Have you ever wondered where your favorite exercises originated from?  Sure, it’s easy to trace workouts like Pilates and Zumba back to their creators, but what about something like bodybuilding and weight lifting.  Well, I have one thought for you…

The other day, I was flipping through the January issue of Khabar magazine.  Khabar is a local Atlanta publication geared toward South Asians.  Every month, the magazine publishes articles about health, politics, economics, spirituality, Bollywood, etc.  Well, this month the magazine featured an articular called “Muscles in Mumbai” (shout out to Khushboo), and it immediately caught my eye. 

The article talks about how weight lifting and bodybuilding originated in ancient India – dating back to the 11th century.  In those days, exercises were practiced with stones and wooden dumbbells.  And by the 16th century, the activity gained popularity, becoming more of a recreational thing than anything else. 

Now, according to this article, bodybuilding competitions actually started in Europe, so we Indians can’t take credit for that one!

The article mentions how strength training has yet to catch on with Indians in America, but in India, there seems to be a huge bodybuilding craze going on right now.  Young Indian males are wanting to pump some major iron so they can look like this guy…


This would be Salman Khan, a popular Bollywood actor.

And because of this craze, India’s supplement industry is growing like crazy.  Protein, glutamine, creatine, etc. – you name it, it’s probably popular right now.

So, if you’re like me, you’re probably thinking, “What about the females?”  Right?  Well, apparently lifting is still mostly just a man’s activity, however, this is not to say that no woman in India has ever touched a barbell.  It’s just that women are encouraged to present lean bodies vs. “developed muscles.”  I think I need to make a quick trip to India to let Indian women know that lifting weights will NOT make you bulk up like Popeye… or Salman!!!

This whole article actually reminded me of a conversation I had with my aunt about Indians and exercise.  She just recently got back from a trip to India.  Being an avid runner, she joined a local gym for the five weeks she was there, as she was hoping to get in anywhere from 45-60 minute runs a few times a week.  Well it just so happens that the gym she joined had a very strict 20 minutes only rule.  She said that after 20 minutes into her runs, an employee would approach her and tell her to stop.  Mind you she was the only person in the gym at the time!  When she questioned the owner of the gym, he told her that “she shouldn’t exercise that much.”  According to my aunt, when she told him that she usually runs anywhere from 45-60 minutes, he was downright shocked!  Eventually she convinced him to let her run for as long as she wanted -  as long as someone else wasn’t waiting for the treadmill.  Geez! 

My aunt’s story plus the Khabar article reminded me of how some (not all) Indian people still don’t get working out (both cardio and strength training), especially for prolonged periods of time.  And I hate to say it, but I feel like women are especially vulnerable to backhanded comments about their workout routines.  When I ran my first half marathon, certain family members were concerned about my well being…like seriously concerned.  I just don’t get it!  Exercise is GOOD for you, people!!!


Anyways…regardless of where strength training originated from, I sure am glad that people found joy in lifting stones and wood.  My body says thank you!

By Parita

0 thoughts on “The Origins of Strength Training”
  1. Interesting background story – I never thought bout the origins of my favorite activity. 🙂

    That story about your aunt is crazy! I’m a little surprised she was able to convince him to let her stay for an hour.

  2. Firstly thanks for the shout out :)! Really interesting post and you hit the nail on the head about weight training in Mumbai! It actually kinda annoys me because all the trainers at my gym think weights is king and look down on cardio! I’ve had several rude encounters with them and me telling them to leave me alone and I don’t care if I ‘need to be lifting weights more’…at least I’m doing something! I’m shocked about your aunt! We have a 30-min rule per cardio machine (not that I oblige ha) but that’s more for when the gym is packed and so others get a chance too!

    1. I didn’t know if this article was completely accurate, but I knew if anyone could set the record straight, it would be you! I just don’t understand why people push only weights or cardio – why not together!?

  3. Excellent article. My mom used to be so concerned every time I lifted weights and she told me things like my shoulders will broaden and i’ll look like a man, and i’ll get real bulky, and i will stop growing. OMG! I was 16 at the time. I don’t know, maybe i’d be concerned if it was a teenager. Yeah, now i weight lift and I love the feeling it gives me. I don’t do it as often as I’d like, but even the 2 days i get my ass to the gym, it makes a huge difference in your body shape.
    I hate the skinny look lots of these Indian actresses have… the exception is Karishma Kapoor who was one of the first to really show off her curvy, thick, strong, hot body!

    1. You’re spot on. Indian actresses nowadays are waaay too skinny. I loved the realistic bodies of Madhuri, Sri Devi, Juhi Chawla and Karishma Kapoor.

  4. That’s really interesting and so funny to see the difference in attitudes when it comes to weight training!

    Hahah and love that shot of Salman – haven’t seen a Bollywood film in a while but I am sure he’s still taking his shirt off at every opporrtunity 😛

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