and the sport would even receive greater following in the 60s.

Even though the sport was still an underground activity in the 60s, the athletes who participated reached remarkable levels in terms of conditioning and size. In this period, steroids were readily available and 100% legal. The legendary bodybuilders like Dave Draper, Larry Scott, and Sergio Oliva were displaying forms unlike any that had been seen. 
Arnold Schwarzenegger And The Golden Age
In the year 1968, the face that many people often associated to the reason for engaging in bodybuilding got to the US. Popularly referred to as the bodybuilding king and in many circles as bodybulding gold standard, Arnold Schwarzenegger made bodybuilding a mainstream sport.
During the era of Schwarzenegger, also popularly referred to by many as The Golden Age of Bodybuilding, the dawn of major steroid use would be witnessed and it continued to grow to unprecedented levels. The most basic kinds of steroids were found in this period. In fact, most steroids popularly used currently were also popular in Schwarzenegger's time. In this era, bodybuilders openly talked about their use of steroids. It was a common thing to see the bodybuilders pass around steroids openly while training in the gym. These men knew nothing about the hormones we partake in today. They only knew steroids worked well for them.

The 1980s

As the 80s rolled by, bodybuilders became bigger. The fan base grew bigger than anyone ever anticipated, thanks to Schwarzenegger and company. It was in this era that steroids began receiving negative attention from the media and the laws surrounding steroid use would start strengthening. Even with the stricter laws, steroid use rose, and this inevitable led to how most individuals perceive bodybuilding in the present world.

The Modern Age

The modern age is the period starting from 1990 to present. In this period, we have witnessed most bodybuilders grow beyond what we thought was humanly possible. In fact, Eugene Sandow would look ordinary if compared to the modern age bodybuilders. Much of the transformation is attributed to the increased knowledge of steroids, understanding how various hormones react, and how to exploit the reactions with nutrition and training. While steroid knowledge has grown considerably, numerous other performance enhancing substances also play a significant role as well. Some good examples include Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and Insulin.

From the period Schwarzenegger reined, the popularity and fan base grew exponentially. When steroids were poised to get heavy attention, their effects were so negatively publicized and demonized that the gains would later be lost. Ever since, the competitive form of bodybuilding is stuck in cycles of lows and highs without ever reaching the popularity anticipated. It is worth noting that many still blame steroids for the bad reputation. Without Arnold in the picture, many still associate steroids to the wonderful sport.
It is additionally interesting to note that steroids have been widely used in many sporting competitions. As the use of the substances has risen in bodybuilding, the same is seen in major sports that we enjoy. So, why does bodybuilding receive negative publicity and why are steroids linked to sports? To answer these burning questions, we shall investigate the role of anabolic steroids in the sport of bodybuilding.

Bodybuilding Defined

Bodybuilding is an active sport that involves performance of strenuous physical exercises to enlarge and strengthen muscles of the body. The purpose of the activity is mainly competitive. Most bodybuilders will build their physique and modify it beyond the original state. Consequently, bodybuilding may involve the use of enhancements for definition and bigger muscle. The extent to which an individual takes the enhancement and modification aspect is dependent on their desired body shape. In the competitive aspect, the most defined and highly developed physique wins. If steroids help the athletes attain their desired goal, which it often does, then it is easy to understand why steroid use is common.
Is bodybuilding be classified as a sport? 

This question keeps popping up all the time mainly because steroids are a major component, which leads many to state that bodybuilding is not a sport. However, holes can be poked into this logic or lack thereof. If competition cannot be classified as a sport, then sports would be nonexistent. Yet another argument, which might be sounder is that since no athletic competition is involved on stage, it is not a sporting activity. Is this a correct assumption?
Unlike other popular sports, bodybuilding is unique in many ways. While sports like football and baseball happen on a playing field, bodybuilding happens mostly in the gym. The stage where bodybuilders display their physiques also happens to be the place where they receive their accolades and rewards. Granted, bodybuilding has a posing aspect that requires athletic ability; anyone who has never posed will certainly be surprised by how difficult it is to perform the poses. Even though the posing aspect is critical, it may not be as important as the body shape in terms of it is displayed. Consequently, we can point to the gym as the place where more active competition takes place.

It is true that athletes engaging in various forms of sports often train in the gym, but compete on a playing field. Bodybuilding on the other hand is a lot different if you consider the aspect of gym training. The other sports will rely on the acitivities performed in the gym to boost function and attain muscular contraction. Muscle defining and sculpting will be important whereas the bodybuilders are purely in the gym to sculpt and define their muscles. The bodybuilder throws fastballs in the gym. This is the place where a bodybuilder executes a strategy in the most effective way and implements action. So, can bodybuilding be classified as a sport? When defined by the rules governing competitive sports, then it is certainly a sport. 

The Need For Steroids

Steroids are not a necessity to bodybuilding. Contrary to popular belief, you can actually build an impressive physique without necessarily using steroids and engage in active competition. However, anyone with the desire for an awe-inspiring physique, but does not fancy using steroids will be sad to discover that it will never happen. Just like a bat is important to baseball, so is steroids to bodybuilding. If you carefully examine how we define bodybuilding for competition, you will discover that steroid use is a must. It is true that we could come up with a different definition and we could easily change the competition criterion, but this does not solve anything, more so if you review the professional standards. One important component of professional sporting activities is that competitors are more superior when compared to the average individual. You would not want to participate in a game of baseball where 60mph fastballs fly at you, would you? The same applies to bodybuildng; a stage would have no audience if an average looking bodybuilder is showcasing his or her physique. The main objective of bodybuilding competitions is to showcase powerful and unique physiques that would otherwise be unachievable by any normal person. To achieve the desirable bodies, it is imperative that you use steroids. Take for instance the NFL games, do you think those players have increased their strength and agility using natural ways or by evolving? You need to carefully think about it before you begin bashing bodybuilding for its links to steroid use by comparing it to your favorite sports.

A Big Piece of The Purplexing Puzzle

Even though the use of steroids is necessary for competitive bodybuilding, more so for the professionals, it may not be recommended for the amateurs. Note that steroid use cannot replace the actual training and it cannot replace nutrition as well. If you have a better understanding of proper nutrition, then you will be in a better position to get the most from steroids and infuse it into more competitive and successful bodybuilding. In competitive bodybuilding, your genetic make up nd its response to anabolic steroids is yet another aspect that determines whether you achieve success or not. Some individuals better while others may never see significant changes. The individuals with strong genetic structures are prone to become more muscular without steroids. So to even the playing field, the individuals with weaker structures will always find a solution by using steroids to speed up growth. 
No matter your genetic predisposition, make up and response level, steroids should not be viewed as a magical solution. you would be expecting too much if you want to transform an inferior physique into a pro bodybuilder. On the other hand, if you have the right structure of genetics, steroiods will provide a wonderful finishing touch, meaning you will go beyond your normal attainable results. Even if your body comprises of average genetics, steroids will greatly enhance your physique. For the individuals who possess the average genetics, great change is possible with the use of anabolic steroids. However, the change only occurs to a certain degree. If you want to be bigger than average, it is important that you seek out knowledge touching on all the aspects discussed. Most importantly, you need to possess superior genetic composition if you do not fancy steroids. 


Most of what we already know about steroid use is attributed to competitive bodybuilding. As previously mentioned, our understanding of the anabolic hormones has helped us in most cases to understand how the muscles work. Furthermore, the knowledge gives us a better understanding of our hormonal function and structure. As a result, we are wiser in matters concerning fitness and health. Most of what we witness in the popular culture is linked to steroids and bodybuilding. Since these aspects are interlinked, many fitness components trace their origins to bodybuilding. 
Because of bodybuilding, we now see a more fitness and health aware society. The gyms strewn all over came about due to competitive bodybuilders. The exercise routines and the nutritional principles we rely on today were initially discovered and developed by bodybuilders. So, without the pioneers, we would have no fitness and health craze. Due to the negative attention and the not so pleasant manner they are perceived, steroids are seen as a sore in competitive sporting activities yet without these substances, we would have no competitive sports as they exist now and we would not appreciate the fitness knowledge.
Competitive represents is a base and root of everything we admire about the pop culture. If you take for instance the big screen action heroes, you will realize that they owe their success to bodybuilding. How we train for sports like football, boxing, and baseball and other sports is owed to the wonderful sport of bodybuilding. The muscular macho figure that many men desire has its roots founded in competitive bodybuilding. The interesting bit is that each of the aspects outlined, steroids plays a major role. We are naturally inclined to desire things that are larger than life. Although some of the desires we have are unique in nature, many can trace their roots to the art of bodybuilding. As a result, there is a deep connection between steroids and bodybuilding in general. 

Bodybuilding In The Present Day

There is an argument that keeps coming up and will always exist. This argument is on a longing for things in the past. Many people tend to believe that competitive bodybuilding has reached its pinnacle and a stagnant state or downward spiral of the sport is what is left of the once glorious sport. This is typical of most things we experience in life and most times, it is only an opinion. Even so, there are facts that we cannot ignore. If you examine the the golden age, you actually notice that competitive bodybuilding was bigger. The fan base of the sport was also larger and the shows were even bigger. An industry that was once raking in very little is now worth mind-boggling figures. 
Even though the sport has a growing fan base and growing industry, so have the participants, but bodybuilding is getting negative publicity. The negativity is due to the use of steroids and the perceived negative and evil effects of the substances. Do the fans really care? While the sport is still generally an underground activity, it is bigger than it was in the past. Even some people may differ, steroid use does not hinder bodybuildng and its popularity. 

Steroids, Bodybuilding & The Truth

By its own nature, bodybuilding is viewed by some as an unnatural pursuit. The human body has no particular desire to be altered, meaning they have no particular desire to heap piles of massive muscle. We are designed to naturally stagnate in growth despite the fact that our natural states vary from one individual to another. No matter who you are as a person, the natural state applies. To disrupt or change the natural state of the body, you might need to push your body to perform and act in unnatural ways. You must push your body to attain growth and defined muscle. However, if you desire to rise above what is viewed by many as normal, hormonal help cannot be ignored. You can stick to being a natural competitive bodybuilder and develop an impressive solid physique that goes beyond your normal physique. This is possible without steroid use. However, if you desire a MASSIVE build that goes beyond the average, then it would be impossible to achieve the physique without using steroids. If you are yet to achieve this kind of physique, you might want to consider speeding up results with steroids. Chris Bell said steroids are as American as apple is to pie. As long as we engage in the amazing muscle game, many people inevitably desire a piece of what the competition offers.

About the author

Dr. Constance Odom, MD

8 min read