It is a bit impractical to draw a starting line for the history of bodybuilding, but it is believed that serious athletes have indulged in various muscle building exercises even centuries back, in India, Rome and Greece in order to improve their performances on the field, and in that sense we can say safely assume that bodybuilding is at least several centuries old. The evolution of bodybuilding as a sports event, in its own right, could be attributed to Friederich Wilhelm Mueller, the strongman who was the center of attraction in the 1893 World Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. There, he presented himself as an exhibition peace, by adopting different poses to show off his musculature. Interestingly, most of the poses he made those days are still widely used by bodybuilders in competitions today.
Taking cue from his Chicago success, Muller, alias Eugene Sandow, began to proactively promote bodybuilding as a sport as well as a hobby in Europe. He organized the first bodybuilding competition in 1901 in London and named it the ‘Great Competition.’ He had his business motives as well. He used that opportunity to market himself and his ideas as well as creating a launching pad for his recently started Physical Culture Studio in London, the first of its kind to be built anywhere in the world. Capitulating on his new found fame, he actively sold the physical building concepts to the middle class public by selling products through mail and by even publishing his own magazine. It struck a cord with the people and very soon Sandow was running 20 similar studios all over England.
Another interesting aspect with the ‘Great Competition’ is that it was the first and last competition organized by Sandow. He got the marketing he wanted from the first show itself that he never ever bothered to organize another. Instead, he focused all of his resources and energy in building his real business, the studios.
Nearly around the same time, in North America, having been inspired by Sandow’s Chicago performance, another fitness enthusiast named Bernarr McFadden set out changing the perception of bodybuilding in the US. Like his inspirer, McFadden also traveled all around the world lecturing about the pluses of bodybuilding and successfully built a business empire on his passion. His magazines Physical Culture and Beauty and Health – the latter one for women, had been a big hit all over America. McFadden is also attributed with the distinction of conducting the first ever "Women Only" bodybuilding contests in the world. Unlike Sandow, he did not let his business interests eclipse his efforts to promote bodybuilding. McFadden and his publishing company continued organizing and promoting bodybuilding competitions all through the 1920s and 1930s.
Realizing the popularity bodybuilding had in America by the 1930s, the Amateur Athletic Union or the AAU started to allow physique contests in association with weightlifting competitions. The first of such events was held in 1939, and the winner was bestowed the title ‘America’s Best Built Man’, something which changed to Mr. America a year later. John Grimek won the title in 1940-41.
Since the AAU did not allow professionals to compete in the events, it was only a matter of time before some serious discontent arose, and that eventually happened in 1946 when the AAU unilaterally withdrew sanction to organize a physique contest in Montreal. This time, not only did its organizers go ahead organizing it, but also formed the rebel International Federation of Body Builders (IFBB). It was a turning point in the history of bodybuilding.
In the race of survival to make a niche for itself, IFBB came up with the Professional Mr. America contest in 1949 and Mr. Olympia in 1965, while its European counterpart NABBA coined the Mr. Universe contest. NABBA added Ms. Universe contests in 1965 and IFBB started its Ms. Olympia in 1980. In the following decades, AAU was eclipsed completely by IFBB, which is now the biggest bodybuilding organization on earth having the backing of 173 affiliated national federations and has the recognition of the IOC. NABBA has around 40 member countries, mostly from Europe. Its American wing is NABBA USA.
North American Bodybuilding Association (NABF), the World Natural Bodybuilding Association (WNBF), the North American Natural Bodybuilding Association (NANBA), the United States Natural Bodybuilding Association (USNBA), and the World Amateur Bodybuilding Association (WABBA) are some other prominent bodybuilding organizations in the world. The major distinction factor between these organizations is the drug standards followed by each of them. It varies quite a bit.
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