Many indicate the late 1890s as the beginning of bodybuilding since this was the time when Eugen Sandow started his muscle flexing shows. I am not going to focus on that era exclusively, but a small historical flashback is necessary to understand the modern state of the industry.
Eugen Sandow, born Friedrich Wilhelm Müller, was a strength athlete admired for his muscular development first and strength feats second. It is safe to say that the records will remember him as the godfather of fitness and bodybuilding motivation.
After the first official bodybuilding contest held in 1891 under the name of “The Great Show”, the interest in muscle construction grew significantly, and bodybuilding emerged as a commercial product.
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 a phenomenal popularity among 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 touched the hearts of many skinny boys across the world. According to the official version, Atlas used to be a “weakling” bullied by the big boys. As a result, he started lifting weights and became a superman. Of course, the goal was to create drama and the illusion that people in a similar position can get out of the trap by subscribing to the ideology provided by the muscle media.
During the 1930s, bodybuilding grew even more. Checking your biceps in the mirror became a common behavior. The infection spread and resulted in the construction of the popular Muscle Beach in Santa Monica. 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 was the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). At the time, bodybuilders were not judged only by their physiques. There were also points awarded for weightlifting performance. The competitors were required to do well in both events to win. In the beginning, this was the most prestigious contest ever.
The popular bodybuilder/weightlifter John Grimek quickly became a muscle celebrity after 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 experimented with steroids.
Grimek worked for the entrepreneur and sports promoter Robert Collins “Bob” Hoffman who had a great love for business. He made a great profit from selling barbells to the muscle hungry crowd. Hoffman sold over 300,000 weight 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 – a media that allowed him to reach many potential clients. The magazine contained a lot of useful information thanks to knowledgeable writers such as Bill Starr, but it also provided an opportunity to put poison in the food of the unaware.
In 1946, Bob Hoffman received a business visit from Paul Chappius Bragg – a nutritionist who later became known as the pioneer of America’s wellness movement. The goal was simple – to sell nutritional products to the readers of the magazine. Selling barbells was fine, but there was one big problem – iron lasts forever. On the other hand, supplements and food have a short lifespan. This property makes them a profitable product that people would buy month after month.
The new strategy initiated the launch of the supplement Hi-Proteen. In essence, the product was made of soybean flour loaded with sweeteners. The magic formula was supposed to promote fast muscular gains, even though the experts knew very well that the muscle growth epidemic in the 1950s had nothing to do with supplementation. The substance that pushed the muscle industry and weightlifting to a whole new level was testosterone.
Since selling steroids was impractical and illegal, Hoffman’s team invested a lot in 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 and the ticket of American weightlifters back to the first place.
The weightlifters Bill March (York, Pennsylvania) and Louis Riecke (New Orleans) played the role of promoters. Hoffman used their reputation to launch a line of products to the unaware. However, the fact that Bill March and Louis Riecke were on steroids 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 Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Just like the two entrepreneurs from the Silicon Valley, Hoffman and Weider were two men with enormous egos looking for profit and wins in the same industry by placing emphasis on different concepts. Hoffman based his philosophy on “functional strength” and training for performance whereas Joe Weider was more interested in hypertrophy and assembled the “Weider System of Bodybuilding”.
Weider became fully in charge of bodybuilding in 1946 when he founded the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) in Montreal, Canada with his brother. 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. All famous bodybuilders are under its wing and play by its rules. Sadly, the roots of the establishment suggest that the project supports a system based on ignorance and manipulations.
Just like Hoffman, Weider had his own muscle media through which he promoted all kinds of products with extremely questionable benefits. He also used the bodies of popular bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger to promote 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 this time frame.
Moreover, Weider advertised special wrist bracelets designed to make your arms very strong. As expected, Arnold was the advertising model. Was he a natural bodybuilder? No. Did he build his arms with bracelets? No.
Today, the situation is not very different. Muscular Development, which was Bob Hoffman’s bodybuilding media, and Flex Magazine, founded by Weider, are still here and operating according to the same mechanism.
The only thing different is that now we have social media allowing bodybuilders like Phil Heath to post a photo of their new sneakers.
If you ask a modern bodybuilder what he thinks of the current situation, he will probably tell you something like this:
“I think that we are doing great. Modern bodybuilders are bigger and in better shape. Thanks to the advancement of nutrition and training, the sport has improved significantly. I want to thank my fans, family and sponsors for supporting me. Without them, I wouldn’t 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 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. We have been degraded to bio-robots who live to buy and sell. Our natural enthusiasm is exploited for the creation of a grand illusion, which ultimately does not lead to progress but to dictatorship and destruction 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 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 unclear statements regarding the effectiveness of their supplement lines. There are rumors that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confiscated some of Hoffman’s products. Where are the authorities today? Exactly.
As a bonus, the research backing the effectiveness of the muscle products is often manipulated or at the very least, only the parts beneficial to the company reach the public. Why? Because studies require money. Guess who provides them? Supplement companies.
None of this would be 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. 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 lawsuits.
Ironically, they have no problem using individuals on steroids to promote “great deals”. 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 is a big no-no. You are not supposed to do it! Do not question anything! Do as we tell you! We are big. You are just a small and stupid “weakling”.
Just like every area of life, the fitness industry is full of deceptions and lies geared towards the creation of a pyramidal structure serving the top at the expense of the bottom.
Bodybuilding was founded on false claims, ignorance, con games, shallow desires and manipulation of the masses.