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The gymnastics ( Greek : γυμναστική [τέχνη] gymnastiké [téchnē]  = "gymnastics"; γυμνάζω gymnázo  = " gymnastics ", "practice", "train"; γυμνάσιον gymnasium  = " high school ") is the art of physical exercises. The word gymnastics is derived from the ancient Greek adjective naked (γυμνός gymnós  = "naked"), since comparable physical exercises were performed naked in ancient Greece. Today's word gymnastics means:

  • the scientifically based and all-round trained system of maintaining, strengthening and exercising physical strength as well
  • also the exercise itself.

By gymnastics directed its purpose to the general and uniform formation of the body, it differs from athletics ( light- and heavy athletics ), who wants to train the body in specific disciplines to excellence, and the agonistic , preferably in their exercises keeps an eye on performance in competitions.


In non-European cultures there are some exercises that are comparable to European gymnastics. For example, the Inuit of Greenland and Canada practice special rope gymnastics in the form of competitions. The Chinese Tai Chi Chuan or Indian Yoga can also be practiced as a kind of gymnastics, regardless of the ideological and functional background. However, these physical exercises are originally integrated into sacred or practical contexts and not differentiated in a way comparable to Western sport , so that we speak of a culture of movement .


Relief of Greek pentathletes

The fame of having first practiced gymnastics as an art according to certain rules of building the whole body to the highest perfection belongs to the Greeks . The physical exercises of earlier peoples, especially the Persians , were only aimed at acquiring certain skills. The Greeks, however, who saw the ideal of man in Kalokagathy , the union of a noble soul with a beautiful body, regarded the formation of the body as no less important than that of the soul and, in Homer's time , considered it shameful, in gymnastics not to be experienced.

Later gymnastics was made a state institution and its operation was regulated by precise laws. For the free citizen , gymnastics was a necessary pre-school for military service, to which he was obliged. Slaves were prohibited from exercising. In Sparta the girls were also used for gymnastic exercises and accordingly also for competitions. But gymnastics was not only an important (in Sparta even the most important) part in the education of the youth; the free and financially independent men also practiced in gymnastics schools into old age and thereby maintained their physical strength.

The invigorating influence that the plastic art of the Greeks received from gymnastics should not be overlooked either . In the ring schools and grammar schools, the naked bodies were presented to the artists in various positions for study. This also contributed to the flourishing of Greek sculpture . The gymnastics of the Greeks, although very different, was related to today's gymnastics .

Heracles and Hermes were the patron gods of gymnastics .


Gymnastics as competitive gymnastics

The fixed location on which all exercises took place was the ground. In contrast to today's gymnastics, hardly any equipment was used. The simple and yet in their wise combination of all the limbs of the body equally developed exercises of the Greeks were

These five exercises were summarized under the name of the Pentathlon ; these took place for the boys in the palaestra , the dromos served as a path for running; Young boys and men attended the grammar school , which unites Palaestra and Dromos .

Preparations and further exercises

Gym equipment in a gym

We know nothing of public teachers of gymnastics in Greece; rather, the boys in the palaces practiced under the eyes and according to the instructions of the watching citizens; The state-employed high school arks, also called pedonists and cosmists, were in charge of supervision. Often, however, a private teacher (pedotribe) united the children of several parents and taught in a methodical sequence what had hitherto only been haphazardly practiced.

The gymnasts gave further training . The exercises were done naked. Before these, the body was rubbed with oil to make the limbs elastic and prevent them from sweating too much. Before wrestling, however, you dusted yourself with sand again to make it easier for your opponent to hold on. After the exercises, large pools and tubs provided an opportunity to cleanse the body. The harrow was used in warm and cold baths to rid the skin of oil, sand and sweat.

After the bath, the body was rubbed in by particularly knowledgeable men, the Aleipts , and the body, similar to what is still done in Turkish baths today, subjected to certain friction and stretching in order to strengthen the health. If the parts of the Pentathlon formed the main exercises in the Greek palaces and gymnasiums, they were not the only ones. While bathing, swimming was practiced diligently and brought to great perfection; in several states archery and slingshot were added; but above all, since the time of Homer, the ball game has delighted young and old in all kinds of ways.

The exercises in fistfighting (pygme) and in pankration did not belong both to gymnastics and to the field of athletics , although later, when the insight into the true nature of gymnastics increasingly disappeared, they found general acceptance in gymnasiums with the exception of Sparta. But the art of driving a car and racing, which is only accessible to rich youths and men, was counted as gymnastics. The Hippodromus was designed for these exercises . Already in Homer we read how the aged Nestor gives his son Antilochus advice on how to happily steer the two- wheeled chariot drawn by two horses around the target pillar of the racecourse; later they drove in four horses. Even if this exercise, along with the competition that only emerged in the post-Homer era, did not have a great influence on the development of strength, it nevertheless proved to be extraordinarily suitable for giving a secure look and presence of mind.


With the view that gymnastics had the training of the body for the sole purpose, the competition at the festivals of the gods was not in contradiction. The aim here was to show how far one had come in all the arts that were suitable for a free man. (For more information see Olympic Games , Pythian Games and Isthmic Games . Here only so much that as early as 720 BC at the Olympic Games the apron , with which the fighters were still dressed, was abolished, and that the gymnastic Exercises were not released individually for competition, but only in their association for the Pentathlon .)

The decline of noble gymnastics happened at the same time as the decline of the political greatness of Greece, that is to say since the end of the Peloponnesian War : with the joy of the political conditions, the interest in this outstanding political institution also decreased; raw athleticism gained more and more the upper hand in high schools as well as at festivals.


With the submission of Greece in 146 BC In BC gymnastics came to Rome  - often practiced by the young Romans - but was underestimated and downright disapproved by the men of the old days. For to the old Roman, who was less concerned with the development of physical beauty than with martial skills, and who did not seek to make the enemy give way by stormy attack, but tired of long marches and then used to strike in hard combat, it seemed rough field work along with riding and swimming is a better way to do this than the exercises of the palaestra. Rather, such things seemed to him to be effeminate. Gradually, however, gymnastics also found acceptance among the Romans, without, however, receiving the same importance for popular life as in Greece. The place of gymnastic competitions was represented by gladiator and circus games.

Germanic peoples

The old Germanic peoples practiced gymnastics in their own way. In Caesar and Tacitus we read about the extraordinary achievements of the Germanic youths in running and jumping; holding on to the manes or tails of the horses and swinging up and down according to the circumstances, they appeared and disappeared with the swiftness of mounted horses, and a Teutoboch swung itself over several horses. Tacitus mentions the weapon dance of naked youths between the sharp tips of swords and lances . As a literary testimony from a little later time, the competition of Gunthers and Brünnhilde in the seventh song of the Nibelungenlied is remarkable , which, in addition to the spear fight, also includes the throwing with a stone and the long jump.

middle Ages

A race between Siegfried and Hagen gave the opportunity to kill the first. A far more brilliant period of Germanic gymnastics began in the Christian-Germanic era, after new states and communities had arisen on the ruins of the Roman Empire . The German King Heinrich I was the founder of those knightly fighting games, the tournaments , which were both a product and an effective means of representing knightly manliness and efficiency in the Christian Middle Ages . At that time they claimed a similar social position and significance as the gymnastic games in Hellenic antiquity.


As the knighthood gradually fell into disrepair, less serious competitions, the so-called carousels, took their place. Although the preferred nobility and patriciate of the important imperial cities almost exclusively took part in the games, the lower classes , petty bourgeoisie and peasants did not lack the festivities associated with gymnastic performances (such as wrestling, running, throwing, climbing, etc.). But after the use of gunpowder had completely transformed the conduct of war, those knightly gymnastic exercises and games which had lost their importance as preparations for serious war and as imitations of it fell more and more out of use.

Modern figure gymnastics

Only a few remnants of the old knightly gymnastics were preserved in some circles and were partly modified by the influence of fashion, partly to preserve personal honor and efficiency, and trained appropriately, like the art of fencing . Other disciplines persisted because, apart from fighting, they served either other needs or pleasure; B. horseback riding (from whose preparatory exercises the vaulting , which is particularly practiced at universities and war schools , i.e. jumping on a simulated horse or on a table, developed), dancing , ice skating , swimming, rowing , walking on stilts , the ball game , etc. Other sports , such as bird and target shooting with rifle and crossbow , sack race, mast climbing, fistfighting on moving beams, running and races, throwing into the distance and at a target, etc., have followed up on folk festivals partly preserved to this day.

Further development

19th century

The revival of gymnastics in the 19th century is the story of gymnastics . It is distinguished by an all-round, systematic physical formation, which neither depends on chance opportunity nor is in the service of individual physical abilities.

20th century

Gymnastics in recruit training (1917)
Gymnastics on the beach in Berlin-Treptow (1948)
Dutch cinema news from 1962 on the centenary of the gymnastics teachers association

The fitness and gymnastics movement emerged in the second half of the 20th century.

One of the main initiators was Jane Fonda , who with her aerobics videos got many people excited about physical activity.

Essential types of gymnastics

These are supplemented by special exercise and training programs tailored to individual needs. In this context, the following gymnastic exercises should be mentioned:

  • Exercise for the abdomen, back, buttocks and legs as well
  • Gym in the office.

In this context, too, this development came to Europe from America. The term " personal trainer " is becoming more and more popular in Germany. This means a trainer who personally designs gymnastics and fitness programs for his clients, on the basis of which they can optimally achieve their training goals.

The teaching of gymnastics exercises has also changed. Whereas in the 19th century only personal lessons or books were used to convey knowledge, these are supplemented by videos, DVDs and the Internet. Some large health insurance companies and gymnastics information portals on the Internet have already provided a large selection of gymnastics exercises that anyone can easily download.

Exercises for senior gymnastics have been developed especially for older people .


From the numerous literature relating to gymnastics and related things, the following should be mentioned here:

  • Hieronymus Mercurialis Forlivensis: De Arte Gymnastica . 1569.
  • Krause: The gymnastics and agonistics of the Hellenes . 2 vols. Leipzig 1840–41.
  • Hunter: The gymnastics of the Hellenes . Eßling 1857. Stuttgart 1881 (new arrangement).
  • Bintz: The gymnastics of the Hellenes (with extensive evidence of the literature). Gutersloh 1877.
  • Nikolaus Lerche: gymnastics. In: Little Pauly . 1979, Vol. 2, Col. 887-892.
  • Petra Beck, Silvia Brieske-Maiberger: Gymnastics Basics: Technique - Training - Methodology , Aachen: Meyer and Meyer, 2005, ISBN 3-89899-030-3
  • Friedbert Gross: For musical-motor training in technical-compositional sports , German University for Physical Culture, Leipzig, 3rd edition 1990
  • Arnd Krüger : history of movement therapy. In: Preventive Medicine. Springer Loseblatt Collection, Heidelberg 1999, 07.06, pp. 1–22.
  • Christiana Rosenberg: Handbook for gymnastics and dance , Aachen: Meyer u. Meyer, 1988, ISBN 3-89124-056-2

See also

Web links

Commons : Gymnastics  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files