Recreational exercise has a long and storied history, dating all the way back to the ancient Greeks who invented the very first Olympics.
But if were talking about the modern fixation with exercise, we really dont have to look any further back than the Victorians, who pioneered much of modern physical fitness just one century ago.
The Victorians were famous for promoting forms of exercise like Eurythmics, isometrics, and body-building techniques like those associated with musclebound champs like Eugene Sandow and Charles Atlas.
Recently, however, theyve been getting even more attention for the strange exercise machines that enjoyed a vogue among certain health and fitness advocates.
To our eye, many of these bizarre devices wouldnt seem out of place in a medieval torture chamber, but appearances can be deceiving.
In fact, they were the brainchild of a Swedish physician, Dr. Gustav Zander, and images of real Victorians using them are currently on display at Swedens Tekniska Museet.
Dr. Zander was a prominent orthopedist, and made his name for prescribing exercise for the treatment of illness or injury.
In fact, in modern terms, he might be seen as the original physical therapist.
Specifically, he promoted something called mechanotherapy, or the use of machines to exercise the body and strengthen damaged muscles, bones, and tendons.
His therapy combined massage with what modern athletes might recognize as resistance training.
He designed a number of different elaborate machines that tested the body in different ways.
Some are remarkably similar to devices that are still present in modern-day gyms, like the devices he created to help with leg lifts, or this machine pictured above, which is uncannily similar to a modern tricep pushdown bar.
In fact, he established his own society called the Zander Therapeutical Institute, and began to spread the word about his newfangled notions on exercise.
He became a sensation at home, and Victorian ladies and gentlemen alike began to pursue physical fitness using his machines.
Men, women, and children would show up to use the gym equipment wearing elaborate period outfits.
While these clothes were probably considered casual for the era, they look almost ludicrously uncomfortable compared to modern workout clotheswe wont be trading our sports bras for corsets any time soon.
By 1876, Zander had become a global sensation, after presented his ideas at the American Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.
From that point onward, his exercises became a huge craze in Europe and abroad.
By the early 20th century, he was known all over the world, and had opened branches of his Institute in 146 countries.
Its not much of a leap to see contemporary exercise entrepreneurs, from Jane Fonda to Lucille Roberts, as heirs to what Dr. Zander started 100 years ago.
On the one hand, these fascinating instruments provide a glimpse into the exotic world of exercise in the last century. On the other hand, a lot of things havent changed one bit!
Were you fascinated by glimpse of how Victorians worked up a sweat? Dont forgotten to SHARE on Facebook and tag any fitness buffs in your life!