Fitness – the early years

‘If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.’ Hippocrates. 

“Throughout history, the poor generally got all of the exercise they needed, and more, through hard physical graft, while the wealthier classes had their hunting, cricket and brisk constitutionals. But in early Victorian times, more attention began to be paid to the mechanics of physical training. A cultural trend known as ‘muscular Christianity’ saw physical strength as closely allied to moral strength, patriotic duty and the ability to protect the weak. What’s more, exercise was encouraged as a way to burn off excess energy that might be turned to no good, especially among the young.” From the article ‘The history of exercise’ in Who Do You Think You Are Magazine, March 23, 2023. 

So I said to the gym instructor: ‘Can you teach me to do the splits?’ He said: ‘How flexible are you?’ I said: I can’t make Tuesdays.’ (Tim Vine, comedian).

See how fitness and exercise was practised and sold to us in the early 20th Century – some machines you see in the gym today had early versions in these photos. Which equipment or exercise would you like to try…

All images featured in this post and on the Kaleidoscope blog are available for licensing.  Please contact us at 

Why not check out our Prints and Poster store and get a fab image for your wall. Go to

Leave a Reply