The Day Sargent Examined Eugen Sandow

Great article about german strongman and bodybuilder Eugen Sandow written by Terry Todd. Published 1965 in S&H mag . – Mr. Berg

“Early in 1849, a young German strongman appeared in the United States who created a sensation in every city in which he appeared. His fame far exceeded that of any strongman before or since. His matchless physique, his wonderful strength, his expert showmanship, and his striking facial handsomeness all combined to make his name a known by millions. When he made an appearance, huge crowds thronged to catch a glimpse of him. Such was the extent of his fame that at the crest of his popularity in this country, banks in New York City displayed his pictures in their windows to attract business. His name was Eugene Sandow.

Many learned men of that period scoffed at Sandow from a safe distance and accused him of being a “picture athlete” and of being “bound” by his muscles. The public clamored for Sandow to be properly examined by an unbiased expert in the field. This was impossible of course, as “unbiased expert” is a contradiction in term, but finally a man was chosen who was a paragon of scientific objectivity – Dr. Dudley Allen Sargent.

At that time Dr. Sargent was in charge of the famous Hemenway Gymnasium at Hardvard University where he was Director of Gymnastics. Dr. Sargent was world renowned as a physical educator and anthropometrist. He was a pioneer in the scientific measurement of the capabilities and functions of the human body.

Sargent was comissioned by the New York World to conduct an exhaustive series of examinations involving the physical endowments of the young German athlete. Sandow, sure in his strength, agreed at once to the examinations, hopeful that the results would silence his hecklers and magnify his popularity. The following is an excerpt from the pages of Dr. Sargent’s report. Dr. Sargent wrote:

“The first thing that struck me when I saw Sandow stripped was the extraordinary size of the muscles as compared with that of the bones. His skeleton is not large, as is easily seen in the girth of his wrist and ankles, but the bones are exceedingly fine. The muscles are also of very fine quality. His muscles in certain regions, notably on the upper arms and back, are developed to an extraordinary degree. The trapezius and extensors and flexors of the legs and thighs are also tremendous. The muscles of the pectoral are not so large relatively as the detloid, biceps and triceps. This is probably due to the character of the feats he performs every night.

“Altogether Sandow is the most wonderful specimen of man I have ever seen. He is strong, active and graceful, combining the characteristics of Apollo, Hercules, and the ideal athlete. There is not the slightest evidence of sham about him. On the contrary, he is just what he pretends to be. I might add that he combines with his other qualities those of a perfect gentleman. He has a considerable knowledge of anatomy, and can call the muscles by their proper names. I shall be glad to have him come and lecture before the students at Harvard. It will be a treat for them to see a man of his physical development, and will doubtless act as a stimulus. It is a cruius fact that a very strong man always has a host of imitators.”

The following is the account of the examination as it appeared in the New York World:

“By special arrangement with the Sunday World, Dr. Sargent, the medical examiner and physical adviser at Harvard University, came to New York last week and made a thorough anatomical test of Sandow, the ‘strongest man in the world.’ The test was entirely satisfactory. After it was over, Dr. Sargent said that Sandow was every he said he was, and that he had never before, in all his long experience with Harvard athletes, seen such a wonderfully developed specimen of manhood. The examination was made in a large room in a hotel on Broadway, near Sandow’s boarding house. The room was supplied before Sandow’s arrival with a very interesting set of apparatus, designed to test almost every possible exercise of the muscles.

There were instruments to blow in, to determine your force of expiration; a machine to find out how many pounds you can lift, another to see how hard you can squeeze, another to measure the amount of air you can take into your lungs. There was also an electrical apparatus which was so contrived that it recorded on a cyliner, covered with a thin coating of lampblack, etchings showing how regularly you breathe, and the relatively proportion of breathing done by the abdomen to that done by the chest. There were also a set of scales; while Dr. Sargent’s secretary, who was present, took down the measurements.

“When Sandow entered the room he had on a suit of steel-gray clothes, with a cut-away coat. Clothing as a rule, effectually conceals a man’s physical development, which is in most cases a fortunate circumstance from an artistic point of view. But it is easy to see that Sandow, even when dressed, possesses marvelous muscular power. His coat bulges out about the chest and back, in curious contrast to the waist, which is as small as a woman’s.

“After removing as much clothing as possible, he stood before Dr. Sargent, a fine example of what nature intended man to be. The muscles of his back, arms, legs and sides stood out in great welts. His finely-moulded head, more like those on ancient statues than you will find in many a day’s search, his small waist, and his slender ankles, were in artistic contrast to his wealth of muscle. At this early stage in the proceedings, Dr. Sargent began to be surprised. He was much more surprised later on.

“Sandow was first asked to step on the scales and be weighed. The beam tipped at 180 pounds. This is slightly less than his usual weight, and he attributes the falling off to the recent hot spell. It is interesting to know that this is the exact weight that Dr. Sargent assigns to the typical athlete, a statue of which, constructed purely on scientific measurements, he has sent to the World’s Fair.

Sandow’s height was then found to be 5 feet 8 1/2 inches. The other measurements that coincided with Dr. Sargent’s ideal were those of the length of the foot and the girth of the ankles. In all other dimensions, especially those of the muscles on the arms and back, Sandow was considerably larger than the model.

“Among the instruments that Dr. Sargent had provided was an apparatus with two handles fixed to either end of a short steel bar. To this bar was attached a semi-circular plane, with an indicator that moved along a scale, showing the number of kilometers of force, exerted when the handles were pressed togehter. One ambitious person present, after pushing on these handles until he was very red in the face, made the indicator go half-way round.

Another gentleman, who is a good deal stronger than one might suppose, made it move around a little further. Sadnow then took hold and pressed. The indicator went round until it had passed the last registering mark, and was stopped by a little steel knob. If that hadn’t been there the indicator might have described a complete circle. This was one of the features of the examination that especially surprised Dr. Sargent.

“There was another apparatus with an indicator to show how many pounds you can lift. Sandow attacked this until the indicator registered 440 kilos. This is about 1,000 pounds, but Sandow expressed himself as very much disappointed with the result. 

There was nothing to show for the tremendous amount of muscular power exerted beyond the gradual moving of a little steel arrow along a graduated scale.

” ‘if you want feats of strength,’ he said, ‘I will show you something.’

“He then asked for the heaviest man in the room. This proved to be Dr. Sargent himself. He had been weighed earlier in the morning and had tipped the scales at 175 pounds. After expressing his regret that there was no one heavier at hand, Sandow required the doctor to stand with his back towards a table placed in the center of the room.

Sandow knelt down and laid his right hand flat on the floor, with the palm turned up, and asked the doctor to stand on it with one foot.

Then, taking a firm hold, he raised the eminent physician rapidly but easily to the top of the table, whence he removed him as gently as a mother would her child. The most ramarkable thing about this performance was that the lifting was done with a straight arm. There was not the slightest bending at the elbow. This was another instance at which the doctor was considerably surprised. It was certainly a wonderful feat, and far more impressive as an object lesson than pulling at the machines, though of course that was valuable as a scientific test.

“There was still another machine, which was designed to be placed between the knees and which registerd the power of compression of the legs. Sandow was also disappointed with this. He did not take much satisfaction in moving the indicator, no matter how much it registered. So he asked the doctor to sit in a chair opposite him with his knees tight together. Sandow then sat down with his knees pressing against those of the doctor, and told the latter to force his legs apart. Dr. Sargent tugged and strained, but his legs remained locked as in a vise.

The situation was reversed, and Sandow pushed the doctor’s legs apart as easily as though they had been wisps of hay.

“Sandow afforded another illustration of his wonderful strength, this time selecting the muscles of his abdomen as the means of still further surprising Dr. Sargent. Most persons are not aware that they have muscles on their abdomen, and, in fact, they might as well be without them, for they seldom put them to the use intended by nature, that of protecting the intestines and stomach. 

On Sandow these muscles are revealed in numerous rolls, which when contracted are very hard, and when you rub your hand up and down they feel like a corrugated iron roof.

Dr. Sargent was again called into requisition. Sandow lay down on the floor and asked the doctor to stand on his abdomen. After the doctor had assumed this pedestal, Sandow remained for a moment with the muscles relaxed. Then he suddenly contracted them, and the doctor went shooting up into the air. He said afterwards that was the first time he had ever jumped from a human springboard.

“Sandow has the faculty of using only those muscles that are required for a particular motion. When relaxed his arm is assoft as a child’s, but when contracted it feels like steel. Dr. Sargent said he had never before seen such remarkable control of the muscles as Sadnow has of his.

Sandow can put into prominence any one of the muscles of the body. By a twist of the wrist he can make a muscle appear on the forearm which the ordinary man does not know he possesses.

By twisting his head a little, he can make another on the back protrude. He is thoroughly familiar with his own anatomy, and he knows of his parts by their scientific names.

“Dr. Sargent has an apparatus, consisting of a long wooden rule, to which is attached a wire, running parallel with the edge. This wire is divided in the middle, and on either side is a small button which may be moved along a scale.

The object of this device is to see how near you can come to guessing exact distances. On one side of the wire the button is placed half-way between the end and the middle of the rule, ad you are asked to arrange the other button a like distance from its end.

Sandow did this with wonderful accuracy. In all his attempts he seldom failed to place the button at the right point. This shows that he possesses in a remarkable degree what Dr. Sargent calls the power of perception. In other words, his organism is not merely strong but fine as well.

“A series of very interesting tests was made with the electrical machine already mentioned, which registered the quantity and quality of breathing. Two fine needles were made to trace markings on a piece of blackened paper. One of these needles was so arranged that it indicated the breathing done by the abdomen, and the other that done by the chest. The average athlete breathes very little with his abdomen, but the ideal athlete uses it almost altogether. When the apparatus was attached to Sandow, the needles began a slow up-and-down movement.

When he dre in his breath the needles moved up, and when he expelled the air taken into his lungs, the needles moved down. Dr. Sargent handed Sandow a paper to read and asked him to distract his attention as far as possible from his surroundings. Then the spectators gathered about the machine.

Then the spectators gathered about the machine. The upper needle, which accounted for the movements of the chest, rose and fell with a regular movement, making a mark about half an inch long. Meanwhile, the other needle moved as slowly and as regularly, but made marks three times as long. If you observe a dog carefully, you will see that this breathing is apparently done in the abdomen.

Sandow breathes very much like a dog, and therefore in the way intended by nature. A woman breathes, ordinarily, chiefly with her chest, owing to the constriction of her clothing. Dr. Sargent says this is injurious, and advises loose waists. The pieces of paper on which Sandow’s breathing was registered were afterwards treated with shellac, and will be preserved as an example for students at Harvard.

“Among the spectators present was Mr. Michael Donovan, the instructor of boxing at the New York Athletic Club. Mr. Donovan enjoys the deserved reputation of being one of the most skillful and agile boxers in the country. He can strike a blow with surprising quickness. Therefore, in any test for determining the speed of a forward movement of the arm, he must be a good man who can hold his own with Mr. Donovan.

There are very few such. Yet Sandow, with a vastly greater muscular force to overcome, can shoot out his arm almost as rapidly.

This fact was determined by means of another electrical apparatus, so arranged that the time taken by the fist in passing through a given distance is accurately measured. It was shown that in sixteen trials the average time occupied by Sandow’s first in passing through a distance of 15-75/100 inches was 11/100 of a second.

Donovan’s speed in ten trials averaged 8/100 of a second. This is a very small difference. But in a variation of the same test Sandow had the better of Mr. Donovan. A small flag was made to drop by pressing an electric button. A device was arranged to discover the exact interval between the dropping of the flag and the moment when the person undergoing the experiment made up his mind to perform a certain action.

The test was precisely the same as in the case of a sprinter, who waits for the falling of a flag or the firing of a pistol to get under way. Out of the sixteen trials, it took an average of 22/100 of a second for Sandow to make up his mind.

Mr. Donovan’s time, under the same circumstances, the average being taken from ten trials, was 23/100 of a second, just 1/100 of a second a slower. Sandow’s maximum was 26/100, and his minimum 18/100 of a second.

Mr. Donovan’s maximum was 26/100, and his minimum 15/100. The same experiments were tried with the ringing of an electric bell substituted for the failing of the flag. The results were about the same as in the previous trials.

“When the doctor had finished his tests, Sandow gave a short exhibtion for the benefit of the spectators. First, he expelled all the air from his lungs, reducing his chest to its smallest possible girth. Then, after taking a few deep breaths, he filled his lungs to their utmost capacity. The difference in the measurements was fourteen inches. The ordinary big-chested man is proud when he can exhibit an expansion of six inches.”

Thus ended the report of the examination that was one of the first of its kind – an examination conducted to determine the effects of weight training on the human body.

Although this investigation resulted in glowing praise for Sandow, still there were those who argued that he was “born that way,” and that the lifting of progressively heavier weights had nothing to do with it. For this reason, it was many years before most medical and physical education expets realized that perhaps it was weightlifting after all, that caused Dr. Sargent to say of Sandow, “Altogether Sandow is the most wonderful specimen of man I have ever seen.”

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