Venice, California is known for being a trendsetting locale, and bodybuilding is certainly one of its most popular draws. It is why Venice is often referred to as Muscle Beach. It is said that California Governor (and former actor) Arnold Schwarzenegger heightened the interest in pumping iron when he relocated from Europe. Not only did he train at the world famous Gold’s Gym in Venice, it was the site of the popular cult film, Pumping Iron, which introduced Schwarzenegger to the movie-going public. Today, Gold’s Gym has expanded with branches in cities across the country, and Muscle Beach (which serious bodybuilders believe go hand in hand) is an attraction that still draws thousands of spectators yearly.
The history of Muscle Beach is long and illustrious. It dates back to the 1930’s when thousands used to gather and watch the gymnastics performed by Muscle Beach regulars, stuntmen, circus performers, and athletes. It was also a spot where celebrities, such as Kirk Douglas, Clark Gable, Jayne Mansfield, Jane Russell, and Mae West liked to hang out. Body builders like Vic Tanney and Joe Gold (founder of Gold’s Gym and World Gym) used the gym’s resources to sculpt their bodies and stay fit. It was also home to famous body builders like Jack LaLanne and Steve “Hercules” Reeves. It even inspired the popular 1964 film classic, Muscle Beach Party, starring teen idols, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.
Clearly, Muscle Beach (also referred to as “The Pen”) has never lost its allure over the decades, but it has upgraded and is now considered one of the most popular attractions along the Venice Beach Boardwalk. Nowadays, you will find a gated, fully restored outdoor gym that features chin and parallel bars, rings, small jungle gyms for kids, and a padded safe gymnastics area for tumbling. There’s also the bleachers where hundreds of spectators can sit and observe the body builders pump iron (Sundays are the best day) or watch the contests that are held regularly. Further, in September of 2007 the Walk of Fame was established. Twenty three bodybuilder notables (such as Rachel McLish, the first woman Ms. Olympia and Mickey Hargitay, 1955 Mr. Universe and father of Law and Order’s Mariska Hargitay), were inducted. To honor them, each was given a bronze plaque mounted on the outside of the weight pen. New inductees are added during the yearly May ceremony.
Gold’s Gym in Venice (established in 1964) is considered the Mecca of Bodybuilding. This is where it all began. It is considered the prime spot to pump some serious iron. As Tyler Durden, competitive bodybuilder and member of the NPC (National Physics Committee) points out: “For those of us who are serious and compete, this is a lifestyle. You eat right, you don’t drink or smoke, and you get plenty of rest. If you’re not serious about this, someone else will come along that is.” Concurs 51 year old body builder, Ron King: “It takes discipline and it’s healthy. That’s what matters.”
This world-renowned gym has turned out countless champion bodybuilders. Besides 47,000 square feet of Nautilus machines and free weights, the walls are lined with floor to ceiling mirrors. At any given time, you’ll see serious bodybuilders pumping iron to a rock and roll beat. Located at 360 Hampton Drive (three streets inland from the beach), Gold’s Gym opens daily at 5 a.m. and stays open until midnight. On weekends it’s open from 4 a.m. until midnight.
Late spring and summer are the best times of the year to catch some fun bodybuilding events:
- The Muscle Beach International Classic on May 25-26.
- Mr. and Mrs. Muscle Beach held on July 4th. This offers novice and open divisions for men and women bodybuilding and figure.
- Muscle Beach Midsummer’s-Eve Fitness Pageant. There will be two categories: Figure Competitors and Bikini Models.
- The Muscle Beach Championship, held on September 1st.
- Body Building and Figure Demonstration held on Sundays from 2-4 on May 18th, June 29th, July 6th, and August 31st. It’s free to the public. Remember, huge crowds are expected to attend these events so prepare to arrive at the beach early.