Last Updated on June 24, 2020
6 Things You Might Not Know About Muscle Beach
No stretch of sand symbolizes the “Golden Era” of bodybuilding quite like Los Angeles’ Muscle Beach. The two beachside gyms in Venice and Santa Monica have drawn ripped physiques and stunned spectators since the 1930s, and they’re still a major tourist draw nearly 100 years later. (The “original” Muscle Gym is in Santa Monica; Muscle Gym Venice is a few miles down the beach bike path.)
But there’s much more to Muscle Beach than tiny swimsuits and bronzed bodies. Here are six facts you didn’t know about the historic bodybuilding mecca that is Muscle Beach.
Without the New Deal, there would be no Muscle Beach
Back in the 1930s, unemployment was at a whopping 25%. To spur the economy, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt implemented the “New Deal,” a sweeping series of government reforms meant to make life better for Americans suffering through the depression. The New Deal brought a number of relief acts—including exercise equipment in Santa Monica.
The exercise and aerobic equipment wasn’t known as Muscle Beach yet, but soon after being erected it began drawing a steady crowd of beachgoers seeking fitness on the sand.
An earthquake was responsible for making Muscle Beach popular
When a major earthquake destroyed much of the gymnastics facilities in Long Beach,
many athletes were left without proper training sites. But Muscle Beach’s WPA-built gymnastics bars and rings seemed to have been built for them, and athletes and gymnasts rapidly regrouped to hone their fitness there.
With that, Muscle Beach saw its popularity soar. Board games and volleyball gave way to serious athletes who honed their bodies in the sand—and provided ample entertainment for crowds of spectators, which quickly grew to more than 10,000.
Arnold Schwarzenegger made Muscle Beach a household name
Growing up, Arnold Schwarzenegger dreamed of leaving Austria behind for greener pastures. He considered bodybuilding as his ticket, and from a young age set out to be the best bodybuilder in the world. After winning Mr. Universe and making a name for himself in competitive bodybuilding, the Terminator moved to California to seize the sport’s biggest prize: Mr. Olympia. And he did it while training at the sport’s most popular mecca: Muscle Beach.
Of course, Arnold eventually developed into the greatest bodybuilder the sport has ever known. But it wasn’t until his 1977 movie, Pumping Iron, which featured the athlete in his quest for his sixth consecutive Mr. Olympia title, that Muscle Beach and Arnold Schwarzenegger both became household names.
Jack LaLanne got his start at Muscle Beach
Jack LaLanne (1914-2011) was a fitness expert, body builder and all-around star often credited with starting the fitness revolution. Sometimes referred to as the “Godfather of Fitness,” LaLanne got his start on Muscle Beach, where he honed his showmanship and athletic abilities before often massive crowds.
Pioneering innovative fitness techniques like daily workouts, protein drinks and vegetable juicing, LaLanne also carried out audacious physical feats for the public in the 1950s—like doing 1,033 pushups in 23 minutes on live TV and swimming from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf while handcuffed. In 2007, he was awarded the Muscle Beach Venice Hall of Fame Award, proclaiming, “Training is King, Nutrition is Queen!”
Muscle Beach was refurbished badly, and then restored to its original glory
When the city overhauled areas around Santa Monica Pier in 1989, Muscle Beach’s original location was restored. Unfortunately, not much else was the same. Parallel bars and rings were put back up. but Santa Monica wanted to get rid of the bodybuilding culture, and bodybuilders were now working out in Venice’s Weight Pen. Since officials wanted to create a more family-friendly atmosphere, a fitness area for young children was constructed right alongside the bars and rings—bringing any real gymnastic training to a screeching halt.
Ten years later—and 40 years after the original teardown—Santa Monica fully committed to restoring Muscle Beach. The $10 million restoration project included $200,000 in new equipment. A fully committed city administration had Muscle Beach rebuilt to the precise specifications constructed by the WPA in 1934. Finally, Muscle Beach was restored to its former glory.
It’s still a popular destination today
If you’ve been to Santa Monica or Venice, you already know that Muscle Beach is a quintessential sight to behold. Don’t believe us? Check out the spot’s 1,000+ Trip Advisor reviews.
Visitors or locals can work out at the Muscle Beach Gym for a $10 day pass, or buy a year membership from the City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks for $170. That’s not a bad price to pump iron in an outdoor facility that has a nice view of the ocean and is a living piece of history. But don’t forget about the original Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, either.
From Arnold Schwarzenegger to Jack LaLanne, the world’s most memorable fitness stars flocked to Muscle Beach for its combination of bronzed bodies and undeniable entertainment. And the iconic birthplace of bodybuilding is still drawing the same enthusiasm today—even if Arnold no longer frequents the strip of sand.