Bodybuilders in Beijing

Have you ever wondered who is the strongest person in town? You can find out this week at the Shougang (Capital Steel) Aoruite Gymnasium, where the second Beijing Fitness Clubs Challenge Contest is now underway.

Supported by the Beijing Administration of Social Sports and organised by Beijing Bodybuilding Association (BBA), the event is the first stage for "muscle heads" to demonstrate their achievements in this unique physical culture through a series of contests in tug-of-war, bodybuilding, strength, weight lifting and hand wrestling.

All the participants are amateurs from fitness clubs, centres and related organisations throughout the city, divided into teams for men and women. At the same time, a competition to determine the star fitness coach in town is also being held. Over 100 fitness enthusiasts from different walks of life have signed up for the event.

As people are becoming more concerned about their health nowadays, the physical culture of bodybuilding, now widely regarded as a fitness activity, has attracted an increasing volume of followers throughout the world.

In fact, it can be traced back to 11th century India where stone dumb-bell weights were lifted by those wanting to develop their bodies, to enhance health and stamina. Such routine training went beyond its rudimentary form to become a more entertaining form of exercise for fitness purposes at the end of 19th century. And in 1891, the first bodybuilding show was staged.

"Beijing saw its first instalment of such training equipment at the Beijing Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in 1915. Self-initiated bodybuilding activities began in the 1930s in Beijing's middle schools," said Li Aizhen with the BBA.

Bodybuilding activities here took a giant step towards standardisation in 1950. "Beijing is one of the cities in China that resumed the bodybuilding after the 'cultural revolution' (1966-76)," said Li.

Bodybuilding saw feverish enthusiasm develop among people in early 1990s due to the "iron-man" images portrayed by Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in various movies. Many people wanted so much to have a muscled body that they started doing workouts in gyms.

"However, that enthusiasm decreased as people's lives became busier and more diversified. More importantly, there has also been a change in the view of what represents a healthy state, with a focus on fitness instead of simply bulging muscles," said Li. Still, you can find many bodybuilding enthusiasts in the nine-day event. Participants will compete in six classes for the final trophy on September 11 to determine who is the strongest man in the city.