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What Was Old Is New Again: How the Fitness Clubs of the 1800's Are Making A Comeback - Function Health Club

What Was Old Is New Again: How the Fitness Clubs of the 1800’s Are Making A Comeback

We are currently witnessing a resurgence in the classic gyms from the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Believe it or not there was a time before the era of fancy, shiny and complex machines that has come to be synonymous with gyms of the late 20th century and early 21st century. Back before the days of the machines people used to use simple but effective equipment such as barbells and Kettlebells and they performed body weight exercises on equipment such as gymnastics rings and climbing ropes.

Slowly but surely these classic pieces of equipment are making their way home back to the modern gym and with that a return of the classic exercises and styles of training. More and more you can see facilities installing equipment such as pull up bars, gymnastics rings, climbing ropes, rope ladders, cargo nets, peg boards, stall bars, Indian clubs, Kettlebells, Olympic bars and bumper plates, crash mats…and more! Classic styles of training are making a comeback like strongman training, gymnastics, calisthenics and Olympic weightlifting.

I for one am glad to see this return to our fitness roots. This equipment and the exercises affiliated with them have so many benefits for our bodies. I would assume the reason they all but disappeared from the gym for a while is because they’re really damn hard to do! The body weight exercises take a tremendous amount of relative strength (strength in relation to your body weight) as well as coordination. Equipment such as Kettlebells and Indian clubs require a huge amount of skill which can take weeks and even months to learn and then years to fine tune. Let’s face it, it’s a whole lot easier to sit on a machine that locks you in and guides all the movement for you and doesn’t require you to lift your own body weight.

But therein lies the rub. By removing the “tough” stuff and replacing it with sophisticated technological machines we have actually done ourselves a disservice. We have capped our fitness potential and removed the opportunity to learn fun, new skills that eventually seem more like play than exercise. Someone who can perform advanced calisthenics and hand balancing looks around at their environment, especially the human made one (known as the “built environment”), very differently than the average person. They ask themselves, “How can I use this space in new and novel ways within the skill-set that I have so I can play and have a good time?” For example, much of what has come to be known as Parkour came out of the ghettos of France as a way for the youth to be able to have fun playing in their mostly concrete environment because there was a lack of local parks and nature settings for them to use. And although modern day Parkour started quite recently, it does have evidence of roots going back much earlier.

Now I’m not here to knock the lowly machines that still dominate much of today’s fitness clubs, they do have their place. Many beginners feel more comfortable on machines to start. Think of machines as the gateway to other, more sophisticated forms of training. Machines can also help people focus on weak or underdeveloped portions of their musculature so their physiques are more balanced. And those recovering from injuries may find some benefits from machine training as well. In our facility we have tried to bridge the gap between the old and the new. You’ll find a full compliment of machines for each major muscle group but you’ll also find gymnastics rings, pull up bars, Kettlebells, Olympic bars and bumper plates as well as lots of open floor space and a heavy-duty gymnastics mat for floor exercises.

We want to encourage people from all walks of fitness to come together and share their experience with each other. We want people who normally only use one style of training to be exposed to different styles. Already I have seen members of our gym trying new things after seeing it performed by someone else. Myself, my business partner and our training team try to lead by example by expanding our own repertoire of exercises and movements. Working out is not just about sweating and breathing heavy, it’s about learning new things and constantly updating your skills. So get out there and try something new, you’ll find new inspiration as you begin to master the new, which is actually the old!


Besides being a regular contributor to the Function Health Club blog, Jeff Doyle is also the co-owner of Function Health Club as well as a Personal Trainer, BCRPA Trainer of Fitness Leaders, Agatsu Kettlebell Instructor and Older Adult Wellness Practitioner. He also has a Bachelor of Human Kinetics. You can contact Jeff directly at