Eugen (Eugene) Sandow began exercising, using the methods of the day, shortly after visiting Italy at the age of 10. Inspired by the Greek and Roman statues, the frail and sickly Sandow was determined to become strong like the heroes cast in marble. At the time, mid-to-late 1800’s, people believed the physiques of the statues were exaggerations from the minds of the sculptors rather than being real and achievable. No one in the modern age had come close to possessing the Greek-ideal, yet Sandow believed it was possible.
After a few years of exercising with what amounted to calisthenics, he realized something was missing; he wasn’t making the gains he hoped for. Determined not to give up, he began studying anatomy and developed a set of exercises “ giving each individual muscle a movement, and of so arranging the form of the exercises that when some muscles are brought into play others are relaxed and left without strain.”
He began to see improvement almost immediately and began to gain strength and shape his physique to his desired form. Over the years, he visited Italy and measured the proportions of the statues then returned home and exercised until his body matched the same dimensions. Because he is the first person to build their body to pre-determined measurements, he is considered the father of modern body-building. Keep in mind that he accomplished all of this without any special diet considerations, except not eating to satiation.
Below are a number of exercises Sandow developed to become strong. The goal is not to push yourself to the max, tearing muscles and taking every supplement under the sun to repair them, but to gain practical strength over a long period of time by mastering an exercise and slowly increasing the weight.
The Exercise Routine of Eugen Sandow
Sandow’s exercises are illustrated in a number of his books, which are listed at the end of this article. He does mention that a lot of his strength training comes from preparing for and during the strong-man shows for which he was famous. However, since lifting horses and breaking iron chains with our chest and forearms isn’t something every man can easily take-up, he developed exercises which could be performed at home or by one of his pupils in a Sandow Gymnasium.
Exercise with Dumbbells
“Nothing, in my opinion, is better than the use of the dumb-bell, for developing the whole system, particularly if it is used intelligently, and with a knowledge of the location and functions of the muscles.” – Eugen Sandow
The weights here should be fairly light to start with. 5-10 lbs. is sufficient. The can be performed in 10-15 repetitions and 2-3 sets. Depending on the exercise, I use either 12 lb. or 20 lb. dumbbells.
Note: I have given names or used the popular names of these exercises in the illustrations below. However, terms such as Bicep or Push-up did not exist in his day. In Sandow’s books he describes the exact motions of the exercises and does not attempt to ‘coin’ them.
Also, with every exercise there are a few things Sandow was adamant about:
- Nasal Breathing – Should be practiced all the time, especially when exercising
- Bent Knees – Always keep the knees bent a little as this aids in blood flow
- Alternate Sides – By working one side, then the other, the body has better blood circulation
- Fresh Air – Whenever possible, exercise in fresh air (open windows, out-of-doors)
- Put Your Mind Into It – Focus on the muscles being used and the desired outcome!
The Bicep Curl
For us, this is a basic exercise. For those in Sandow’s day, it was something relatively new.
Reverse Bicep Curl
Horizontal (or Lateral) Bicep Curl
Single-arm Shoulder Press
Lateral Shoulder Raise
Front Shoulder Raise
Notice Sandow’s posture in this illustration. This is the pose he believed most effective for keeping the body strong while performing this exercise.
Lunge Punch Exercise
This is one of Sandow’s more unique exercises. It feels a bit awkward because you are punching forward with the hand opposite the foremost leg. Give a bit of a twist to bring the body fully front.
Chest Expansion (Butterfly)
As Sandow was a strong-man, feats of strength often required stamina as well as raw power. Here is a stamina building exercise he recommended.
It appears he may be on a decline in the photo, but I think it may just be the leopard skin.
The Bent Press
This is a classic old-time strong-man move. Many believe this is how Sandow got his thick oblique’s.
The Full Sit-up
If you use a heavier weight here, you can get a nice pull-over to build the lats.
Swing from Ground
Standing Chest Press
Sandow was a true innovator and showed us what is truly possible with the human body. Keep in mind, he created unbelievable strength and physique without the aid of steroids or massive food intake. Be inspired and press on!
More on Sandow
Read more on Eugen Sandow in the books he published. Most, if not all, are available on Kindle for a small fee, though you can find many of them in PDF for free, online.