How did people work out in the past?

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fulltilt
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How did people work out in the past?

Post by fulltilt » Wed Feb 19, 2014 9:18 am

There is certainly no shortage of options for working out now days. There are 24 hour gyms, running clubs, yoga, pilates, etc. These all seem to be really new creations.

What i want to know is what did people do to work out in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, ... before all of this options became available. I realize that many people had jobs that were more physical in the past, but bankers, doctors and lawyers back in the day had to do something to stay fit.

I am looking for more ways to get fit than the regular running on the hamster wheel. I am looking for more variety and potentially to save some bucks.

Ideas?

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by tbradnc » Wed Feb 19, 2014 9:19 am

I remember my mom following along with Jack LaLanne on a B&W TV when I was a little boy.

My dad walked to school in the snow (uphill both ways of course).

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by livesoft » Wed Feb 19, 2014 9:23 am

In high school, I trained for bike racing every morning before going to school because after school I had a job.

Later, I was at a university. They had a gym and tennis courts for students. I played racquetball about 5 times a week and also worked out on my bike.

Nowadays, I simply do pull-ups and push-ups at home and go running. I play basketball outdoors at lunch time. No gym nor treadmills involved at all.
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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by SGM » Wed Feb 19, 2014 9:40 am

As a teenager, I had access to weights at a friends house in the summer and walking distance to the basketball court. I worked out with the wrestling coach and a wrestler one spring and they just about killed me, but I became strong enough not to be pushed around on the varsity basketball court. I remember running through the streets as the oval track seemed boring. There were few people running in the streets outside of the cross country team. People looked at you as if you were a little odd. Jogging wasn't a term used. I bought a used taped up set of ankle weights that enabled me to improve my vertical jump so that I could dunk. I don't recall seeing Nautilus machines until after graduating from college.

The guys at the better funded and enlightened public schools, basketball camps and private school powerhouse teams had more organized workouts. I remember Thomforde , later of Princeton, scissor jumping with a huge amount of weight on a bar with a towel padding his neck. Also, many coaches and players mistakenly thought that weight lifting would permanently harm one's shooting ability. Not so. Coach would not let us drink water and said, "Chew on your tongue."

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by nisiprius » Wed Feb 19, 2014 9:42 am

There have probably been ups and downs.

The "physical culture" movement dates from the late 1800s. In the 1930s, a rather amazing entrepreneur named Bernarr Macfadden started a publishing empire that blurred the boundaries of fitness and soft porn and founded one of the schlockiest newspapers ever, the New York Graphic. The Titanic famously had a gymnasium full of reasonably modern-looking exercise machines including "an electric camel, an electric horse, cycling machines and a rowing machine. Tickets, priced one shilling, were available from the purser and entitled first class passengers to one session in this facility."

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There was (of course?) a mammoth "bicycle craze" in the late 1800s, which had an impact on women's clothing, and acceptance of athleticism and independence in women.

A 1920 novel by Samuel Hopkins Adams, Wanted: A Husband, includes a woman who has, yes, a personal exercise "trainer" and introduces a friend to him:
"Know what that is?" demanded the trainer.
"I'm afraid I don't."
"Medicine-ball. Little pill. You'll like the little pill."
Prophetic voices within Darcy told her that this was improbable: but she mildly assented. The pulley-weights were next called to her attention and identified.
"What do I do with them?" she inquired with a proper show of interest.
"Pull'em up."
"I see. And then what?"
"Let'em down."
It seemed to Darcy a profitless procedure, but she wisely refrained from saying so, and was glad that she did when Mr. Dunne added in a tone which emphasized the importance of the transaction:
"A coupla hundred times."
Subsequently the neophyte was introduced to the dumb-bells, the Indian-clubs, the rings, the hand-ball court, the rowing-machine—she earned a glance of contempt by asking where it rowed to—the punching-bag, which she disliked at sight, the finger-grip roller, the stationary bicycle (which also got you nowhere), the boxing-gloves, and a further bewildering but on the whole inspiriting array of machines for making one strong, happy, beautiful, and healthy to order. Somewhere in the girl's consciousness lurked a suspicion that the apparatus couldn't be expected to do all the work: that there were patient and perhaps strenuous endeavors expected of the operator.
Very likely, "fitness as we know it" was in full swing by the 1920s, and was probably interrupted by the Great Depression, suspended during the war, to begin returning in the late 1950s. By the 1960s you had John F. Kennedy advocating for fitness and launching federal programs to promote it.

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by ObliviousInvestor » Wed Feb 19, 2014 9:46 am

fulltilt wrote:I am looking for more ways to get fit than the regular running on the hamster wheel. I am looking for more variety and potentially to save some bucks.

Ideas?
Not sure that it's the best way to save some bucks, but my wife and I (and our respective families) have found climbing to be a heck of a lot of fun.
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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by englishgirl » Wed Feb 19, 2014 10:00 am

I remember my grandmother telling me that she was in a cycling club in the 1930's. They used to cycle for 20-30-40 miles at the weekend. On big, heavy clunky bikes that surely required a lot more energy to cycle than today's lightweight things.

Also, even though she had a "washing machine", things like laundry were really quite physically taxing. Even in the 70's laundry involved wheeling the washing machine over to the kitchen sink, filling it with a hose from the tap, dumping a load in, using a paddle to keep the clothing under the water as it was rotated a bit by the drum, attaching the mangle/wringer, running the clothing through the wringer, then she had an electric spinner, so she'd dump that load in the spinner, while starting on the next load (the machines took very small loads). Then once the clothes were spun, she'd take the clean clothes and hang them up on the line in the back yard. Laundry was basically an all morning affair. Plus a trip in the late afternoon to bring the clothes in from the line. Which was a big improvement from the time before she had a machine, when it was an all day affair. Anyway, the point of that story is that we forget how physical a lot of the daily tasks were.

My other grandparents did a lot of walking out in the country on their days off, going for picnics and the like. Or walking to work. Or to the shops. Even once they had a car when they were a bit older, they only used it at the weekend. And granny certainly never drove.
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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by beardsworth » Wed Feb 19, 2014 10:04 am

The original post here seems mainly concerned with the "micro" question of how people kept fit in the past, but I think that the source of the question itself also has a lot to do with how we've arranged modern life, and in particular our reliance on cars.

Many people didn't need to "work out" as much in the past, or didn't even perceive it to be an issue, at least not as we currently understand the term. There were things called farms and factories, where people did physical labor. And there were things called walkable cities, and real neighborhoods with shops "just up the street" or "just around the corner," where people did a lot of errands on foot, or a combination of public transportation followed by foot. "Exercise" was required by, and the natural outcome of, many activities of normal everyday life.

Now, however, a very large percentage of us sit at desks all day, and nearly all of us get from place to place in fossil-fueled metal cans. And then we have to invent activities, like walking to nowhere on a treadmill, or swimming to nowhere in a lap lane, or pressing weights unconnected with any domestic or work task that actually needs to be done, or walking around in circles on all-residential streets near our house (which is usually not located within walking distance of our errands or our shopping or our jobs), in order to give our bodies what they need (activity) and thus save them from atrophy.

I speak as one who owns a fossil-fueled metal can (employment brought us to a place where there's not much except suburban sprawl) and has at various times belonged to a "health" club, but the whole arrangement is still pretty ridiculous.

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by CyberBob » Wed Feb 19, 2014 10:09 am

fulltilt wrote:I am looking for more ways to get fit than the regular running on the hamster wheel. I am looking for more variety and potentially to save some bucks.

Ideas?
I used to work on the 18th floor of an office building. I never took the elevator.

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by G-Money » Wed Feb 19, 2014 10:13 am

I'm pretty sure before recorded history, most people ran around and lifted heavy stuff. Usually to hunt food and build stuff. Of course, they didn't do it on a hamster wheel. Maybe the trick is to get outside?
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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by cinghiale » Wed Feb 19, 2014 10:20 am

Add to the conversation Joe Weider and the mainstreaming of weight lifting. Back in the 1960s, lots of us had simple, but versatile weight sets, with a basic bench, straight bar, two dumbbell bars, and those clanky red collars to hold on the plates. I still prefer free weights to the machines. With all the talk about "building core strength" these days, one tends to forget that balancing and handling a barbell (for example, sitting on the bench and performing military presses) while weight lifting engaged all of the torso, all of the arms, and quite a bit of the legs. Add a jump rope-- a whole other conversation-- and a pull-up bar, and you could provide yourself with a exhausting and comprehensive workout in just about an hour. I use easier versions of the above these days (elliptical machines), but I'm not sure that I am improving on the old time religion.
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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by 3CT_Paddler » Wed Feb 19, 2014 10:27 am

Short answer... most didn't (consciously).

In the 1930s, about 20% of the population was in farming, and I am sure a large percentage of all jobs involved manual labor.

Ask your grandparents what it was like during the Great Depression (if they grew up during that time). Looking buff was probably low on the list of priorities. Getting food on the table would have been high on the priority list.

I don't think people were obsessed with it in the past like they are today... I don't think people were as obsessed with it 20 years ago as they are today. I remember growing up (in the 80s,90s) where fitness magazines were some tiny niche magazine space. Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, etc filled the shelf in the men's magazine section. I think you can map the change in cultural attitudes on a lot of things, including fitness, by cataloguing what fills the magazine racks at your local grocery store.

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by VictoriaF » Wed Feb 19, 2014 10:31 am

When people did not have cars, TV and video games "work outs" happened by osmosis.

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by fulltilt » Wed Feb 19, 2014 10:32 am

beardsworth wrote: ...
Many people didn't need to "work out" as much in the past, or didn't even perceive it to be an issue, at least not as we currently understand the term. There were things called farms and factories, where people did physical labor. And there were things called walkable cities, and real neighborhoods with shops "just up the street" or "just around the corner," where people did a lot of errands on foot, or a combination of public transportation followed by foot. "Exercise" was required by, and the natural outcome of, many activities of normal everyday life.
...
I don't know the answer so that is why i am asking the question, but it seems like people today sign up for gym memberships to force themselves to workout doing things they hate for the sake of "exercise". In the past, I would guess that people had multiple activities that they did for recreation such as walking, hiking, pick up games of basketball or whatever. They did these things because they enjoyed them and the exercise benefits came for free. Has their been a shift in the preferences of people's hobbies and recreational activities from more active to more sedentary? It seems like in the "olden" days before cable TV, DVRs, and the Internet, being inside on the couch all day would be pretty darn boring. You would have to venture outside to do things almost by necessity.

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by jfn111 » Wed Feb 19, 2014 11:03 am

My dad was a journalist and rode his bike to work, about 20 miles, when the weather cooperated. He also used to do a lot of swimming at the local lake.
I remember my uncle, born 1901, talking about being a stevedore in the 20's and being in the best shape of his life.

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by hicabob » Wed Feb 19, 2014 11:08 am


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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by Fallible » Wed Feb 19, 2014 11:15 am

My grandparents and parents stayed physically active mainly with outdoor activities that included walking, hiking, skating, skiing, riding bikes and horses, and swimming. One of my uncles loved hunting and my dad also loved to sail.
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Post by pinecrest » Wed Feb 19, 2014 11:31 am

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by FafnerMorell » Wed Feb 19, 2014 11:34 am

I'm shocked no one has mentioned "running away from sabre-tooth tigers" or "commuting to work in their foot-powered car".
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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by scone » Wed Feb 19, 2014 11:50 am

Gymnasiums go back to the ancient world. The Greeks and Romans had facilities similar to today, including exercise, massage, and hot baths. I recall a Roman depiction, from Pompeii IIRC, of a woman in a two-piece outfit lifting dumbells.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gymnasium_ ... _Greece%29
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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by stan1 » Wed Feb 19, 2014 11:57 am

For my grandparents (1930s to 1970s) it was manual labor: on the job and around the house (gardening, washing dishes, washing clothes, cleaning house). The only time my grandfather ever hired anyone to work on his house was to paint the exterior (2 story) after a heart attack when he was in his 70s.

Also remember people ate differently so less need to "work out" to compensate for a carb/sugar laden diet.

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by JupiterJones » Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:06 pm

fulltilt wrote:what did people do to work out in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s,
Why they used DYNAMIC TENSION, my friend! The easy, natural method that you can practice in the privacy of your own room--JUST 15 MINUTES EACH DAY!

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by lightheir » Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:07 pm

fulltilt wrote:
beardsworth wrote: ...
Many people didn't need to "work out" as much in the past, or didn't even perceive it to be an issue, at least not as we currently understand the term. There were things called farms and factories, where people did physical labor. And there were things called walkable cities, and real neighborhoods with shops "just up the street" or "just around the corner," where people did a lot of errands on foot, or a combination of public transportation followed by foot. "Exercise" was required by, and the natural outcome of, many activities of normal everyday life.
...
I don't know the answer so that is why i am asking the question, but it seems like people today sign up for gym memberships to force themselves to workout doing things they hate for the sake of "exercise". In the past, I would guess that people had multiple activities that they did for recreation such as walking, hiking, pick up games of basketball or whatever. They did these things because they enjoyed them and the exercise benefits came for free. Has their been a shift in the preferences of people's hobbies and recreational activities from more active to more sedentary? It seems like in the "olden" days before cable TV, DVRs, and the Internet, being inside on the couch all day would be pretty darn boring. You would have to venture outside to do things almost by necessity.
Yes,absolutely. With all the technology, there has absolutely been a shift towards being sedentary. Both at work and at play.

All the 'joining gym' stuff is unnecessary though, and is largely a product of commercial advertisements that have successfully planted the image of fitness in your mind being associated with joining a gym, when in reality, fitness has very little to do with gym membership, and everything to do with staying active, regardless of gym membership or not.

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by kaudrey » Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:19 pm

My parents played tennis and skied when they were in the 20s/30s etc (in the 60s/70s). My mother also did yoga - I remember as a kid playing on the floor while she did yoga along with a TV program.

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by SamB » Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:24 pm

I grew up in the 50's and 60's in the middle of Detroit. Detroit was a mix of auto workers, and white collar workers. I really don't know what the breakdown was percentage wise, but what is interesting to me as I reflect on how things were exercise wise, is that there was no exercise. In no time did I ever see someone jogging down the sidewalk to get exercise. If there was any running at all, it took place on the athletic field at my HS. If someone referred to a "gym" it was supposed to be a place were you trained as a boxer, and that was not done to obtain exercise.

So what was the effect of all of this indolence? I can remember a very small number of fat people, and there were some men with beer bellies, but nothing like you see now. If you had a beer belly it was because you drank excessively, and if you were a fat kid it was because you ate too many sweets. It was not because you did not jog five miles every morning at 5AM. If you had done that, you would have probably been put in a straight jacket and hauled off to the nearest asylum.

I decided a long time ago to go back to eating the way I did as a kid minus a modest amount of junk food, and wouldn't you know it, I don't have to worry about jogging five miles a day.

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by G-Money » Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:27 pm

fulltilt wrote:I don't know the answer so that is why i am asking the question, but it seems like people today sign up for gym memberships to force themselves to workout doing things they hate for the sake of "exercise".
Some people actually like working out in a gym.
fulltilt wrote:They did these things because they enjoyed them and the exercise benefits came for free.
I think the point many other posters have raised is that it didn't much matter if people enjoyed doing these things. They had no real alternative.
Don't assume I know what I'm talking about.

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by Dutch » Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:28 pm

In the past they just called it work :D

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by tuningfork » Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:38 pm

Some people got good arm workouts after work lifting beers. :sharebeer

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by jebmke » Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:40 pm

I used to play a lot of tennis and cycling. Still do the bike bit when the weather permits.
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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by HongKonger » Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:42 pm

Actually go outside, walk to a local park and play physical games with their kids! *shock*

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by Fallible » Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:49 pm

Dutch wrote:In the past they just called it work :D
And, as in the case of my grandparents and parents, they called being active outdoors "fun," not "work outs." There's a message there somewhere...
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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by Jay69 » Wed Feb 19, 2014 2:09 pm

fulltilt wrote: What i want to know is what did people do to work out in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, ... before all of this options became available. I realize that many people had jobs that were more physical in the past, but bankers, doctors and lawyers back in the day had to do something to stay fit.
Ideas?
I thought doctors were too busy making smoking commercials in the 50's.
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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by JupiterJones » Wed Feb 19, 2014 2:24 pm

kaudrey wrote:I remember as a kid playing on the floor while she did yoga along with a TV program.
Was it Lilias, Yoga and You? I haven't thought about that show in ages...

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by lightheir » Wed Feb 19, 2014 2:27 pm

As a related aside, while the majority of the US gets more and more obese and more out of shape compared to their parents generation and before, the level of performance in competitive sport is in general substantially higher than it was 'back in the day' thanks to structured training, science, more resources, higher profile media, etc. This is true even at the youth levels in most sports.

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by bertilak » Wed Feb 19, 2014 2:33 pm

... what did people do to work out in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s
Hey, it wasn't the stone age back then!

But, admittedly, the further back I think the less need there was to "work out." Life was pretty strenuous on its own.

As a kid we spent most of our time on our bikes or our feet, either simply walking around (which consisted mostly of running around), playing baseball, swimming, skating, maintaining our skating pond, etc..

A bit later I spent three summers working on a farm. Six days a week, 10 hours a day. No time or energy left for "working out."

For many years I would run about 20 miles a week and participate in some races.

The idea of some kind of formal "working out" never occurred to me, except perhaps the running. I did join a gym a few years back but it was too much like a commitment. I'd feel guilty if I didn't use what I had paid for so I just kept up the running.
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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by lws6772 » Wed Feb 19, 2014 2:36 pm

fulltilt wrote:There is certainly no shortage of options for working out now days. There are 24 hour gyms, running clubs, yoga, pilates, etc. These all seem to be really new creations.

What i want to know is what did people do to work out in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, ... before all of this options became available. I realize that many people had jobs that were more physical in the past, but bankers, doctors and lawyers back in the day had to do something to stay fit.

I am looking for more ways to get fit than the regular running on the hamster wheel. I am looking for more variety and potentially to save some bucks.

Ideas?
How about what I call "functional exercise"? I use my bicycle as much as possible. This morning I went and got the Times, an 8 mile round bicycle trip. Also do lots yard work and house work. And my hobby involves lots of walking and paddling. I love functional exercises because you can kill several birds with one stone.

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Re: How did people work out in the past?

Post by fulltilt » Wed Feb 19, 2014 2:45 pm

G-Money wrote:
fulltilt wrote:I don't know the answer so that is why i am asking the question, but it seems like people today sign up for gym memberships to force themselves to workout doing things they hate for the sake of "exercise".
Some people actually like working out in a gym.
fulltilt wrote:They did these things because they enjoyed them and the exercise benefits came for free.
I think the point many other posters have raised is that it didn't much matter if people enjoyed doing these things. They had no real alternative.
True, but i think *most* people don't enjoy it now.... I can't force myself to do it. I don't like it at all. Doing an activity like handball or judo is pretty much the only way i can get any exercise....

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