The history of bodybuilding in the USSR

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The history of bodybuilding in the USSR
The history of bodybuilding in the USSR

Find out how bodybuilding developed as a sport in the Soviet Union and what training programs were used by domestic bodybuilders. Surely no other country in the world has experienced so many hardships as in the Soviet Union. It was normal for athletes in those days to use pieces of rail for training, run away from law enforcement officials and strive to become like Goiko Mitic.

In our former state, bodybuilding was allowed, then banned and then allowed again. The fault is that this sport has entered into serious contradictions with the political system that existed in the country. However, difficulties only temper a person's character. Today we will tell you about the history of forbidden sports or bodybuilding in the USSR.

Spring 1973 - bodybuilding banned in the USSR

Young Soviet bodybuilders
Young Soviet bodybuilders

It was at this time that a meeting of the State Committee for Sports and Physical Culture was held in the capital of the USSR. By this time, many young people were seriously passionate about a new sport - bodybuilding. The officials had to decide what kind of future awaited him. The result of the meeting is known to many - for ten years, Soviet builders were forced to train underground.

The authorities wanted their athletes to be not just poseurs, but to have high functional skills. From the beginning of the thirties and until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country had a “Ready for Labor and Defense” system. The composition of the exercises for passing the standards, along with the usual disciplines, for example, running, included such an exercise as important for every Soviet person as throwing a grenade. Empty muscle pumping is alien to the way of life of the Soviet people - such was the verdict of sports functionaries.

The origin of bodybuilding in the USSR - the history of the forbidden sport

The first Soviet bodybuilders
The first Soviet bodybuilders

Let's start looking at the history of forbidden sports or bodybuilding in the USSR from an earlier period. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, performances of wrestlers, strongmen and acrobats enjoyed great success among the population of Russia. They all worked in circuses and people loved to watch this show. Back in 1894, the first author's method of training muscles appeared in Russia. Its author was a native of Prussia - Evgeny Sandov.

In 1948, the first physique beauty contest was held in the capital of the Soviet Union. The victory was won by Alexander Shirai, who also worked in the circus as an aerial acrobat. After that, Shirai was often used as a model by Soviet artists and sculptors. This man became the prototype for many paintings and sculptures depicting Soviet workers and athletes.

However, the time came when the builders began to have serious problems. Note that even before that ill-fated meeting, which we talked about above, there was a cool attitude towards bodybuilding. For example, in the sixties, athletes could be kicked out of the weightlifting gym, accusing them of spreading an alien Western culture. For a while, Soviet athletes referred to bodybuilding as athletic gymnastics or athleticism in the hopes of avoiding problems.

The main promoter of athletic gymnastics at that time was Georgy Tenno. During the war, he served as an officer in the navy, and in peacetime he was engaged in weightlifting. In 1948 he was charged with espionage and sent to prison. Eight years behind barbed wire. Tenno made five unsuccessful escape attempts.

In the same cell was Solzhenitsyn, who later dedicated a chapter to George in his book The Gulag Archipelago. Later, Solzhenitsyn often recalled Tenno in an interview, calling him the bravest and strongest among all the prisoners of the camp. In the late fifties, the former naval officer and athlete was amnestied. After his release, Georgy Tenno went to work at the Central Scientific Research Institute of Physical Culture.

It was there that he could do his favorite thing - to create new methods of strength training. In 1969, his book was published under the very simple title "Athleticism". Soviet builders silently called it the Russian bible of bodybuilding. It was on her that athletes conducted their classes until the mid-eighties. Georgy Tenno in his work spoke about the sets of exercises performed with a barbell and dumbbells.

Also in the book were recommendations for organizing nutrition, recovery and even drying. It was simply impossible to find then a more informative source of information about bodybuilding in the Soviet Union. Today we can assume that Tenno had access to Western literature, in particular the writings of Joe Weider. Since he was fluent in English, there could be no problems with translation, and using the connections at the Institute of Physical Education, it became possible to get the necessary literature.

Of course, Giorgi Tenno himself never spoke about the sources of his knowledge. In his book, he repeatedly noted that an athlete should not just pose in front of a mirror, but serve his homeland. The prison experience helped Tenno quickly understand the situation around this sport, and he tried to present it from the point of view of high social significance and great benefits for the state.

Many modern athletes take inspiration from the history of Iron Arnie, let's find out who was the idol of the builders in the sixties? Everything is quite simple here, because in the sixties in cinemas all over the country the film "The Exploits of Hercules", created by the joint efforts of filmmakers from Italy and Spain, was shown. American Steve Reeves played the main role in the film.

It was he who became a role model for several generations of Soviet builders. In modern bodybuilding competitions, Reeves probably wouldn't even make the top three. Judge for yourself, the volume of his biceps was only 45 centimeters. For the stars of modern bodybuilding, this figure is 10 centimeters more. However, at one time Steve became the winner of such tournaments as "Mr. World", "Mr. Universe" and "Mr. America". Note that the picture with his participation in the Soviet Union was watched by more than 35 million people, and the picture entered the top ten leaders of the domestic film distribution.

Another idol of domestic athletes was Goiko Mitic. This gymnast and film actor from Yugoslavia was known for his participation in films about Indians who were filmed in the GDR. If in American westerns only cowboys were private and courageous, then in German films the Indians turned out to be positive heroes. Goiko Mitic managed to get many Soviet men to take up the barbell and dumbbells.

The first gymnastics hall in the Soviet Union appeared in 1961. Even today, on specialized forums, one can find passionate debates about which hall should give the palm in this matter. There are two contenders for the victory - the Fakel club and the Leningrad Palace of Pioneers (the current name is Anichkov Palace. Both halls are located in St. Petersburg). According to one of the legends, it was here that Soviet athletes conducted their first trainings.

Over the next five years, similar halls appeared in other cities of the country. They were often created at large industrial enterprises and institutes. However, the center of domestic bodybuilding was not large cities, but the province. For example, since 1967 the club "Antey" has been operating in Tyumen, the founder of which was the enthusiast Evgeny Koltun. Over the next two years, it hosted major competitions in which the best athletes not only from the Soviet Union, but also from Poland took part.

It is quite obvious that these competitions were also disguised. At first, the athletes competed in squats and bench presses, and then there was posing. There is a legend that Iron Arnie himself found out about the Antey club and sent the athletes a package containing literature on bodybuilding. In the early seventies, a photograph of athletes from the Antey club appeared in one of the Western specialized publications. It was accompanied by words of gratitude to Koltun for the development of bodybuilding in Siberia.

Of course, this became known to the country's authorities, who simply could not tolerate this. Many large print media of the country, for example, Izvestia and Sovetsky Sport, unleashed a flurry of criticism at the athletes, accusing them of alcoholism and presenting them as dangerous subjects. This was the beginning of the mass persecution of bodybuilders.

Much is known about the bureaucratic machine in the USSR today. In the seventies, the upper classes gave instructions, while the lower classes imitated violent activity and hid their tracks. Such a system played into the hands of builders, because the representatives of the housing and utilities sector looked at them through their fingers. Housing offices were primarily supposed to provide the population with hot water, electricity and gas. Although nominally they were supposed to monitor the leisure of Soviet citizens, much attention was not paid to this issue.

Thanks to this attitude of housing and communal services to their duties, the history of forbidden sports (bodybuilding in the USSR) has become not as sinister as it could have turned out to be. This continued until the beginning of perestroika, when the predictions of journalists began to become reality. A large number of basement halls were concentrated in Lyubertsy near Moscow. At one point, the pitching united in a semi-criminal organization of the Lyuberians.

At the same time, the "iron curtain" began to fall and synthol and sports pharmacology began to enter the country through the ajar cracks. Thus ended the youth of domestic bodybuilding, which was replaced by the "dashing nineties" and steroids. However, this is a topic for another article.

How did Soviet bodybuilders swing?

Soviet bodybuilder works with a barbell
Soviet bodybuilder works with a barbell

The history of the forbidden sport (bodybuilding in the USSR) will be incomplete if we do not talk about how the athletes were swinging. In those years, it was difficult to find a product that would not be in short supply. Sports equipment was no exception. Athletes had to make sports equipment on their own. Many athletes of the time say that their workouts were similar to post-apocalyptic ones. There were practically no normal barbells and dumbbells, but pieces of rails, buckets of sand, irons, etc. were used.

Railroad rails by themselves could successfully replace the boom. In addition, they were actively used for the manufacture of homemade simulators. As additional burdens, buckets filled with cement could be used. The situation was similar with the hand-made rods. If any of the athletes had access to the plant, then it was just great. Otherwise, the armature was actively used instead of the neck and the same buckets as pancakes. It seems inappropriate to talk about sports nutrition in such a situation.

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