World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Physical culture

Article Id: WHEBN0001403831
Reproduction Date:

Title: Physical culture  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: William Muldoon, Bartitsu, Alois P. Swoboda, Red Sport International, CONADE
Collection: Physical Exercise
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Physical culture

This is about the fitness movement; for the study of the physical aspects of cultures, see Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, and Social Anthropology.

Physical culture is a health and strength training movement that originated during the 19th century in Germany, England, and the United States.


  • Origins 1
  • "The Battle of the Systems" 2
  • Contemporary interest in 19th-century physical culture 3
  • See also 4
  • Further reading 5
  • Notes 6


The physical culture movement of the 19th century owed its origins to several cultural trends.[1]

German immigrants after 1848 introduced a physical culture system based on gymnastics that became popular especially in colleges. Many local Turner clubs introduced physical education (PE) in the form of 'German gymnastics' into American colleges and public schools. The perception of Turnen as 'non-American' prevented the 'German system' from becoming the dominating form. They were especially important mainly in the cities with a large German-American population, but their influence slowly spread.[2]

By the late 19th century reformers worried that sedentary white collar workers were suffering from various "diseases of affluence" that were partially attributed to their increasingly sedentary lifestyles. In consequence, numerous exercise systems were developed, typically drawing from a range of traditional folk games, dances and sports, military training and medical calisthenics.

Physical culture programs were promoted through the education system, particularly at military academies, as well as via public and private gymnasiums.

Industry began the production of various items of exercise-oriented sports equipment. During the early and mid-19th century, these printed works and items of apparatus generally addressed exercise as a form of remedial physical therapy.

Certain items of equipment and types of exercise were common to several different physical culture systems, including exercises with Indian clubs, medicine balls, wooden or iron wands and dumbbells.

Combat sports such as fencing, boxing and wrestling were also widely practiced in physical culture schools, and were touted as forms of physical culture in their own right.

The Muscular Christianity movement of the late 19th century advocated a fusion of energetic Christian activism and rigorous physical culture training.

"The Battle of the Systems"

As physical culture became increasingly popular and profitable, there arose intense national and then international competition amongst the founders and/or promoters of various systems. This rivalry became informally known as "the nationalistic loyalties.

The German Turnverein promoted a system of what became known as "heavy gymnastics", meaning strenuous exercises performed with the use of elaborate equipment such as pommel horses, parallel bars and climbing structures. The Turnverein philosophy combined physical training with intellectual pursuits and with a strong emphasis upon German culture. Numerous events in modern competitive gymnastics originated in, or were popularized by the Turnverein system.

The Czech Sokol physical culture movement was largely inspired by the Turnverein.

By contrast with the German and Czech systems, the "Swedish System" founded by Per Henrik Ling promoted "light gymnastics", employing little, if any apparatus and focusing on calisthenics, breathing and stretching exercises as well as massage.

At the turn of the 20th century, bodybuilder and showman Bernarr Macfadden's system became especially popular within the USA, via the promotion carried out through his publishing empire.

Hans Bjelke-Petersen founded the Bjelke-Petersen School of Physical Culture in Hobart, Australia in 1892. This version of physical culture, often informally referred to as "Physie" (pronounced "fizzy"), is generally performed by girls and women and has evolved into a combination of gymnastics, ballet, and aerobics.[3]

Miss Edith Parsons founded the Edith Parsons School of Physical Culture in Australia in 1961. Known as "Physi", it is a competitive sport combining dance and standing exercises.[4]

The Burns Association of Physical Culture[5] was developed in Australia in 1968. It is commonly referred to as "Physie" and claims to be an ideal sport for girls and ladies of ages 3 years right through to mature ladies. It involves a series of gentle exercises, derived from a collaboration of ballet, jazz, and pilates, performed to modern music. This type of physical culture claims to promote good posture, strength and flexibility with coordination to music.[5]

Contemporary interest in 19th-century physical culture

Considerable academic research into 19th-century physical culture has been undertaken since the 1980s, and numerous articles, theses and books have been produced addressing the topic from various perspectives.[6]

A number of contemporary strength and health training programs are based directly upon, or draw inspiration from various physical culture systems.

The historic Hegeler Carus Mansion in LaSalle, Illinois features a gymnasium that is believed to be a uniquely preserved example of a late-19th-century physical culture training facility. As of 2008, a project is underway to restore the Hegeler Carus gymnasium as a museum of physical culture training and apparatus.

Modern collections of antique physical culture apparatus include those of the Joe and Betty Weider Museum of Physical Culture, part of the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports at the University of Texas at Austin and the Gymuseum collection at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio in Ravenswood, Chicago.

In Australia, there is a growing number of young girls, teenagers and women embracing the sport for the first time with many Physical Culture Clubs operating mainly on the East Coast. Participants wear leotards and tights for performances and competitions. It is extremely uncommon for boys to participate up to the age of 12. There are a few different types of Physical Culture groups including BJP (Bjelke Peterson), EP (Edith Parsons), Western Zone and the newly formed APDA (Australian Physie Dance Association) established in 2012.

See also

Further reading

  • McKenzie, Shelly. Getting Physical: The Rise of Fitness Culture in America (University Press of Kansas; 2013) 304 pages
  • Martschukat, Jürgen. "'The Necessity for Better Bodies to Perpetuate Our Institutions, Insure a Higher Development of the Individual, and Advance the Conditions of the Race.' Physical Culture and the Formation of the Self in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century USA," Journal of Historical Sociology (2011) 24#4 pp 472–493.
  • Weber, Eugen. "Gymnastics and sport in fin de siècle France", American Historical Review 76 (1971)


  1. ^ Shelly McKenzie, Getting Physical: The Rise of Fitness Culture in America (University Press of Kansas; 2013)
  2. ^ Gertrud Pfister, "The Role of German Turners in American Physical Education," International Journal of the History of Sport (2009) 26#13 pp 1893-1925.
  3. ^ "BJP Physical Culture - Empowering Girls for Life". BJP Physical Culture. 
  4. ^ "Edith Parsons Physical Culture". Edith Parsons Physical Culture. 
  5. ^ a b "Burns Association of Physical Culture". 
  6. ^ McKenzie, Getting Physical: The Rise of Fitness Culture in Americach 1
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.