The Circus, The Strong Man and The Body Builder – What do they have in common?

How has The Strong Man developed into the contemporary popular culture of Body Building?

In this blog I am researching the origins of the circus Strong Man and how this performance act under the big top has developed into a contemporary yet unique performance style of Body Building. As I have a personal connection with Body Building, I am interested in how it all started and its influence on culture today. I aim to look at what The Strong Man is and the act itself, to the innovators of Body Building such as Eugen Sandow and Bernarr Macfadden. Eugen was the modern first Body Builder and Bernarr the leader of physical culture movement. I want to also look at Body Building in the modern world and how performers such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferringo have influenced the world of Body Building.

The Strong Man, The Circus and The Big Top

To understand how Body Building has come to into contemporary popular culture, it is best to start from the beginning. The Strong Man was an act that could be found in the modern day circus. Strong Men would often perform stunts that demonstrated power, strength and agility. Most Strong Man can be identified with lifting, balancing objects on their bodies or moving objects from one place to another that proved to be unlikely. Louis Cyr (below), a Canadian Strong Man was famous for being the strongest man in the 19th in 20th century. Touring around Europe and America, he was known for his great feats particularly lifting 500 pounds!

Rumoured to have swang an elephant by it’s trunk,audiences were in awe of his stunts and Louis Cyr was in popular demand.

However it is essentially Eugen Sandow that I am interested in as before his Strong Man contests and shows in which he displays great feats, he became well known for promoting his ideas on body building labelling him the first modern day bodybuilder.

Eugen, Bernarr and The Body

I was recommended a book by Harold Segel called Body Ascendant: Modernism and the Physical Imperative which I think will be essential to my research for my essay. Segal states that Eugen and Bernarr enjoyed attention and were classed a phenomenon. He notes the interesting differences between the two men and how Macfadden was associated with the Modern Physical Culture movement. As a model of the MPCM, Macfadden was the perfect role model for regimen exercise and a healthy eating plan. Macfadden explores sexuality, nudity and was a publisher for Physical Health.  Eugen was an international star, promoting his ideas on bodybuilding and performance around the globe, performing in Strong Man shows in America and was also a publisher. His articles I would like to use for my essay but they have been difficult to find.  I found this website which is the same author of the book in which I will be using for my essay titled Sandow the Magnificent: Eugen Sandow and the beginnings of bodybuilding. (David L. Chapman). On this website, it describes Sandows exploits to America, his interest in Physical Culture and the betterment of the body. Click here!

Video of Eugen Sandow (Embedding disabled)

Body Building at the Movies

Steve Reeves – Hercules 1959

After the era of Eugen and Bernarr, the culture of bodybuilding was growing in America and Europe. Competitions such Mr America and Mr Universe were created for professional Body builders by the late 1950’s, early 1960’s.  Federations were created for aspiring Body builders such as International Federation of Body Builders (IFBB – America) who hosted professional competitions and the National Ammeter Bodybuilders Association (NABBA- UK) allowing entry into other neighbouring competitions.

After becoming successful Body Builders, Body Builders such as Steve Reeves were being offered acting role and accepting them in Hollywood films due to their peak physical condition. However, it was Arnold Schwarzenegger who influenced how the world saw Body building in popular culture. Pumping Iron, a documentary on the realm of Body Building focuses on the Mr Olympia and Mr Universe competitions – and the main competitors of the competition whom happen to be Arnold and Lou Ferringo. Both these performers would be later using their physique and personal attitudes to MPCM to pursue successful acting careers. One will even be the Governor of California.  Here is the clip from the film – it is long but very interesting! Also there is a clip of Lou Ferringo talking about Body Building and doing his training regime.

How big is too big? The use of Steroids in Body Building

After the rise of Arnold and Lou, anabolic steroids were used regularly in competitions to obtain a higher muscle mass and to achieve a more even looking symmetry. The IFBB introduced a drug testing policy for all its competitors and now have separated competitions into “Natural” Body Building and Body Building sections. Most competitions have done this as competitors are still use steroids. What interested me about this topic is how the performance has become competitive in popular culture and how the influence of steroids has deterred I believe from the times of Eugen Sandow – Physical Culture and the first “Natural” Body Builder.

I found a really interesting video on Youtube that talks about the use of anabolic steroids in sport and performance and it mentions how steroids have played a part in Body Building. Steve Michalik, former Mr America and Mr Universe talks about his experiences with the drugs and how they impacted his performance.

National Geographic – Anabolic Steroids (embedding disabled)

My brush with Fame – meeting a former Mr Australia

Mark Lidbury – former Mr Australia 1984/85

I was lucky enough to be able to speak to Mark Lidbury – former Mr Australia in 1984 and 1985 and 6th in Mr World Championships. I asked him questions on his experiences in the sport and what performance aspects take part in Body Building. I will let the interview do all the talking.

After talking to Mark, he gave an interview that he did in a British Magazine. He talks about how he became involved the sport and the preparation it takes to become Mr Australia. Enjoy!

Mark Lidbury Interview pg1

Mark Lidbury interview pg 2

Mark Lidbury Interview pg 3

I’ll leave you with Arnie now, as he is the Icon of Body Building and inspired Mark to become a Body Builder. This clip is for him.

Say Arnie would say “”Hasta la vista, baby!”

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