Trying a Historic Workout

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I’m fairly into health and fitness. I’m not a gym rat, but I enjoy staying active. Almost every day I run, walk, lift, or ride my bike. I’ve actually found it a huge help for my mental health. Staying active really does give my mood a boost, and that was important for my years in grad school.

But when I see all the fancy equipment people use to workout nowadays, it makes me curious about how people exercised throughout history. What did we do before we could join Planet Fitness for $10 a month? So I did some research to find out. I wanted to know if I could handle a workout from the past.

Enter Eugen Sandow. Sandow has the esteem of being called history’s first bodybuilder. And when you see what he looked like, it’s obvious why. 

Eugen Sandow

Sandow was born in Prussia in 1867. Throughout the 1880s he took part in strength competitions in Europe and easily beat some of the other famous strongmen of the time. This culminated with his performance at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. After this performance, he became a full-blown celebrity. He started touring the US and Europe and doing shows where people would pay money just to see him get on stage and flex. 

Well I was convinced—this was the workout I wanted to try! 

I started by reading one of Sandow’s books, Strength and How to Obtain It, to get a feel for his approach to fitness. Sandow’s recommendations are actually very modern. He says to start with lighter weights and slowly work your way up, exercise in front of a mirror, go slowly when lifting. These are all normal exercise tips now. It all stands out at a time when a lot of fitness advice came from snake oil salesmen.

Then I tried to find a specific Sandow routine. There are several workouts Sandow did, so I’m not sure if there is one unified routine he always did. I used the routine laid out here at the Physical Culture Study. It’s helpful because it includes pictures for the motions. 

My final assessment was that I loved the workout. I only used 10 pound dumbbells to avoid any strains since I’m new to this routine. Even with light weights and only 2 sets, I broke a sweat and felt sore the next day. I’m going to incorporate some of these moves into my normal workout because I liked the results. If you want to change things up or just try out a new challenge, I definitely recommend it.

But I’ve written enough. Check out the video here!

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