Just like every area of life, the fitness industry is also full of deception and lies geared towards the creation of a pyramid structure, where only those at the top benefit. Since the very beginning, the sport/beauty contest known as bodybuilding initiated on the bases of false claims, ignorance, con games, shallow desires and manipulation of the masses. The market model was simple: create an attractive product that people would naturally want and make everybody believe that you have the secret to success. It worked like a charm in the past, and it still does. The beneficiary, however, was never the little man.
As people, we are sinners and narcissistic in nature. Thus, almost everybody is attracted to the idea of acquiring a nice muscular body. Very few things can flatter the ego more than admiration coming from others when you take your clothes off. The fact that women love big muscular upper bodies and men appreciate highly nicely shaped legs is not exactly hot news. Key individuals with great business sense were able to identify this and exploit the niche to the maximum.
Many indicate the late 1890s as the beginning of bodybuilding since this was the time when Eugen Sandow started his muscle flexing shows in front of a crowd. I am not going to focus on that era exclusively, but a little historical flashback is necessary to understand the modern state of the industry.
Eugen Sandow, born Friedrich Wilhelm Müller, was a strongman and a strength athlete admired greatly for his muscular development first and strength feats second. It is safe to say that the records will remember him as the original initiator of fitness and bodybuilding motivation. With the rise of his popularity, and after the first official bodybuilding contest held in 1891 under the name of “The Great Show”, the interest in strength training increased immensely. The seed was sown and bodybuilding emerged as a commercial product. This is the time when very special men, eager to milk the ignorant and naïve crowd, emerged on the scene.
In the 1920s, the personage of Angelo Siciliano, better known as Charles Atlas, appeared on the horizon. Promoted by “the father of physical culture”, Bernarr Macfadden, Atlas enjoyed phenomenal popularity among youngsters and people looking for ways to improve their lives by fighting physical imperfections and weakness.
Rumor has it that Angelo Siciliano changed his name to Charles Atlas legally because “it sounds more American”. He also created a nice PR story that could touch the hearts of all skinny boys in the world and sell muscle building training courses. According to the official version, Atlas used to be a “weakling” bullied around by the big boys. As it got more serious, he started lifting weights and became a strength fanatic, which helped him fight the unfairness of this world. Of course, just like in all commercials the whole point was to create drama and the illusion that people in similar position can get out of the trap by subscribing to the ideology provided by the muscle media back then.
During the 1930s, bodybuilding grew a lot. Checking your biceps in the mirror became a commonly accepted behavior, and many groups of people lifting weights with the sole intention to build thick muscle commenced. During that decade, the popular Muscle Beach in Santa Monica was built. People went there to admire high-level muscle and strength performance.
The first modern bodybuilding competition entered the register in 1939 under the name “America’s Best Built Man”. The governing body at that time was the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). It was a much different era back then. Bodybuilders were not strictly looking for mass and cuts. There were also points awarded for weightlifting performance, and the competitors were required to do well in both events if they wanted to win. In the beginning, this was the most prestigious contest ever.
The popular bodybuilder/weightlifter John Grimek quickly became a muscle celebrity by winning Mr. America (the new name of the contest) twice in a row. His personage was very important to the future of the muscle world because he was one of the lifters on which Dr. John Ziegler started experimenting with steroids. Grimek worked for none other than the entrepreneur and sports promoter Robert Collins “Bob” Hoffman, better known simply as Bob Hoffman.
Bob Hoffman had a love for business, to say the least. He made a great profit from selling barbells to the hungry crowd looking for the road to muscle. As expected barbells represented “the ultimate way to get strong and build big arms”. Hoffman sold over 300, 000 weights sets as well as a ton of training programs. By 1946, millions of dollars were filling his bank account. How did it happen? One word: propaganda.
In the 1930s, Hoffman launched Strength & Health magazine, which allowed him to reach many potential clients and establish a figure of authority. Due to people’s natural love for muscle, Hoffman gained enormous amount of influence over thousands of young men. The magazine did contain a lot of useful information, thanks to the knowledgeable writers such as Bill Starr, but it also created the opportunity to put poison in the food of the unaware.
In 1946, Bob Hoffman received a business visit from none other than Paul Chappius Bragg who was a nutritionist, and later on became known as the pioneer of America’s wellness movement. The goal was simple: it was time to sell nutritional products to the crowd through the magazine. Selling barbells was fine, but there was one big problem – iron lasts decades without breaking. On the other hand, supplements and food have a much shorter lifespan, which makes them a great profitable product people would buy month after month.
This is what initiated the launch of one of the first bodybuilding supplements known as Hi-Proteen. In essence, the product was garbage consisting of soybean flour loaded with large amounts of sweeteners meant to make the damn thing consumable. The magic formula was supposed to help you gain weight fast, even though behind the scenes people knew very well that the massive gains, which started in the 1950s, were not due to protein nor training methods. The substance that really pushed the muscle industry and weightlifting to a completely new level was synthetic testosterone on which was based the evolution of the whole bodybuilding movement.
However, you cannot really sell steroids in a health magazine for obvious legal and practical issues. That is why Hoffman invested so much into the development of other explanations for the muscular and strength boom. One of those “explanations” was isometric training.
In an article entitled “The Most Important Article I Ever Wrote” Bob Hoffman presented isometrics as the best way to train. The method was supposed to be extremely revolutionary and the ticket of American weightlifters back to the first place. Of course, in order to make a product successful you need good advertisement since the package is what sells.
Consequently, the weightlifters Bill March of York, Pennsylvania, and Louis Riecke of New Orleans played the role of promoters. Hoffman used the reputation of the two to launch a line of products to the unaware. Later on, it was revealed that Bill March and Louis Riecke were using anabolic steroids, which hurt the credibility of the advertised training method. On June 1972, the strength coach Bill Starr exposed the deception in a published material entitled “Isometric Farce”. He accused Hoffman of speculation with training courses and special equipment.
While Bob Hoffman had an essential role in the world of bodybuilding, strength and fitness, there was another businessman willing to take it a step further. His name was Josef Edwin Weider, better known as Joe Weider.
The muscle wars between Bob Hoffman and Joe Weider are comparable to the never-ending battle between Apple of Steve Jobs and Microsoft of Bill Gates. Similar to the two entrepreneurs from the Silicon Valley, Hoffman and Weider were two greedy men with enormous egos looking for profit in the same industry by placing emphasis on different concepts. It would be naïve to believe that either of the two cared about the public, even though Hoffman’s training approach appeared to be “more in tune with nature”.
Hoffman based his philosophy primarily on functional strength and training for performance, while Joe Weider was more interested in physical development and hypertrophy. He is the reason bodybuilding splits and high volume training became popular. If it was Hoffman’s way, bodybuilders would still be doing full body workouts a few days a week, instead of 20 sets of “biceps”. He believed that big muscles are nothing but burden, if there is not real strength to back them up.
Creating a muscle building system was extremely important to Joe Weider. Thus, he came up with high volume routines. He did not care much about providing a valuable way to train. His main priority was the creation of a product he can promote as his own. Having his name on the logo was what counted the most. This is how the “Weider System of Bodybuilding” was born. However, Weider was not fully in charge of bodybuilding until 1946, when he and his brother Ben founded the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) in Montreal, Canada. The goal was to have more control over the bodybuilding industry since Hoffman had tremendous connections in the AAU.
Today, the IFBB is the governing body of the sport, and all famous bodybuilders are under its wing and play by its rules. Sadly, the roots of the establishment suggest that at its heart the project supports a profit-based system based on ignorance and manipulations.
Similar to Hoffman, Weider also had his own fair share of muscle media though which he promoted all kinds of products with extremely questionable benefits. He also used the bodies of popular bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger to back up gimmicky products. The low value merchandise came with extremely deceptive claims such as: “I put 2 full inches on my arms – 3 inches on my chest and trimmed 4 inches off my waist in just 7 weeks…” For those of you who do not know, the mentioned results are hard to achieve even with steroids in such a short period.
The crowd back then was even more vulnerable to corporate control because there was no alternative media, and firm belief in the mainstream authorities was already in order. Weider went as far as advertising special wrist bracelets, which were supposed to make your arms very strong. As expected, Arnold was the advertising model. Was he a natural bodybuilder? No.
By the time Joe Weider was promoting Arnold in his booklets, testosterone and other steroids such as Methandrostenolone (Dianabol) were not only available but also widely used by all popular bodybuilders. Just like Hoffman, he could not afford to profit on steroids directly and that is why youngsters had to be dumbed-down to a level where bracelets and protein with horrible taste based on soybeans were accepted as the secret to muscle growth. The bodybuilders advertising the products did not care much. They were getting paid and receiving badly needed promotion. Probably some of them were even stupid enough to believe in the bracelet thing. I will not be surprised at all, if that was the case. After all, many of your muscle heroes allowed the muscle cartel to exploit them and make millions on their backs. Since the times of Weider and Hoffman, bodybuilders have been putting their health, integrity and eventually life at risk while their pimps were making big bank. I am sorry to tell you the truth, but most of your muscle idols are shallow and self-absorbed sellouts.
Today, the situation is not much different, and why would it be when the whole empire resides on the bases of smoke and mirrors. Ironically, some of the original magazines such as Muscular Development, which was Bob Hoffman’s bodybuilding media, and Flex Magazine, founded by Weider, are still here.
Almost 90 years later nothing has changed. Hundreds of pages containing nothing but recycled material with a ton of shiny bottles advertised in-between, bodybuilders too intimidated to talk about drug abuse from fear of losing their sponsors, and a large amount of naive fans ready to steal from their moms’ purses in order to buy the latest bottle of God knows what. The only thing different is that now you have Instagram which is helpful if you care to know what color are the new sneakers of Phil Heath.
As expected, nobody wants to admit the lack of progress and perpetual repetition of the same cycle. It is much easier to live in deception. Lies are warm and tell you what you want to hear. If you ask a modern bodybuilder what he thinks of the current situation, he will probably tell you as follows:
“I think we are doing great. The guys today are much bigger and in better shape too. Over the last decades, we have improved a lot. The times of Arnold were great. He will forever be my idol. I grew up watching “Pumping iron”. Nevertheless, thanks to the advancement of nutrition and training, the sport has improved way beyond the old level. I want to thank my fans, family and sponsors for supporting me. Without them I would not be the man I am today…blah, blah, blah”
Nothing could be further from the truth but this world encourages politically correct statements like that. This is exactly what keeps the matrix going – slaves who love their servitude and cannot see how little control and free will they have left. This world suffers from corporate fascism and bodybuilding does not make an exception.
Corporate profits dictate the policy while our human nature faces extreme suppression. We have been degraded to bio-robots who live to buy things we are supposed to like and need. Our natural enthusiasm is been exploited and used as bait to create a grand illusion, which ultimately does not lead to progress but to dictatorship and loss of whatever character we have left.
Corporate fascism consists of complete tyranny exercised by big corporations, which can do as they please completely unhindered by the government. Instead of introducing regulations protecting the people, the state gives companies the right to dictate the pace of action. Back in the day when Bob Hoffman and Joe Weider were building their muscle empires, they had “many brushes with the law” because of unbacked statements regarding the effectiveness of their supplement lines and the rest of the garbage products. There are rumors that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confiscated some of Hoffman’s products, but we all know that in the end, nothing happened and the deception remained undisrupted as seen even in modern days.
The supplement companies of this era operate in the very same way. Often the research done to show how effective a product is remains manipulated or at the very least, only the parts beneficial to the company reach the public. Why? Because in order for a study to take place somebody has to finance it, and that somebody are often the big pharmaceutical and supplement companies. As you can guess, they are only interested in research supporting their products. Why would you fund your own suicide?
The issue is worsen by the unwritten corrupt and hypocritical rules working only in favor of big corporations. If you are an ordinary person caught with steroids, you can go to prison for a very long time in some countries. Ironically, even professional athletes fear similar consequences. Steroids are a wild card used against individuals who refuse to play by the rules. If you open your mouth too much, somebody will press the button and the crowd will eat you alive for “cheating”. However, as long as you are obedient and companies milk the naïve fans thanks to you, there is nothing to fear. You are under the umbrella of trust. The only ones who remain protected at all times, however, are the corporations. Do not doubt even for a second that they will able to get out of every situation. Even if traces of rat excrements are found in their products, it will be justified somehow. Who knows? Maybe they are anabolic.
None of this would have been possible if the mainstream muscle media was not corrupt. On official bodybuilding websites, you are not even allowed to write posts containing the word “steroids”. The moderators will immediately ban you, if you dare to start a steroid topic. That is why the users count on code words and slang to express themselves. The justification of such censorship is explained with the claim that steroids are bad for your health, and the company in question does not support drugs. Truth be told, nobody cares about your health. The mainstream companies are just trying to avoid financial losses and troubles with the law.
Ironically, they have no problems using individuals on steroids to promote “great deals” straight in your face. Taking your money through manipulations is fine, but answering your concerns is not. You can ask what kind of protein powder is better: whey concentrate or isolate, but questioning the need to buy the product at all is a big no-no. You are not supposed to do it! Do not question anything! Do as we tell you! We are big and you are just a small and stupid “weakling”.
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Jonathan Black (August 2009). “Charles Atlas: Muscle Man”. Smithsonian magazine.
StartingStrength.com. “The Pioneers Of Protein by Daniel T. Hall and John D. Fair”, http://startingstrength.com/articles/protein_pioneers_fair.pdf, 2011.
D. Fair, John: Muscletown USA: Bob Hoffman and the Manly Culture of York Barbell: Penn State University Press, 2008.
Debasis Bagchi (Editor), Sreejayan Nair (Editor), Chandan K. Sen (Editor): Nutrition and Enhanced Sports Performance: Muscle Building, Endurance, and Strength: Academic Press; 1 edition (September 10, 2013)
Lewrockwell.com. “Bob Hoffman, Joe Weider, Health, and the Fascist State” http://www.lewrockwell.com/lrc-blog/bob-hoffman-joe-weider-health-and-the-fascist-state/, February 23, 2006.
Articles.mercola.com. “How Corrupted Drug Companies Deceive and Manipulate Your Doctor” http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/05/18/how-corrupted-drug-companies-deceive-and-manipulate-your-doctor.aspx, May 18, 2010.
Grimek to Zeigler, August 25, 1954, Zeigler Papers
John D. Fair, “Isometrics or Steroids? Exploring New Frontiers Of Strength in the Early 1960s, Journal of Sport History, Vol. 20. No. 1 (Spring 1993)
Bill Starr, “Isometric Farce,” Weightlifting Journal, 1 (June, 1972); 29.