Day in, day out, Sandow performed in his very trying routine. It was a dunning schedule that Sandow had kept up unfailingly for three long years. Despite the triumphs, Sandow’s health eventually gave out, and he suffered from a nervous collapse.
While he was on tour in America, Sandow had taken a brief time out of his busy schedule in order to return to England and to marry a pretty Manchester lass, Blanche Brookes. It was to his wife and home that Sandow returned in order to recuperate. Luckily, Sandow’s native constitution was such that he was back on his feet in a short time. He may have returned to England broken in health, but not broken in spirit.
Undaunted by his physical infirmities, Sandow was ready to start what he considered his “real” work: reforming the exercise and dietary habits of the world. It was a monumental scheme that would have caused others trepidation, but not the iron-willed German strongman. Sandow soon opened the first of his Institutes of Physical Culture, designed to teach his secrets of vigor and bodybuilding to those who wanted to learn. These gymnasiums were instantly successful, and they marked a turning point in the way the public viewed health and fitness. Here at last was a place where ordinary people could go to improve their bodies. Soon Sandow was opening schools in other cities all across the kingdom. He was, in fact, laying the foundations for the fitness empire that soon stretched around the world.
Before Sandow came along and made physical fitness popular, there were very few places where people could work out, but Sandow changed all that. He showed the community of health conscious people what could be accomplished with regular exercise. It soon became fashionable to visit the Sandow Institute in order to work up a healthy sweat. It seemed as if the world was finally awakening to the benefits of regular, scientific exercise. When others saw the results of these visits, even more people flocked to the schools. Other schools opened up, and other teachers began instructing students. Before long there was a fitness craze in full swing. Thankfully, that mania has never really diminished from that day to this.
In order to gain an even wider audience for his ideas, Sandow began a magazine in order to pass along his views and to share exercising tips. Sandow’s Magazine began in 1898 and was a huge success, and it soon encouraged others to start journals of their own. Sandow was also publishing books that exposed pupils to his brand of physical culture. In 1897 Strength and How to Obtain It appeared, and in 1904 came the work that was soon to give its name to an entire sport, Body Building, or Man in the Making. These books and magazines were read by a generation of athletes, and the information those volumes contained went far in spreading the gospel of muscles and good health.
Not content with just writing about the benefits of good health, Sandow also worked hard at improving the exercise equipment that was used at the time. He invented or perfected many devices for building muscles and endurance. Wall exercisers consisting of rubber strands with weighted metal handles were his first success. These brought fitness into the home, making daily workouts possible for everyone. Next came spring-grip dumbbells. These resembled regular bells that had been cut in two laterally. Between the halves a number of small steel springs were placed so that the athlete could build his grip strength while he exercised his biceps.
Exhibiting boundless energy, Sandow was not afraid to start other endeavors. As early as 1899 Sandow had announced that he was instituting mail order courses in physical development. These courses brought in even more adherents to the cause of health and fitness, gradually eclipsing even his physical culture studios and becoming the prototype of the many muscles-by-mail firms that have multiplied since then.
Perhaps the crowning glory of Sandow’s work in physical culture came in 1901 when he organized the world’s first major bodybuilding competition. This magnificent affair took place in London; royal Albert Hall. Such was the interest generated by the event that there was standing room only in the cavernous auditorium, and many people were turned away at the door. The judging was done by three eminent men: Sir Charles Lawes, a noted sculptor; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes; and Sandow himself. After a rigorous series of contests, a winner was announced, and the audience and contestants both seemed pleased with the outcome.
Sandow continued to work for the betterment of the body. He traveled to exotic places all over the world, continually preaching the gospel of better health and bodybuilding. South Africa, India, Japan, Australia, New Zealand all saw him at one time or another. In 1911 Sandow was made special instructor in physical culture to the King of England, indicating that his ideas were gaining even royal favor.
In time Sandow became more interested in the preventative side of physical culture. He seemed to have ideas on just about every aspect of health and exercise. He was one of the first advocates of compulsory physical education in public schools, for he felt that a weak or sickly child simply could not learn properly. He developed exercises for pregnant mothers to reduce the pain of childbirth. He felt that employers should offer their workers time off for daily exercises, and the employees should be entitled to sanitary and safe working places.
Although he was hailed as a benefactor of the human race by many of his apostles, Sandow was no plaster saint. His biggest character flaw was not a surprising one considering his handsome appearance: he was a notorious philanderer. It is not difficult to understand how a person of his vitality, attractiveness, and magnetism would draw the attention of just about every available female within range. When temptation is everywhere, even the strongest strongman would find it hard to resist. Naturally this eventually caused an irreconcilable rift to form between Sandow and his family. It was a fracture that was never really healed.
Eugen Sandow died in 1925, but because of the friction between the strongman and his family, he was buried in an unmarked grave in London’s Putney Vale Cemetery. Nothing was there save a shaggy grass plot until a few years ago when a marker was finally placed on the great man’s grave, but Sandow’s legacy was not hidden away so easily. The Anglo-German strongman opened a string of gyms, pioneered new equipment, and started virtually thousands of people on a regular system of exercise and fitness. Sandow acted as a sort of evangelist for the sport of bodybuilding, pointing the way that others would follow.
Today, Eugen Sandow is most recognizable to modern sports fans because his statue is handed out to the winners of the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding contest. It is a fitting link between the present and the glorious past, and a wonderful monument to this great pioneer of bodybuilding.