Upstairs on the third floor of the Fordyce Bathhouse….
…is the gymnasium.
In light of the fitness crazes of today, it’s interesting to see firsthand the exercise trends of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Trends that were influenced by the Germans. The “father” of gymnastics was Friederich Jahn, who invented the pommel horse, the parallel and uneven bars, and he advocated the use of rings. Exercise with this equipment, coupled with running, jumping and balancing, helped to promote strength and agility.
German Scholar Charles Beck incorporated these ideas in the opening in 1824 of the first gym in the United States, which also hosted the first school gymnastics program.
The purpose behind much of the training then was drastically different from what it is now. Until the early 1900’s, exercise was considered essential for military preparedness and real life situations. Now, it has grown into a gazillion dollar business geared towards competition, health and, in a lot of cases, vanity.
What’s ironic is that, in spite of all the fancy gadgets and machines, and no matter how much the media focuses on the fitness industry, obesity rates continue to climb, and life expectancy rates have dropped.
Of course most Americans don’t have to worry about being prepared to defend the good ol’ U S of A, but wouldn’t it be nice if more of us were fit enough to be able to climb more stairs, to walk more blocks, or to handle those daily tasks that include lifting and squatting with ease.
Perhaps it would behoove us to embrace a number of those ideas and techniques from the past.