Written by Eugen Sandow (Father of Modern Bodybuilding).
Originally written for Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1894 and reprinted in ‘Strength & Health’ December 1940.

eugen sandow flexing bicep

Health is a man’s birthright. It is a state in which all the functions are exerted with regularity and harmony. Perfection of health is purely an idea, and is never actually attained; for an examination of the bodies of the healthiest person has revealed lesions of some kind. The tendency to health is a universal law of organic life, whether vegetable or animal. It is as natural to be well as to be.

Strength is the ability to do and bear. Strength and health should be synonymous with life, and the first step toward their acquisition is knowledge of physiology and anatomy. I regret to find in this country, with its wonderful system of public schools, so little time devoted to these studies. To me they seem quite as essential as mathematics, and far more important astronomy which, I learn, receive an equal amount of attention.


eugen sandow back lift, shoulders, supporting crowd

Adequate nourishment is the first requisite, for all growth, development and repair of tissue are the result of nutrition, and a diet which yields the largest amount of nourishment for the least amount of digestive exertion will best accomplish this end. Perhaps the greatest error made in this respect, one which shortens life and minimizes power, is the almost universal habit of eating too much. It is impossible to make rules for the amount of food proper to different persons. Use sufficient to keep the system free from hunger up to the usual time of the next meal. It is an old adage that hunger is the best sauce, but it is one which the profession of medicine has ignored, and of which nearly all persons are ignorant.

Less than one half of the children born reach their fifth year, and improper food contributes more to the appalling death rate than disease. The mistake is made almost at birth; the German baby leaves the breast for frank-furters, sauerkraut, beer and an early grave, while the American baby pursues the same road with caramels, nuts and pickles. The growing child fortunately is made less of, and, though permitted to eat at the same table with adults, and at the same hours, contrives to live, and a race of dyspeptics is the result.

In passing, let me say that tea and coffee contain alkaloids, which are injurious to the nerves and the stomach. I never drink either. Water is nature’s offering to the thirsty, and when distilled cannot be improved upon.

Related Article: How Strength Training Promotes Health and Longevity


Good health depends on sound sleep as well as upon good nutrition. I encourage as much asleep at one time as possible. People who see to do with small amount of sleep are burning their lives at both ends, and wasting nature’s reserve of vitality. One of the most prominent anatomists in this country claimed that five hours of sleep were sufficient for anyone, and more a waste of time. He died at the age of 31, from incipient phthisis. I sleep nine hours always and often more.

I am a believer in natural methods, and hold that it is natural to be comfortable and whatever is uncomfortable from lack of sleep, exposure to cold, too great heat, or any other strain, is unduly calling upon reserve vital force. Sleep is a necessary condition to the restoration of lost powers and vigor. I repeat, the indications of nature are a true guide to the preservation of health.

It is necessary to cultivate the best conditions for sleep. The sleeping room should be heated, popular opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. During sleep, the heart and lungs rest, the temperature of the body is lowered, life ebbs. A temperature of 60 degrees should always be maintained. Fancy going directly from a living room too often heated to 78 or 80 degrees into one with a temperature of twenty-five to thirty degrees, and disrobing. The surface of the body is chilled and the internal organs congested. This I believe is one cause of colds and catharrhal trouble. In a cold room too much covering is required. The heavy American blankets are almost as objectionable as the German featherbed; by their weight they both interfere with calm refreshing sleep. In a warm room one is disposed to disrobe slowly, a sponge bath or a plunge is agreeable, and a little exercise is a pleasure. Then sleep comes gladly and without wooing.


The habit of regularity is valuable. I believe one should bathe almost as often as one should eat, and just as regularly. The first and important end to the sought in a bath is cleanliness. The pores should be kept open and free perspiration invited. Any person in full vigor is able to take a cold bath in the morning and evening, and afterward experience a full and delightful reaction. The blood is called to the surface and an agreeable warmth and life is felt throughout the system. But persons past middle age and all who are deficient in vital power, should begin with tepid water and gradually accustom themselves to the use of the cold bath.


The function of exercise is twofold. For development and growth in childhood, it is a necessity. In adults, while the necessity for exercise is not so great, it still ranks among the most important requisites for health. It is said that it is worse to rust out than to wear out. To wear out involves over-strain. To rust out means simply the diminution of the size and power of the organs from disuse.

One of the cures of civilization is the large amount of sedentary work, in which the brain and the hand are employed while sitting at a desk. This is a well-worn theme, and yet its importance is very inadequately perceived, and there is only a small proportion of the inhabitants of cities who duly appreciate it. A few people in England habitually take daily walks; in America there are scarcely any who do this. The difficulty is to find an exercise which is attractive and entertaining. A man may accept a walk of a couple of miles, where there are no omnibuses or public conveyances; but if asked to take this daily walk, for the benefit of his health, he hesitates and declines.

The bicycle also affords an excellent exercise. Its great superiority to walking is due to the fact that the trunk of the body is at rest, and a large amount of work can be performed without the fatigue which, in walking, results from the lifting of the body at every step.

As I have remarked, one does not object to a two mile walk if there is an object to be gained, but to walk for walking’s sake becomes tedious. Riding a bicycle requires endless degrees of proficiency; each week the bicycler acquires an added skill, and power which could not be done the week before.

Whatever form of exercise is chosen, it is desired able that, when possible, it is taken in the open air, that perspiration be induced, and at the same time not be too severe.

It is in this regard that walking as an exercise is defective. Unlike baseball, cricket, and lawn tennis the movements are monotonous and unvaried, and the walker finds himself tired before perspiration is induced. In rowing and wheeling the rider induces perspiration before much fatigue is noticeable.

Horseback riding is exhilarating and attractive. It is a most wholesome exercise, and it is unfortunate that it is beyond the reach of the great army of workers. A clerk on a salary of fifteen or twenty-five dollars a week, to whom the purchase and keep of a horse would be impracticable, can easily buy a good cycle, which with reasonable care, should last for many years, requires not feed and almost no expense for keeping it in order.

It is an indispensable requisite before any practical and permanent benefit can be derived from exercise, that it should be attractive and enjoyable. Any form of exercise that may be found so attractive as to be persistently followed up, merits consideration.

The gymnasium has its value, though I have not much faith in gymnastics as they are usually taught, for they do not bring out the muscles one uses in everyday life. The customary drill with light dumbbells as taught in gymnasiums is useless; half the motions do not beneficially affect the muscles at all, and there are dozens of muscles which are not brought into action, but practically lie dormant and untrained.

Again exercise carried on in a covered building is not so advantageous as that in the open air. At the same time its devotees can find recreation there when the weather outside is not suitable, which in this latitude is the case six months out of the year. So that a properly constructed building, such as it is proposed to build in New York, sufficiently large and so arranged as to admit of rapid changes from one room to another, the whole equably heated and perfectly ventilated, becomes a necessity. A capable and conscientious instructor could instil sufficient enthusiasm into his classes to obviate the defects of this method of exercise and render it attractive and enjoyable.

The parallel bars, and much of the apparatus of gymnasiums, I have found of little use. My faith is pinned to dumbbells, and I do all my own training with them, supplemented with weight lifting.

eugen sandow lifting dummbell

Owing to their smaller size it is possible to have greater variation in the weight of dumbbells than in the long handled bar commonly known as the bar bell. Any physical culturist can obtain several pairs of dumbbells and be in a position to progressively practice the more advantageous movements. Exercises should be performed progressively, for the muscles become accustomed to the work they are asked to perform, and if the demand is not steadily made greater, the desired growth in size, strength, and shapeliness will not be attained.

While I favour dumbbells in training, weight lifting adds a great deal of interest and training benefit to the program. The largest and strongest muscles of the body, the powerful muscles of the legs and back are brought into vigorous action with the heavy bar bell through competitive or exhibition lifting.

Variation in the training program brings best results. Don’t train every day, skip a day now and then to give the muscles time to thoroughly rest and to give nature the opportunity to rebuild them and add to their strength and endurance. Don’t always train with the same amount of weight. Some days use more moderate weights to tone the muscles, on other training days really exert yourself, give the muscles plenty of work to do, then nature will take care of building more strength, muscle and better health.

These very vigorous days should not be practiced by the average man more than once or twice a week. Of course I go through my program from one to three or four times a day, depending upon where I am appearing. But years of progressive training and proper living as I am recommending led up to my ability to withstand this rigorous program and to continue to gain in strength and development while maintaining perfect health.