Throwback Thursday: Exercise in the 1800’s

Imagine going to the gym in your best tuxedo or ball gown. Sounds crazy and impossible, right? Well, back in the 1800’s, men and women would exercise in full attire, and looked as if they were hardly even sweating! 

Dr. Gustav Zander, a Swedish physician, grew up studying medical gymnastics, where force was applied by an assistant in order to build muscle tone. He had a dream of creating a standardized workout using therapeutic machines, and revolutionizing the field of physical therapy. 

He began putting his ideas into practice in Stockholm. The medical community responded with immense skepticism, as they usually do for most experimental concepts. As evidence mounted in favor of Zander’s machines, physicians worldwide began endorsing this therapeutic modality. By the end of his career, Zander had created a total of 70 therapy machines. 

In the 1970s, a man named Arthur Jones created a line of machines very similar to Zander’s work. The brand name Nautilus may sound familiar to you. Jones eventually learned about Dr. Gustav Zander, and acknowledged him as a pioneer and a genius who was nearly 100 years ahead of his time. Both of these men used mechanical systems as an extension of the lever system that is the human musculoskeletal system.



A woman using an arm-rubbing machine. Yes, arm-rubbing. Think of it as an early form of foam rolling!



This machine was used for balance and stabilization of the trunk, and also prescribed for chronic ailments of the alimentary (digestive) canal


An arm abduction machine, utilizing the muscles of the back and shoulder, to ‘promote the development of the thorax’. 


 Sideways trunk flexion. This was used in treating a lateral curvature of the spine.


A woman (in a dress) using an arm-rolling machine


A young boy uses his own weight to assist in sititng up straight. This machine was also used in the treatment of scoliosis.


And finally..check out this ancient rower with adjustable resistance!