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Joe Weider's Story: Bodybuilding, Magazines, and Arnold Schwarzenegger

The man who transformed bodybuilding and fitness.

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Joe Weider's Story: Bodybuilding, Magazines, and Arnold Schwarzenegger

ICON

The most promient name in Joe Weider’s magazines was Joe Weider. He was editor and writer but also the ubiquitous pitchman of training courses and products like Power Twisters, Killer Karate Krushers, and Muscle Density RX7. In 1970, Sports Illustrated ran a lengthy profile of Joe prolaiming he had “replaced Charles Atlas as the world’s No. 1 bodybuilder.” Think of muscles and you thought foremost of Joe Weider. The man then known as the “Master Blaster” and “Trainer of Champions” had reached the rarefied status of icon. 

“Bodybuilding is about getting bigger, so I had to be a little bit bigger than life,” Joe wrote in his and Ben’s co-autobiography Brothers of Iron. “What I did, philosophically speaking, was to create a Platonic ideal of myself and make exciting images of this ideal to catch and hold the attention of millions of people so I could educate them about bodybuilding and provide products they required. The ideal was a lot like reality, because I was a muscle man and I truly deserved my titles Trainer of Champions and Master Blaster. All my life I followed my own advice, working out and watching my diet and health, and I loved bodybuilding with all my heart. If I didn’t walk the talk, as they say, people would have turned away from me long ago.”

Joe’s most distinctive characteristic appeared beneath his nose and over his upper lip sometime in 1970 and has remained there, almost continuously, ever since. Millions of people who couldn’t name the current Mr. Olympia knew Joe Weider—the man behind all those protein powders, weight sets, and muscle magazines—by his moustache. To those who've heard Joe, however, he has a greater distinguishing attribute—his voice. For the writers, photographers, and bodybuilders he worked with, mimicking Joe’s French-Canadian accent and pleasantly honking tone proved irresistible. Even Arnold has trouble quoting Joe without imitating Joe.

RISE

After 25 years in New Jersey, the Weider Publishing offices moved to suburban Los Angeles in 1972. Eventually, the attrium and Joe’s office at Weider headquarters in Woodland Hills became a virtual museum, filled with antiques, art, and bodybuilding treasures. The transplant from the East Coast was especially fond of paintings and sculptures depicting scenes from the Old West. Shortly after the move, Mr. America folded, leaving Muscle Builder/Power (renamed in 1968) as the only Weider publication. For the first time since his initial years of publishing, Joe was able to focus on a single magazine for an extended period. That magazine incorporated more scientific research and codified Joe’s tenets of resistance training. The Weider Principles have had a major, enduring impact on the way people workout. Muscle Builder/Power grew in prominence throughout the ‘70s—both following and leading the rising interest in weight-training.

One catalyst for that rise was the seminal documentary Pumping Iron, released in 1977, and briefly featuring Joe Weider. The movie captured the same evocative mileu (Gold’s Gym and Southern California) and characters (Arnold and those chasing him) that Muscle Builer/Power showcased. The 1975 Mr. Olympia contest featured in Pumping Iron was Arnold’s sixth consecutive Olympia victory. “We developed this kind of father/son relationship,” Arnold said of his ongoing personal and business connections to Joe during the ‘70s.

WOM​EN

By the late ‘70s, ever more women were taking up weight-training, and Joe Weider was on the vanguard of the movement. When Muscle Builder/Power launched a women’s section in February 1979, Joe editorialized, “It doesn’t take an Equal Rights Amendment to convince us women want to be bodybuilders, just like men....Our intended expansion will accommodate them psychologically, socially, cosmetically, and editorially. They need us, and we need them. Welcome, ladies!” 

The innaugural IFBB Ms. Olympia was held in 1980, the same year Muscle Builder/Power (after a one-year run as Muscle) became Muscle & Fitness, signifying a more inclusive focus. At the dawn of the ‘80s, women bodybuilders were at the center of a cultural zietgeist, but the wider female public was still under-informed about effective workouts and meals. “Joe, you have to do something for women,” Betty told her husband. “We need to tell them, in an intelligent way, everything about the whole fitness lifestyle.” Thus Shape magazine launched in September 1981. After some initial struggles, Shape soared, eventually becoming Weider Publications most widely-read magazine. Joe later wrote: “Like our women’s competitive bodybuilding, Shape helped redefine beauty and change how women look at themselves.”

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