>>>Muscle Beach: the cradle of fitness
The ThermoLife building is one of the place’s symbols. With the ‘Muscle Beach’ sign on the façade, it is opposite the most famous gym in the world.
Photo: Discover Los Ángeles

Muscle Beach: the cradle of fitness

The Muscle Beach gyms, in the United States, are the most famous outdoor gyms in the world. Bodybuilders such as Jack LaLanne and Arnold Schwarzenegger were the real fathers of fitness.

n the beginning there were no gyms or technology. And God said, ‘Let there be Muscle Beach’, with its muscular, naturally tanned bodies. If today #fitness is one of the 50 most popular Instagram hashtags, it is thanks to bodybuilding. And its cradle is the State of California, where a love of looking – and feeling – good helped the discipline achieve cult status worldwide.

The famous Muscle Beach was originally located in the city of Santa Monica. However, it then moved to the Venice neighbourhood, in Los Angeles, where it remains today. Athletes like Jack LaLanne, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu used to go to the beach to train on traditional machines, under the sun, tanning their entire bodies and getting ready for the future, whether it was to be a Hollywood actor, an athlete or a businessman.

Arnold Schwarzenegger before his fifth Mr Olympia contest (1974).
Photo: Madison Square Garden Center (RMY Auctions)

Muscle Beach the series

The actor Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) is producing the series ‘Muscle Beach’, set in an 80s-style gym in Venice Beach. Meanwhile, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the co-creator of ‘Pump’, which will return to the 70s and relive the first steps of fitness.

Rings and parallel bars were set up to the south of Santa Monica Pier as part President Roosevelt’s New Deal. In 1933 an earthquake rocked the neighbouring city of Long Beach, which meant many people were left without anywhere to train. As a result, they began to go to the area of Santa Monica Pier.

The facilities that would come to be known as Muscle Beach turned into a meeting point for local residents, gymnasts and bodybuilders.. However, with the onset of World War II, many of the original bodybuilding stars, such as Abbey ‘Pudgy’ Stockton, gave up their favourite hobby to work for the government.

Bodybuilders getting ready for the Mr & Ms Muscle Beach competition in Muscle Beach Venice.
Photo: Chistian de Araujo / Shutterstock.com

Muscle Beach Venice Walk

The Hollywood Walk of Fame is not the only one in California. Venice Beach also has a walk dedicated to famous bodybuilders. It opened in 2007 and it has bronze plaques that honour notable individuals such as Jack LaLanne, Joe Gold and Franco Columbu.

During the 1950s, the place got a new lease of life. Jack LaLanne was the first person to promote fitness as a central part of Americans’ lives. He opened his first gym in Oakland in 1936 – facilities that even included a juice and salad bar. Years later, he started the ‘The Jack LaLanne Show’ on television, which got families moving. Vic Tanny, who would become the millionaire owner of the first network of gyms to dominate the United States and Canada, also trained there. He changed the reigning austerity for brightly coloured fitness complexes that had swimming pools and tennis courts.

Bronze plaques along the bottom of the fence that separates Muscle Beach from Venice Boardwalk commemorate the most famous bodybuilders in history.
Photo: mariakraynova / Shutterstock.com

But the inhabitants of Santa Monica didn’t like the bodybuilding boom and in 1959, the local authorities demolished the facilities without warning. The Venice Beach ‘Weight Pen’, created in 1951 in the Venice neighbourhood, appeared as the natural successor; and in 1987 it was named Muscle Beach Venice. Schwarzenegger and Columbu used to train there, making it well known all over the world.

The large number of people who wanted to train on Muscle Beach led to the creation of a large network of gyms. In 1965, the iconic Gold’s Gym was opened by Joe Gold on Pacific Avenue, in Venice. He was one of Muscle Beach’s ringleaders and a friend of the Hollywood stars. He popularised the trend and attracted well-known names to his gym, like Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, who is famous for playing ‘The Incredible Hulk’. The documentary ‘Pumping Iron’ was filmed on the premises, dubbed ‘the Mecca of bodybuilding’. After selling the business in 1973, Gold opened the World Gym chain in Santa Monica.

If you visit California and Muscle Beach – both the old and the new – you’ll be able to get first-hand experience of the atmosphere in which the bodies of many fictional heroes were shaped. Lift some weights watched by a crowd of admirers and feel like a bodybuilding star.

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