Dumbbells Are A Girls Best Friend

Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot trailer
Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot trailer

Marilyn Monroe is possibly one of the most iconic female sex symbols of all time, was a movie star, singer, and a pin-up model – she appeared on the front cover of the first Playboy magazine in 1953.

However, one assumption that many people have made over the decades is that Marilyn Monroe was simply naturally in amazing shape.

The truth is that she worked out to stay in great shape – she was ahead of her time, preferring to use dumbbells instead of corsets.

Marilyn Monroe Measurements

Marilyn was a “37-23-36″ and wore a size 12 dress. She weighed around 118 pounds (53.5 kg) and was 5’5 1/2” tall (166.6 cm).

Quick Biography

Marilyn Monroe was born on 1st June 1926 and died on 5th August 1962 at just 36 years old. She died of a barbiturate overdose – she was probably taking barbiturates to treat depression.

During the 1950’s and early 60’s she featured in some of the biggest movies of the time, such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Some Like it Hot (1959). She also sang “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” being one of her most famous songs.

She was married 3 times, to James Dougherty, Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. They all ended in divorce. She had an affair with President John F. Kennedy, who she famously sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to on 19th May 1962 – this was her last public appearance. After her relationship with JFK ended she started seeing his brother, Robert Kennedy.

Marilyn Monroe – Fitness Queen

Marilyn Monroe at dance lessons in Hollywood in 1949. Photo by J.R. Eyerman - Time & Life Pictures
Marilyn Monroe at dance lessons in Hollywood in 1949. Photo by J.R. Eyerman – Time & Life Pictures

Marilyn Monroe did not have a fantastic body as a result of some lucky genes. She worked hard to stay in shape, using both cardiovascular exercise (mostly running) and weight training.

She was also an athletic child who ran, danced, swam and played softball. Her interest in sport while at school provided her with a solid foundation on fitness.

Also, growing during war-time would no doubt have introduced her to the concepts of some military fitness training – something that so many men would be doing.

It is thought that she was ahead of her time in this respect. Most of her contemporaries would diet and use corsets to hold their waist in – Monroe preferred to stay in shape with fitness.

Marilyn Jogging in 1953

This photo was taken in 1953, the year Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was released. She is running along a lane in her local neighbourhood.

Marylin Monroe running
Marlyin running near her home in 1953, possibly in Beverly Hills . She would have been around 27 years old at the time. Source: thisismarilyn.com

Marilyn Weight Training

While there are only a few images, and there is always the question surrounding their authenticity – were they natural photos of Marilyn exercising or publicity shots? – these photos do support the viewpoint that Marilyn Monroe used weight training to stay in shape.

During the 1950’s very few women would lift weights, in fact, weight training was not common amongst men either. Only athletes and a few early bodybuilders would lift weights.

The photos that follow show Marilyn Monroe performing a standing shoulder press (and she is up on her calves too, which is unusual, but maybe she was toning her calf muscles), what looks like a dumbbell pull-over on a bench, a bench dumbbell press and squats (although she could be doing a behind-neck press).

In all the photos she is exercising bare foot – training shoes were not as popular back in the fifties!

It appears also that Marilyn is using very light weights in all of these photos. This could mean that she performed high rep exercises to help burn fat while toning muscles. But it could also just be for the photographs – it is hard to do a long photo-shoot when lifting 20 kg above your head.

However, either way it does not make much difference. You can tone your muscles really well with a high-volume approach to weight training, this is the key concept of the BodyPump system – lots of reps using a light weight, and done to motivational music in an exercise class.

Marylin Monroe exercising in a garden
Marilyn exercising in her garden – thisismarilyn.com
From Lifting weights with Tolstoy – thisismarilyn.com
Marylin Monroe weight training on a bench
Marilyn Monroe doing dumbbell bench presses – Halsman 1952, Source: thisismarilyn.com
Marilyn Monroe squats
Marilyn Monroe could be doing squats here, or a behind neck press.

If you are interesting in starting weight training to get in shape we recommend that you read these pages first:


Lifting weights with Tolstoy – thisismarilyn.com – source of the colorized photo

Marilyn Monroe lifted weights! Get lifting, ladies! – MyFitnessPal.com

Anatomy Of A Sex Symbol By Sheila O’Malley – Joansdigest.com

The Real Marilyn Monroe, Up Close and Personal by Sam Shaw – biography.com

Note: Images of Marilyn Monroe which were published in the United States between 1923 and 1963 and did not have their copyright renewed are now in the public domain. 

One Comment on “Dumbbells Are A Girls Best Friend”

  1. Marilyn Monroe was a legend.

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