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Eugen Sandow: Part 4 – Sandow’s Exercise Routine

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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

eugen sandow exercise routine 2“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.

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Your standard bicep curl, alternating sides.

Reverse Bicep Curl

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Palms facing the ground, then do a curl.

Horizontal (or Lateral) Bicep Curl

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Hold weights horizontally and alternate curling each one towards the each.

Single-arm Shoulder Press

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Alternate pressing the weights over the head, ensuring good posture.

Lateral Shoulder Raise

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Simultaneously lift the weights from the side of the body to level with the shoulders.

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.

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Round the back, and alternate bringing each weight to eye height.

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.

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Start in a fighting stance. Lunge forward on the foremost leg and punch forward with the opposite arm.

Chest Expansion (Butterfly)

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This is essentially the standing butterfly. Open the arms wide and then close to the front of the chest as if clapping.

Holding Exercise

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.

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Hold the weights out horizontally for as long as possible.

The Push-up

It appears he may be on a decline in the photo, but I think it may just be the leopard skin.

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The good ol’ push-up. Notice Sandow’s excellent form: Back straight, Arms breaking 90° while down, Elbows close to the sides. I suppose a leopard skin rug doesn’t hurt either.

The Bent Press

This is a classic old-time strong-man move. Many believe this is how Sandow got his thick oblique’s.

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Start the bent press by lifting the weight from the ground to the chest.

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Continue pressing upwards, bending to the side and supporting yourself via the hand and thigh.

The Full Sit-up

If you use a heavier weight here, you can get a nice pull-over to build the lats.

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Start by lying down flat, using a barbell or couch if necessary to hold the legs. Using the abdomen muscles, sit up, keeping the arms extended.

Swing from Ground

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With the weight between the legs, and just behind you, reach down and swing it up over the head. Repeat with the opposite arm.

Forearm Exercise

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Using a barbell (preferred) or two dumbbells, with palms facing down, bring the arms to a 45° angle and flex the wrists upwards.

Standing Chest Press

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With one leg slightly behind the other, press the barbell or dumbbells over the head, looking skyward and taking a larger step back for support.

Final Thoughts

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.

Strength and How to Obtain It

System of Physical Training

The Gospel of Strength

Life is Movement

More Articles in This Series:

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