When fitness first became fashionable you had to get your sweat-on while strapped to extremely strange contraptions. Workout, or torture?

Swedish physician Gustav Zander, born in Stockholm in 1835, was a diminutive child who grew up wishing he was bigger and stronger. While attending medical school in the 1860s, he began constructing machinery featuring elaborate pulley systems attached to springs and weights designed to strengthen the human body through resistance. In the process, Zander created the first primitive workout tools designed specifically to improve the human body, proving his theory that muscle mass could be achieved through muscles and joints having to work against the force of another object.

With that theory in tow, the state-funded Zander Therapeutic Institute was founded in Stockholm, which was used as an early physiotherapy hub for those suffering from physical impairments. With a gold medal win for his workout machines at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Zander Institutes began to open around the world. While the term ‘gym rat’ was still decades away from being coined, the idea of what would become gyms as we know them today was born.

Story by Jay Moon


Sources

Dr. Zander’s exercise machines

Dr. Gustav Zander’s Victorian-Era Exercise Machines Made the Bowflex Look Like Child’s Play

Going to the Gym Today? Thank This 19th-Century Orthopedist