From the US ‘Muscle Builder’ December 1924.
Earle Liederman visits Sandow at his Institute at St. James’s, London.
EUGEN SANDOW lives! That immortal figure in athletic history, whose name throughout Christendom has become a synonym for Herculean strength, whose very world-renown belied the possibility of his existence, even to the extent of fooling me, that premier exponent of Physical Development lives today.
Many had told me Sandow had died in the war, and nationwide reports were circulated to this effect. Half the physical culture world believed, and I was among the many that sorrowed at their loss.
Then came the news that Sandow was living and carrying on his great work, quietly but none the less effectively, over in England.
We had been planning a short vacation, my wife and I, and had decided just about everything but the all important factor our destination. When the good news came the die was cast, we would cross the pond and incidentally visit the shrine of our great inspiration, Eugen Sandow, for be it known my wife is also an ardent physical culturist and has won many prizes in beauty and figure competitions throughout America as “Miss Alaska”.
While hurrying to 32 St. James, London, the home of the Sandow Institute of Physical Culture, we got to figuring up the passing years. I calculated that he must be almost sixty years old, fifty-seven to be exact. Arriving at the threshold, a life-size statue of Sandow himself greeted us with outstretched hand as if bidding us welcome from overseas. It was an exquisite work in bronze revealing the incomparable symmetry of proportions that is his.
Once in the reception room, we were approached by a most distinguished, broad shouldered man of about thirty-eight or forty odd years, who gracefully bowed to us begging us to remain seated a moment. I was about to inquire if Mr. Sandow could see us soon, when something impelling in his manner caused me to hesitate and wait for him to speak first. He indicated that our time would come in a few moments and disappeared through the impressive doors of a private office. We had not long to wait, when there appeared a young lady—evidently Mr. Sandows’s secretary, who informed us that Mr. Sandow would see us now. We were ushered into the private office.
The sigh that greeted us almost held us spell-bound. There, at a desk, sat the gentleman who had spoken to us in the reception room. Surely this husky young athlete could not be Sandow! I had been expecting to find a broken-down athlete of sixty years, bent from weightlifting and withered from excessive exercise, some sort of tottering shell of his former self. Yet, it must be Sandow, for there was the same moustache which I had seen in old time photographs, there were the broad shoulders, massive chest, and more impressive than all—the great professional dignity and silent strength of the Sandow personality. Yes, it was none other than Eugen Sandow himself!
The world’s most perfect physical specimen arose with a grace and ceremoniousness that only he can command, “I bid you welcome with all my heart, welcome to my temple of physical culture!” He spoke with a deep bass voice that suggested tremendous vitality and strength of purpose. I noticed that he was no taller than I, some five foot eight inches I would say, and approximately the same weight, in the neighbourhood of 185 pounds. His hand clasp was firm and warm, neither the flabby insincere shake of a weakling, nor the over-strenuous grip of a conceited bully. Everything in his manner and bearing indicated not only great physical prowess but strength of character as well. His ruddy complexion would shame the average youth of twenty-five and his hair though just turning grey, was wavy and plentiful—a handsome blondish hue.
His studio or private office was gorgeously furnished, and contained innumerable rare antiques which served as appropriate settings for Greecian-like statues of himself—bronze miniatures in every conceivable pose. Nor was there any lack of photographs, for the walls were literally covered with portraits of himself and other rare specimens of physical development, followers of his teachings. Among them I noticed a picture of Thomas Edison and also a centenarian who was presumably his oldest pupil.
“Many, many times I have seen your picture, Mr. Liederman, and I am greatly pleased to see you here in reality.” Mr. Sandow went on to say, “Well, your pictures have always been an inspiration to me.” I answered and I have always longed to meet the original.
We then discussed various topics on physical culture and our conversation drifted interestingly to methods of training.
Some people are under the impression that I am muscle-bound and slow, because my muscles are large
, he went on to say.
First of all, I want to disprove this idea. It was on my second tour of your country that there was arranged a test between a very well-known boxer named Mike Donovan and myself. Donovan was celebrated for his speed in delivering a punch. A very delicate electrical apparatus was rigged up, and we each took turns delivering a blow at a dummy. The professors calculated that my arm traveled about three one-hundredth of a second slower than that of the boxer. This, however, they attributed to the greater weight of my limb. Next, they tested to see which of us started the blow the faster, who’s muscle contracted first after a given signal. So, you see, I am not the least muscle-bound.
I owe this entirely to the practice of complete relaxation after each contraction of my muscles. In addition, I practice speed movements, with my weights only slightly contracted as in calisthenic movements of the arms.
My muscles have kept me young. This goes for both my body and my face. They question is often asked, why does one man look older than another of exactly the same age? I will answer this in the Irish way by asking another question, why does a healthy child look younger than a man of middle age? The answer to both is simply that in one case, the muscles of the face are kept in more constant movement than the other by the more frequent expression of varying thoughts, feelings, or emotions.
The child naturally allows its emotions to express themselves more fully through movement of the facial muscles than an adult. Its every thought is freely expressed by the muscles of its face, the muscles that move it so quickly to laughter or tears. The facial muscles being thus constantly exercised, as it were, and developed by its emotional life, its skin is kept healthy, clear, and well-nourished, while the firmness and chubbiness of its cheeks give the whole face that angelic expression of youth which we older folk often envy and covet. This is entirely due to the fact that the muscles underneath are well-developed and keep the skin fully stretched.
As the child grows up it is taught to exercise self-control, to hide or dissemble its thoughts, emotions, and passions, to stifle its feelings, and so these facial muscles become less and less brought into daily use. The result is that the face begins to lose its firmness, roundness and smoothness, and the muscles being little used, grow weaker and smaller until the flesh hangs loosely and sags between the bones, because there is less muscle to fill up the intervening space of spaces.
Now take the case of the two business men of exactly the same age in the same business circumstances. Both are in good physical trim, but one looks facially years older than the other. The one, as the saying is, “wears his heart upon his sleeve,” takes the whole world into his confidence, and never attempts to disguise his thoughts or conceal his emotions.
The other, of sterner mould, has cultivated an almost Indian reserve, has carefully trained himself to mask his real feelings and curb his emotions. The muscles of this face have consequently almost atrophied from disuse. They have left deep hollows and furrows and “crow’s feet”. Probably the only exercise his facial muscles get is when Nature compels him to yawn or when he occasionally unbends in private life. Is it any wonder then that the former man preserves the appearance of youth long after the latter?
The middle-aged, and the old, who are still less susceptible to the passions, emotions, and thrills of youth slowly cease to exercise their facial muscles altogether, and their faces become wrinkled, cadaverous, and gnarled because the unused muscles and fatty tissue have shrunk to nothingness and there is little left but skin and bone. Were it not for the compulsion of yawning—which frequently brings the facial, throat and neck muscles into play—the bones might almost pierce the skin through the lack of muscular protection.
So, too, the muscles throughout the entire system tend to keep one young, and that is why today at fifty-seven I am ten years younger than the average man of forty.
Here, Mr. Sandow produced a pair of dumb-bells he had recently invented. They weighed between five and six pounds, and were split with a series of springs which you were supposed to squeeze at each count. Besides the springs there was a sort of dial that registered your pressure. When the complete squeeze was executed a little bell rang. Quite and ingenious device!
As Sandow handed me one to squeeze I noticed that he adjusted something. I squeezed with all my might and main, and the reader must bear in mind that I am not exactly a weakling myself. All my efforts were useless. Again and again I tried to complete the trick, but it was as if I were trying to squeeze blood out of a rock. Finally, beaten, I gave it up as a bad job. Sandow took the bell from my willing hands and with one gigantic pressure as from an irresistible vice he compressed the springs to their limits, and softly but clearly the little bell told the story of his triumph. For it was a double one indeed, marking for me not only his victory in our little gripping match but his triumphant conquest of youth, that elusive sprite that has centuries evaded the medical scientists of two continents.
I prevailed upon him to let me feel his muscles. They were each and every one just like the steel springs of a young athlete, except many times larger. His arms when contracted were like rock, but relaxed, soft and pliable as that of a woman. He took great pride in his leg biceps which protruded prominently behind the thigh, a muscle that the ordinary athlete seldom develops. The extensor muscles of his thighs showed prominently even through his trousers, and their contour would be the envy of many an American prize winner. I marveled at the slightness of his waist in comparison with his huge depth of chest. Those powerful hands and wrists that had just registered a one hand squeeze of close onto two hundred pounds—a feat I have never seen duplicated, hardly betrayed their tremendous strength, but appeared graceful and shapely almost to a fault.
“I suppose, Mr. Sandow, that you have never known a day’s illness,” I ventured to remark.
No, I can hardly say that. It was after my second tour of your country that I had a severe nervous break-down. It is always possible in any walk of life that the spirit of even the strongest man will drive his brain and nervous system to the point of exhaustion and cause them to break down suddenly under to serve a strain. No one can be so strong that the power of a driving mind may not sometimes lead to disastrous over-expenditure and inevitable collapse.
Strong and robust as I am it was then—in the very prime of my vigor—that I was impelled, under the driving spirit of a great enthusiasm in the very cause I am now advocating, to spend nervous energy faster—much faster—than I could make it. My enthusiasm took wings and outsped my physical strength, and though I never had a day’s illness or contracted a disease in my life. I had at least a very serious nervous collapse.
My weight sank from 190 to 100 pounds. My muscles seemed to almost to fade away. My skin simply covered my bones. I restored myself after a hard battling entirely by increasing my income of nervous energy and cutting off the outlet. Nerves are like muscles. They have to relax sometimes. A certain type of brain will go on thinking and worrying both night and day beyond its normal power if means are not taken to arrest its operation. Here, I think, is the reason why highly-strung people of artistic temperament—persons who live mentally rather than muscularly—constitute the legion of the neurasthenic and develop “nerves”. They over-work their brain, which in turn over-taxes the digestive system—weakened through lack of proper muscular exercise. Then the collapse.
I know of no better way to bring about nerve relaxation than to perform certain muscular relaxation movements which then influence the nerves. Raise your arm above the head to its utmost limit of extension, and then suddenly let it fall as limply and as helpless by your side as if you had no mental control over it in any way; Repeat the movement five or six times, then with the other arm. Do similar movements with the legs while sitting or reclining. Finally practice complete body relaxation of every muscle in the body while sitting in a chair. Sit up straight, with every muscle stiffened like a trooper at salute-shoulders square, then allow all of them to relax at once as limply as if you had suddenly swooned, offering no resistance, and let the body fall helpless into the chair with the arms drooping and apparently lifeless.
These exercises will soon cause your nerve-bound nerves to relax just as muscle bound muscles, for are not the nerves tied up with the muscles, controllers of their every movement? Along with this treatment I took a great care of my digestive system. I tried to keep my thoughts on my food while eating and not upon my worries. Worry interferes with the secretion of the gastric juices and the disturbance of the whole function of digestion. I had a tendency to lie awake at night thinking, planning, and worrying. This I conquered by disciplining my mind and making it a blank when I retired. Sleep then came immediately. The cells of the brain must be taught relaxation in this way. Of course, physical fatigue and relaxation were great allies in the terrific battle I waged with my mind before I finally won. I am proud to say that I can cure certain heart and kidney diseased just as effectively without the use of a single drug.
I was born without any particular qualifications as a potential strong man. I might even have been considered a sickly lad in appearance. What I have done with my body, I attribute wholly to daily exercise—daily without fail. My regularity of exercise is no less than that of the rising sun. It keeps me in condition
Suddenly he came to a dead halt—as if stricken with the thought that he might be boring us with too much selfish discussion.
“Mr. Sandow”, I said, “your ideas and view are just what we came three thousand miles to learn. We appreciate your kindness in giving us so much of your time more than mere words can express.”.
Then I went on to beg him for an autographed photo of himself as he is today.
Ever since a small boy I have been interested in collecting photographs of strong men and beautiful figures. Today I have without doubt one of the finest collections of pictures of athletes in existence. Among them non stands out so prominently as the image of Eugen Sandow in his prime, the greatest exponent of the art of physical culture the world has ever known. I doubt if there are any athletes living who can approach this man’s remarkable perfection.
To my pleasant surprise, Sandow generously offered not only to give me special photographs—photographs that are reproduced in this article, but an autographed copy of one of his latest books. This I treasure among my dearest possessions as a souvenir of that never-to-be forgotten hour with the great Sandow.
Upon taking my leave, I said, “You have created a new ambition in my life, Mr. Sandow, that when I become your age I am going to be as fit and in just as fine condition as you are yourself.
“Thank you for the compliment,” he graciously replied.
But it was no compliment by intention, for I merely spoke the truth. I have many times wondered why men go on and on neglecting their bodies and growing old before their time when they could add countless years to their life-span by the investment of a paltry fifteen minutes of daily exercise. The average man is never 100% alive even during his abbreviated existence. Eugen Sandow’s message has touched a responsive chord in the hearts of almost every crowned head in Europe and republican president throughout the world. He is the official Physical Instructor to His Majesty, King George the Fifth of England. Can we afford to ignore the message of truth he carries to the world, that great message that has been his life’s mission? Or shall we sit smugly back and say he doesn’t know what he is talking about, and go on and on in the rut of our half-alive existence?
From the US ‘Muscle Builder’ December 1924.
Earle Liederman visits Sandow at his Institute at St. James’s, London.
Latest posts by Physical Culturist (see all)
- Strength exercises could help older adults get back on their feet, study finds - December 5, 2018
- Weightlifting is good for your heart and it doesn’t take much - November 12, 2018
- How a 94-year-old retiree became a gym rat - May 21, 2018
- All cancer patients should be prescribed exercise, Australian guidelines say - May 16, 2018
- The key to sound sleep might be in your muscles, not your brain - January 13, 2018