In this month's Bodybuilding Icons segment we take a look at the original bodybuilder, Eugen Sandow, and his early form of training methods.
Workout Summary
  • Main Goal
    Build Muscle
  • Workout Type
    Full Body
  • Training Level
  • Program Duration8 weeks
  • Days Per Week
  • Time Per Workout60-90 minutes
  • Equipment Required
    Barbell, Bodyweight, Cables, Dumbbells, Machines
  • Target Gender Male & Female
  • Workout PDF Download Workout

Workout Description

If you’re a fan of professional bodybuilding, then you know that the ultimate title is the Mr. Olympia.

To win the contest makes you the world champion of the sport. You also know names of the men that have held that title like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lee Haney, Ronnie Coleman, and Phil Heath. The current Mr. Olympia is Brandon Curry.

While those names are synonymous with the Olympia there is another that most don’t think about until the contest reaches its conclusion: Sandow.

Specifically, the Sandow trophy is the award that goes to the champion each year. That is common knowledge, but do you know about the man that the trophy is named after?

Eugen Sandow is a big part of bodybuilding and fitness history and his training can still stand the test of time.

Eugen Sandow: The Original Bodybuilder

Eugen Sandow was born Friedrich Wilhelm Muller on April 2, 1867 in Konisberg, Germany. His interest in strength as a child led him to the learning tree of strongman Ludwig Durlacher when he became a teenager. As he grew up and got stronger, he became a circus athlete and adopted the stage name of Eugen Sandow.

Sandow entered his first strongman contest in 1889 in London and won it in convincing fashion. This dominating victory led him to immediate fame which allowed him to travel the world to put on performances. After being recognized for his physique development, he added a form of posing as an art into the act which is considered by many historians to be the earliest form of bodybuilding as we know it today.

The muscular exhibitions led to even more acclaim and led to Sandow being in a short film series in the 1890’s by Edison Studios. Many of the old clips you’ve seen of Sandow flexing and performing poses came from this filming.

Sandow also is recognized as an early publisher of bodybuilding and fitness magazines. Before Joe Weider’s publications and Iron Man Magazine, there was “Physical Culture” magazine. He followed this up with books including the latter having the word “body-building” featured for the first time.

At the beginning of the 1900’s, Sandow was developing equipment for training and also organized the first major bodybuilding competition at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Not only was that event a sellout but people were being turned away because the demand to see this contest was so high. Sandow himself served as one of the three judges. The winner of that contest received a gold statue trophy similar to the one that now goes to the winner of the Olympia.

In later years, Sandow would continue traveling the world including India, where they credit him for being an early and major influence on modern Yoga as exercise. He also developed what was known as the “Grecian ideal” as a formula to develop the perfect physique. Sandow himself was inspired by the Ancient Greek sculptures of the human body and worked to meet those standards.

Sandow died on October 14, 1925 at the age of 58 due to a brain hemorrhage. Doctors claimed it was caused by Sandow lifting his car out of a ditch by himself after a road accident in the previous couple of years.

To recognize Sandow’s contributions to the sport and fitness in general, the Mr. Universe organization started awarding the Sandow trophy to its champion in 1950 and it was won by Steve Reeves. In 1977, the IFBB began awarding the Sandow trophy to its winner, starting with Frank Zane.

Eugen Sandow’s Training Philosophies

While Sandow was known early on for his strength prowess, he would be most famous for the development of his physique and many bodybuilding fans still hold that look in high regard.

There were some movements he did that we know very well today like the dumbbell curl, push-up, lateral raise, and squat. There were others that aren’t as commonly practiced as they may have been by fans of his back then.

1. Horizontal Bicep Curl

Take a pair of very light dumbbells and hold one in each hand. Hold them out to arms’ length at your sides like you would perform a lateral raise. Your palms should be facing up while in this position and holding the dumbbells.

Curl the weights up, flexing your biceps while doing so. (Basically perform a front double biceps pose). Hold this position for a one count and slowly return the weights to the starting position. That is one rep. Repeat for the desired reps.

2. Lunge Punch

Hold a dumbbell in each hand to your sides while standing straight and tall. Lunge forward with the right leg and throw a punch with the left hand.

Return to the starting position and repeat by lunging the left leg and punching with the right arm. That is one rep per side. Perform for equal reps on both sides.

3. Bent Press

Start by lifting a weight from the floor to your chest. Once standing with the weight at your chest, press the weight in the air while bending to the opposite side.

So, if you’re pressing with the right hand, bend to the left and vice versa. Place the non-lifting hand on the thigh for extra support. Return the weight to the floor. That is one rep. Repeat for the desired reps.

Eugen Sandow’s Original Bodybuilding Workout

When it came to physique development for bodybuilding purposes, Sandow believed in training the entire body in one session and using very light weights for many repetitions.

Below is one of his routines as prescribed in one of his books. These were the minimum reps that you were to do. The weights should allow you to complete all reps. Sandow recommended different ways to make them more challenging including doing more reps with the same weight or adding weight the next time you trained.

Exercise Sets Reps
Dumbbell Curl 1 50 Each
Reverse Barbell Curl 1 25
Horizontal Biceps Curl 1 10 Each
Standing Chest Fly 1 50
Alternating Shoulder Press 1 15 Each
Alternating Front Raise 1 10
Wrist Flexors 1 Failure
Wrist Rotations 1 Failure
Lunge Punch 1 10 Each
Push Ups 1 3
Push Up with Resistance 1 2
Full Sit Up 1 3
Squats 1 10
Side Bends 1 15 Each

Eugen Sandow Inspired & Modified Workout

Thanks to technology advancing as well as science showing us more effective ways to train, Sandow’s methods can be adjusted to help anyone interested train and meet the standards that were set in his day.

The plan that follows has two workouts you can perform in alternating fashion. Machines are also added in so we can take advantage of what we have access to today.

Eugen Sandow Inspired Upper Body Workout

Exercise Sets Reps
Alternating Standing Dumbbell Press 3 10-15
Alternating Lateral Raise 3 10-15
Seated Chest Press 3 10-15
Push Up 2-3 100 Total
Tricep Pushdown 3 15
Pull Up 3 10-15
High Seated Row 3 10-15
Horizontal Cable Biceps Curl 3 15

Eugen Sandow Lower Body and Core Workout

Exercise Sets Reps
Lunge Punch 3 10-15
Squat 3 10
Romanian Deadlift 3 10
Leg Press 3 10-15
Leg Curl 3 15
Seated Calf Raise 3 15
Weighted Rope Crunch 3 20
Lying Leg Raise 3 20

You can perform this workout as a form of progression from the first workout. Try both and let us know what you think in the comments section.

Posted on: Fri, 03/03/2023 - 18:25

If he did a complete body workout in one session...
how long would he recover before doing it again?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 03/14/2023 - 09:44

Not 100% sure on that answer, GR. He did train like this long before there were studies and research like there is today. I wouldn't be surprised if he trained every couple of days.

Posted on: Fri, 05/05/2023 - 08:14

He didn't believe in rest days, he worked out 7 days a week

Posted on: Wed, 12/07/2022 - 16:14

Hi Roger,
I work out at home and do not have the equipment for leg presses or leg curls. Are there good alternate exercises to do at home?
Thank you,

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Thu, 12/08/2022 - 07:17

What's good, Marc? Thank you for reading M&S! Let me know what equipment you do have, and I will help you come up with some solid suggestions. Don't want to waste your time offering exercises you can't do.

Samual Yoder
Posted on: Sun, 04/10/2022 - 10:04

I am 72, is there any old time routine geared towards senior citizens?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 04/18/2022 - 19:47

Hi, Samual. If you're healthy and cleared to train, any of the programs here can work for you. Just make sure you warm-up properly and use moderate weight. What are your current goals?

Posted on: Mon, 02/24/2020 - 20:11

Hii , is it wrong to train muscle once a week, or should it be trained twice?

John Marin
Posted on: Fri, 03/05/2021 - 07:47

It most depends on what muscles you wanna grow up first and what kind of strength you wanna get into it.