Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Joe Weider

A "doctored" photo of Joe Weider. He was  never very muscular or strong. He was a promoter par excellence.

Another iron game legend passed away this week. Joe Weider passed away at the age of 93. As a young man I grew up in the midst of the "war" between Bob Hoffman and Joe Weider.
Hoffman and his York Barbell Company along with his York Barbell Club weightlifting team ruled the competitive lifting world here in the United States anyway. He published Strength and Health and Muscular Development magazines and marketed a line of supplements based in the small town of York in my native Pennsylvania.
 Meanwhile Joe Weider began to build a bodybuilding empire that began in Canada, then moved to New York City, then the west coast. Joe also had his magazines. In my era it was Muscle Builder/Power, which later became Muscle and Fitness which is still going strong today. He also had an ever changing line of supplements.
 Hoffman and the York Barbell Co. were pretty straight forward and marketed their products as health and character building. Lifting was promoted before bodybuilding and while York did use the physiques of their lifters such as John Grimek, Steve Stanko, Vern Weaver, and many others to market their products; the York way was to show that physical development followed performance.
 Joe Weider came along and turned that world upside down. In the Weider business image was everything. He promoted bodybuilding for it's own sake and divorced it from any types of physical performance. Appearance became the only measure.
His magazines featured physique photos the likes of which were never seen before. He used lighting and angles to really show the definition and muscular separation like never before. He marketed his products with spectacular names like Super Pro 101, Mega Atomic Shakes, and Arm Blasters, He showed girls in bikinis hanging off of the bodybuilders at the beach and made muscles seem sexy. He even gave names to workout strategies such as SuperSets, Giant Sets, and Bombing and Blasting your way to muscle growth. Muscle up and make out was the theme.
Now, with the perspective of time, it's hard to say who won the "war". Weider certainly outlived Hoffman. Bob died a couple of decodes ago at the age of 85 and was senile in his waning years. The York magazines are only a memory and the barbell company is only a shadow of what it once was. They don't even make their own weights anymore and while many still hang on to their old York bars, the current line isn't used in competition anywhere. U.S. weight lifting has continued to decline and shows no signs of approaching the York dominance of by gone days.
Meanwhile Muscle and Fitness,  Shape, and a long line of Weider products continue to command attention.Bodybuilding for men and women is popular around the world in many forms. I suppose if one were to measure the "success" of both companies in terms of sales and income, then Weider wins hands down. Even I have to give Weider his due for his marketing genius, but I'm not sure all of the attention is for the best so far as promoting real health and fitness.
The magazines promote an unrealistic image with the retouched photos and drug induced bodybuilders. The articles are really only thinly disguised advertisements for overpriced and marginally effective products.
A few years ago when I was actively involved in the NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association) there was a proposal by some of the board members to invite Joe Weider to the annual convention and give him an award for his contributions to the strength and conditioning field. The NSCA president at the time stated that if they did, he would cancel his membership. In the end his sentiments carried the day and Joe was never recognized by the NSCA. That pretty much sums up my opinion as well.
While he certainly brought attention and publicity to weight training and fitness, it was mostly hype and misinformation. History will now be the judge.
A typical Weider advertisement circa 1970's.

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