Have you ever wondered why the Olympia trophy is called a Sandow? It’s named after the father of modern bodybuilding, Eugen Sandow. Sandow was the original stongman celebrity, long before the days of Joe Weider and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who popularized physical fitness in the mainstream culture. You may not recognize the name Eugen Sandow, but you’ve definitely seen him before in vintage black and white photos of circus strongmen in leopard loincloths and handlebar mustaches. Sandow created the modern culture of fitness and bodybuilding that we know today, writing books and magazines on the subject of fitness and even starting the first-ever bodybuilding tournament. Hey, if it wasn’t for Sandow, there probably wouldn’t be a Muscle & Fitness magazine today (so thanks). 

Part of his ideal was that from a distance, he looked like an average man. His strongman routine opened with Sandow walking onto the stage in an evening suit concealing his muscles, but once he removed his clothes, audiences saw he had an incredible body. He wasn’t too huge, standing at around 5’8″ with an average weight of 185lbs. What stood out about Sandow was his proportions. He wasn’t a mammoth of men like most contemporary strongmen of the time, but his body was balanced. He essentially invented the six-pack and encouraged others to follow him on his path to physical fitness and health. He didn’t want physical fitness to feel like an elite club that only those born with good genes could join. He preached that everyone could attain physical fitness. 

Tragically, Sandow passed at the age of 58 of an aneurysm, but experts today are unsure of what caused this event. In the days leading up to his death, Sandow was involved in a car accident and lifted a car out of ditch, but it is unknown if this could’ve contributed to his passing. Sandow was alienated from his family, most likely due to his mulitple marital infidelities (historians debate whether Sandow was bisexual) at the time of death. He was buried in an unmarked grave, and all his possessions were burned, only to be remembered years later by his great grandson.

This makes Sandow’s life and legacy even more fascinating, because it can often be hard to decipher what is real and what is exaggerated. Sandow himself was one to exaggerate his stories, and so much of what historians have soruces is public records of his performances and published texts. 

Despite everything, one thing historians and fitness enthusiats alike can agree on is that Sandow revolutionized the culture of fitness of his time and wowed audiences with his aesthetic physique and feats of strength.

If you want to go on an even deeper dive learning about the life and times of Eugen Sandow, check out the Rogue Fitness documentary on Sandow, which you can find on YouTube.

Here are 10 things you definitely want to know about the one and only, Eugen Sandow: