April 29, 2021 8 min read

It’s hard to think of a time when exercise and the culture that surrounds it wasn’t a part of everyday life. From ads boasting the fat-burning qualities ofgreen coffee bean supplements to the rise in popularity of programs like P90X, fitness has become a staple in most countries around the world. 

Now, the story of how exercise became what it is today is fascinating, but also incredibly detailed. Historically,breaking a sweat couldn’t look any different than it does today. Interestingfitness facts date back all the way to pre 10,000 BC. 

We could easily fill an entire book with the study of exercise, but after all… this is theColes Notes version. So let’s keep it simple and interesting.  

Neolithic Times:Crop Culture 10,000-8,000 BC

As hard as it might be to believe, early human beings didn’t care about thigh gaps, perfect lighting for Instagram bathroom selfies, and six-pack abs… at least not for the reasons we do today.

Theagricultural revolution is often referred to as the dawn of civilization. Plant and animal domestication and the invention of the plow made it possible for hunting-gathering communities to access large amounts of food while remaining in the same area. 

And so begins theplumping. Well... not quite. It did, however, mark a time when humans started needing to move less to survive. Growing food and raising cattle meant a lot of chores and a lot of daily labor for farmers. Developing skills like balancing, running, jumping, and crawling became a thing of the past.

 Let’s be honest, it’s much easier to grab some eggs from the chicken coop than it is to chase down a wild deer. 

Ancient Times:Getting Shredded for War 4,000BC- 476AD

This was a time that civilizations were built by war and conquest. When it came to the Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, and later on, the Greeks and Romans, if you were a boy or a young man, you didn’t have a choice, you worked out. Getting battle-readywas amust, and so, ancient military training began. 

As war became a way of life, countless hours were poured into practicing skills like weapons training, unarmed fighting, lifting, and carrying heavy things. 

This period also marks a time when cultures began to take an interest in the physical culture of sports. There are records from this time of athletic competitions in Ancient Egypt, and of course the birth of theOlympic Games founded by the Greeks.

 Instead of modern Olympic events likespeed walking(a great source of laughter if you ever need it), athletes participated in competitions that were all based on practical skills - skills that were intended to be used in battle. 

Check out this video of speed walking if you’re in need of a laugh - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keo3Xo2MWog

Greeks, and later the Romans celebrated the body’s beauty and strength as a philosophical ideal. We’ve all seen those sculptures of naked dudes from this era. You know, the ones that look like the guy on the cover of Men’s Health. Ya, those ones. 

If only Instagram existed then. You can bet they’d have a lot of followers. After all, they were the originalinfluencers..

The Dark Ages:We don’t care about abs anymore... 5th-15th Century

The middle ages were all about gnarly plagues, barbarian invasions, kingdoms and empires, and of course, the impact of a growing culture of Christianity. And so, people ditched the idea of rippling muscles in exchange for making sure they were prepared for the afterlife. 

In fact, the body was seen as sinful and unimportant. The Church played a big role in the field of education focusing on training the mind rather than the body.  

Sadly, the only people exercising during this time werenobles/mercenaries training for military service. Well, that’s not entirely true. If you were a peasant, which most people were, you got to train. And by that, I mean you were forced into some seriously hard labor. 

C’mon! Who doesn’t like some good old fashioned hard work...

The Renaissance:We care about abs again…1400-1600

In 1420, a pretty rad Italian dude namedVittorino da Feltre, one of the first modern educators said “ you know what, abs are cool… let’s care about them again.” Okay, maybe I’m paraphrasing a little… He did, however, open a school that placed special emphasis on physical education. 

This time marks a period when people began to take an interest in the body, anatomy, biology, and health. 

In 1553, another certified cool-guy, Spanish educatorCristobal Mendez, wrote the bookEl “Libro del Ejercicio Corporal y Sus Provechos” -a publication dedicated to physical exercise and it’s benefits. The book included chapters about sports,recovery, exercises, and games.

Similar advice for women, children, and the elderly were also included in Mendez’s work.

Around sixteen years later, a man by the name ofMercurialis, an Italian physician, publishedDe Arte Gymnastica” - a collection of classical and modern medical literature and the Greek and Roman’s approach to hygiene, diet, and exercise.  

De Arte Gymnastica” is considered the first book on sports medicine and had a huge impact on the understanding of physical education and training methods popularized in Europe some two centuries later. 

The Industrial Revolution: We should do some pushups… 1760-1840

During theindustrial revolution, manual labor was replaced by machine-based manufacturing processes. The way of life that followed meant that people were moving a lot less. Or, at the very least, differently. 

And so, a movement ofintentional exercise(the first sign of a fitness culture) started to pick up steam. In some ways, this is not that unlike the world we live in now. With so many devices on the market meant to make our liveseasier, men, women, and children of the 21st century are similarly moving much less. 

Getting fit and staying in shape became a cultural point of pride during this time. If you were strong and shredded, it meant you were ready to go to war- a civic duty and point of pride. 

How are you feeling? Sleepy? Okay cool. Let’s time travel to the present day. Remember, the history of fitness is a long ride. But before we go full warp speed, here are a few points to fill in the gaps.


  •  1774- Johann Bernard Basedo opens the “Philanthropinum” in Germany- a gym emphasizing wrestling, running, riding, fencing, vaulting, and dancing. Exercise attire became more comfortable to accommodate these new activities. 

    • 1793-ish - German educatorGuts Muths(the grandfather of gymnastics) publishes “Gymnastik für die Jugend” (Gymnastics For the Youth) becoming the standard reference for physical education in the English speaking world.

  • 1810-Friedrich Jahn (the father of gymnastics) steps into the fitness world. He believed the best way to avoid a successful invasion was to help his people develop their bodies and minds through calisthenics, gymnastics, and open-air expeditions. 
  • USA

    Since the threat of invasion was always much less in the United States, a culture of fitness took longer to surface.

    • 1824- German scholarCharles Beck opens an outdoor gym in Massachusetts. The first of its kind in the nation. 

    • 1879-1919 -Dudley Allen Sargent(the founder of physical education in the US)  becomes the director of the Hemenway Gymnasium at Harvard University. Dudley once said, “without solid physical education programs, people would become fat, deformed, and clumsy.” He’s not wrong…

    The Rise of the Modern Fitness Industry- 20th c

    Here we go. This isthe goodstuff. Well, it’s all really fascinating. Be honest though, you’re just waiting to learn about when we started taking shameless selfies in the bathroom… 

    The 20th century is when we start to see the rise of atrue fitness industry - a thriving market with an emphasis on specialized competitive sport.

    Bernarr Macfadden became one of the first American fitness gurus developing some of the first exercise machines as well as founding one of the first muscle magazines,“Physical Culture”, in 1989. In 1903 Macfadden organized the first physique contest in America. 

    Charles Atlas, rose in popularity as a contestant in Macfadden’s 1921/1922 physique competitions locking down the title as the realGOAT of the fitness industry. Seriously, check this guy out. 

    What happened next? (The short answer)

    Throughout the last century, thousands of exercise methods/programs have entered the fitness space. Much like some of the gimmicky advertisements we see today, a promise to “get in the best shape of your life in the quickest amount of time possible” has always been made. 

    Fromvibrating belts, juicing,Sweatin to the Oldies, and the Bowflex, people have been bombarded with ways to get in shape.

    On one hand, this surge in resources has made it easier for people to get active. On another, it’s left many people confused, and often intimidated. Thankfully, there has been a growing demand in the fitness community to have recommendations backed by science. 

    Now, don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of garbage out there. But, with the right amount of research, and a healthy community to surround yourself with, you can access all kinds of great exercise information. 

    This is whatRE-UP is all about. Let’s take the nonsense out of recovery, exercise and nutritional wellness, and replace it with the facts backed by science. 

    Exercise/Fitness in 2020- But first let me take a selfie... 

    You want the good news, or the bad news first? The good news? Cool. The good news is, there's more credible information available to us now more than ever. Whether that's how to eat and thrive, the best way(s) to exercise in order to achieve your goals, or how to recover best from your injuries, we’ve never understood fitness the way we do now. 

    Now for the bad news… Despite all this, we’ve never been more sedentary and out of shape than we are now. As technology is introduced to save us time while moving less, our bellies have started growing more… and more.

    Some experts believe that people just aren’t as motivated to get up and be active anymore. Also, if we think of the early days of fitness being built around preparation for battle, this just isn’t the case anymore. At least for most of us. The only battle many of us are  preparing for today seems to be the war onlikeability -as in, how many likes will a shirtless selfie get.

    So it’s clear, not only has our motivation to move our bodies decreased, the reasons many of us choose to move have changed a great deal.   

    A recentWorld Health Organizationreport indicates that life expectancy in the U.S. dropped for the first time since 1993.

    Many exercise specialists predict that the future of fitness will look more like it did during the early days - functional/practical exercise that encourages people to explore strength, an increased range of movement, and in general, a more well rounded sense of healthy living. 

    That can’t be everything… right?

    The journey to where we are now, a culture oozing with get ripped quick schemes, five minute abs, and everything along the way is filled with interesting facts. If you’re someone who enjoys this sort of thing, you should definitely dive deep into the rabbit hole of exercise history. 

    You might not care who did the first bicep curl, and that’s cool too. 

    Finding the right advice to help you achieve your goals is often overwhelming. Everyone wants to be a fitness influencer today, and as a result, there's a lot of misinformation out there. 

    RE-UP want’s to make this easier and more reliable for everyone. Our mission is to create a community that can lean on one another, making the goal of getting in shape, recovering, and living a healthy lifestyle less intimidating. 

    Remember to be kind to yourself as you explore the world of exercise. Be patient, be a student, and of course, have some fun.