The Man Who Transformed Bodybuilding & Fitness

There are lots of legends. Joe Weider was one of a kind.
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ZENITH

Joe, who had long self-published instructional booklets, began authoring or co-authoring how-to books like 1981's Bodybuilding: The Weider Approach and 1983's The Weider System of Bodybuilding, which were produced by mainstream publishers. His many training manuals came to dominate the workout sections of bookstores. In 1983, he received the prestigious Publisher of the Year award from the Periodical and Book Association of America for his contributions to the magazine industry. Confessing to a certain shyness, Joe said, “I was proud and gratified, but the whole thing made me feel sort of odd. Instead of going east to accept the award, I made some excuse and stayed home.”

Also, in 1983, he launched a new magazine, FLEX, focused only on bodybuilding. Joe said, “In FLEX, the bigger, the more extreme the better.” In 1987, he started Men’s Fitness (originally Sport Fitness) as sort of the male counterpart to Shape—a more mainstream magazine focused on fitness and health. Weider’s publications in the ‘80s were at the forefront of a workout revolution. The once-underground activity of lifting weights to alter one’s physique was by then thoroughly mainstream—in large part due to Joe Weider. Around the globe, Weider magazines, nutritional supplements, and workout products were the gold standard. Annual Weider revenues increased 100 fold from $5 million in 1980 to approximately $500 million in 1989.

New magazines launched: Fit Pregnancy in 1993 and Muscle & Fitness Hers in 2000. Joe was also early to recognize the promise of the Internet. Muscle & Fitness started an online site in 1996, and FLEX followed in 1997. From an expanding family of fitness magazines to the latest technology to sports nutrition advances, Joe Weider forever embraced the new.

Still, he could be wistful about the ‘70s when he moved to California and his one magazine was focused on bodybuilding. In 1996, he recalled those halcyon years, “We had a lot of fun. I used to be in the gym training with the guys. We worked on the [Weider] Principles. Now, I’m a businessman, and I can see the change taking place in me, and I hate that, because I love being in the gym, working out with the guys. That’s my first love.”

TWILIGHT

Joe sold his magazines to American Media, Inc. in November 2002. “When it’s time, it’s time,” he later said. (The Weiders sold their workout equipment company in 1994 but maintained their nutritonal supplement company.) Still, for years afterward, Joe showed up nearly daily to his office at Weider Publishing headquarters, consulting with the editors of the magazines he had conceived.

“I love magazines, every single thing about them—words, pictures, color, design, ads,” he wrote in Brothers of Iron. “I love the feel of paper and the smell of ink. And I love what a magazine can do for people. There’s nothing in the world like it. Nowhere else does a few bucks buy so much information and food for thought, entertainment, and beauty. In my magazines, you also get a crash course in exercise and health and how to get more out of life. The cover prices are many times what they used to be, but the value is still amazing. Spend less than $5 on a magazine, and you get material worth a fortune.”

On July 9, 2007, the President’s Council of Physical Fitness and Sports awarded Joe their lifetime achievement award and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who immigrated to America and settled in California with the help of his second “father,” declared it Joe Weider Day. Four years later, on July 21, 2011, the Joe and Betty Weider Museum of Physical Culture opened at the University of Texas. Joe and Betty donated $2 million and numerous items to the museum.

EPILOGUE

It’s appropriate that his story has no set beginning because it’s difficult to imagine a time when Joe wasn't among us. His influence is everywhere. It persists in the Mr. Olympia and female Olympia contests; in the International Federation of Bodybuilders, which modernized physique competitions; in the nutritional supplements, workout equipment, and training principles that bear his name; in the proliferation of women in gyms; in the numerous books he wrote, co-wrote, or edited; and in the magazines he created and nurtured. It will continue long after he's gone in men and women building their bodies around the globe—from physique legends to youngsters grabbing their first dumbbells. Joe Weider is an icon, a visionary, and a trailblazer the likes of which we will never see again.

But he has never reveled in such praise. In recent years, when awards and applause were bestowed upon him at public appearances, he preferred to be at his desk in his office with the magazines he originated and established, contemplating stories and photos. And he was happier still amidst barbells and benches with people who were “born to the iron.” Two days after the 2009 Mr. Olympia, FLEX held a photo shoot in a Las Vegas gym with all the Weider-sponsored bodybuilders. Among them were the new Mr. Olympia, Jay Cutler, the vanquished Mr. Olympia, Dexter Jackson, and future Mr. Olympia Phil Heath. But the biggest star was Joe Weider. Every champ was honored and thrilled to be in Joe’s presence, and yet he was equally delighted to be in theirs.When Joe spoke alone to Jay Cutler, it wasn’t about the empire he built or the fortune he made or the fitness revolution he fostered. It was about his teenage weightlifting prowess back in Montreal seven decades prior. Those were his fondest memories. The workouts then were the secret to his success later. Joe Weider, the father of modern bodybuilding, knows firsthand the transformational power of iron, and he's never forgot that his life changed forever for the better in the magical moment he opened a bodybuilding magazine. Replicating that was what he dedicated his life to. In all corners of the world, Joe Weider transformed the lives of millions. - FLEX

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