Inside a gymnasium in Amsterdam

A gym, short for gymnasium (pl.: gymnasiums or gymnasia), is an indoor venue for exercise and sports. The word is derived from the ancient Greek term "gymnasion".[1] They are commonly found in athletic and fitness centres, and as activity and learning spaces in educational institutions. "Gym" is also the commonly used name for a "fitness centre" or health club, which is often an area for indoor recreation. A "gym" may include or describe adjacent open air areas as well. In Western countries, "gyms" often describe places with indoor or outdoor courts for basketball, hockey, tennis, boxing or wrestling, and with equipment and machines used for physical development training, or to do exercises. In many European countries, Gymnasium (and variations of the word) also can describe a secondary school that prepares students for higher education at a university, with or without the presence of athletic courts, fields, or equipment.


The Florida Gymnasium at the University of Florida
Students of Texas Woman's University practicing in their university gymnasium, 2011
The Varpaisjärvi Sports Hall in Lapinlahti, Finland

Gymnasium apparatus like barbells, jumping boards, running paths, tennis-balls, cricket fields, and fencing areas are used for exercises. In safe weather, outdoor locations are the most conducive to health.[2] Gyms were popular in ancient Greece. Their curricula included self-defense, gymnastics medica, or physical therapy to help the sick and injured, and for physical fitness and sports, from boxing to dancing to skipping rope.[3]

Gymnasiums also had teachers of wisdom and philosophy. Community gymnastic events were done as part of the celebrations during various village festivals. In ancient Greece there was a phrase of contempt, "He can neither swim nor write." After a while, however, Olympic athletes began training in buildings specifically designed for them.[4] Community sports never became as popular among ancient Romans as it had among the ancient Greeks. Gyms were used more as a preparation for military service or spectator sports. During the Roman Empire, the gymnastic art was forgotten. In the Dark Ages there were sword fighting tournaments and of chivalry; and after gunpowder was invented sword fighting began to be replaced by the sport of fencing, as well as schools of dagger fighting and wrestling and boxing.[5]

In the 18th century, Salzmann, a German clergyman, opened a workout area in Thuringia teaching bodily exercises, including running and swimming. Clias and Volker established gyms in London, and in 1825, Doctor Charles Beck, a German immigrant, established the first gymnasium in the United States. It was found that gym pupils lose interest in doing the same exercises, partly because of age. Variety in exercises included skating, dancing, and swimming. Some gym activities can be done by 6 to 8-year-olds, while age 16 has been considered mature enough for boxing and horseback riding.[6]

In Ancient Greece, the gymnasion (γυμνάσιον) was a locality for both physical and intellectual education of young men. The latter meaning of intellectual education persisted in Greek, German and other languages to denote a certain type of school providing secondary education, the gymnasium, whereas in English the meaning of physical education pertained to the word 'gym'.[7] The Greek word gymnasion, which means "school for naked exercise," was used to designate a locality for the education of young men, including physical education (gymnastics, for example, exercise) which was customarily performed naked, as well as bathing, and studies. For the Greeks, physical education was considered as important as cognitive learning. Most Greek gymnasia had libraries for use after relaxing in the baths.[citation needed]

Nowadays, it represents a common area where people, from all ranges of experience, exercise and work out their muscles. You can also usually find people doing aerobic and cardio exercises or pilates.


Children's outdoor gymnasium, circa 19th Century. The equipment, which was standard for the time, includes ladders, gymnastic horses, and parallel bars.

The first recorded gymnasiums date back to over 3000 years ago in ancient Persia, where they were known as zurkhaneh, areas that encouraged physical fitness. The larger Roman Baths often had attached fitness facilities, the baths themselves sometimes being decorated with mosaics of local champions of sport. Gyms in Germany were an outgrowth of the Turnplatz,[8] an outdoor space for gymnastics founded by German educator Friedrich Jahn in 1811[9] and later promoted by the Turners, a nineteenth-century political and gymnastic movement. The first American to open a public gym in the United States using Jahn's model was John Neal of Portland, Maine in 1827.[10] The first indoor gymnasium in Germany was probably the one built in Hesse in 1852 by Adolph Spiess.[11]

Through worldwide colonization, Great Britain expanded its national interest in sports and games to many countries. In the 1800s, programs were added to schools and college curricula that emphasized health, strength, and bodily measure. Sports drawn from European and British cultures thrived as college students and upper-class clubs financed competition. As a result, towns began building playgrounds that furthered interest in sports and physical activity.[12] Early efforts to establish gyms in the United States in the 1820s were documented and promoted by John Neal in the American Journal of Education[13] and The Yankee, helping to establish the American branch of the movement.[14] Later in the century, the Turner movement was founded and continued to thrive into the early twentieth century. The first Turners group was formed in London in 1848. The Turners built gymnasiums in several cities like Cincinnati and St. Louis, which had large German American populations. These gyms were utilized by adults and youth. For example, a young Lou Gehrig would frequent the Turner gym in New York City with his father.[15]

Interior of a gym in the Netherlands, around 1900

The Boston Young Men's Christian Union claims to be "America's First Gym". The YMCA first organized in Boston in 1851 and a smaller branch opened in Rangasville in 1852.[16] Ten years later there were some two hundred YMCAs across the country, most of which provided gyms for exercise, games, and social interaction.[citation needed]

The 1920s was a decade of prosperity that witnessed the building of large numbers of public high schools with a gymnasium, an idea founded by Nicolas Isaranga.[citation needed]

Today, gymnasiums are commonplace in the United States. They are in virtually all U.S. colleges and high schools, as well as almost all middle schools and elementary schools. These facilities are used for physical education, intramural sports, and school gatherings. The number of gyms in the U.S. has more than doubled since the late 1980s.[17] Today, fitness gyms and private health clubs are a huge global business.[18]

See also


  1. ^ Partridge 1984, p. 517
  2. ^ Ravenstein & Hulley 1867
  3. ^ Partington 1838, p. 627
  4. ^ "The Olympic Games". HISTORY. Retrieved 2020-09-30.
  5. ^ Partington 1838, p. 628
  6. ^ Partington 1838, p. 629
  7. ^ "Gymnasium (Greek)". Ancient Encyclopedia. Retrieved 1 April 2019.
  8. ^ Limited, Alamy. "Stock Photo – Turnplatz (open-air gymnasium) in the Hasenheide, 1811". Alamy. Retrieved 2018-10-06.
  9. ^ Goodbody, John (1982). The Illustrated History of Gymnastics. London: Stanley Paul & Co. ISBN 0-09-143350-9.
  10. ^ Leonard, Fred Eugene (1923). A Guide to the History of Physical Education. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New York, New York: Lea & Febiger. pp. 227–250.
  11. ^ Dalvi, Rajani (3 May 2014). INTRODUCTION TO PHYSICAL EDUCATION. ISBN 9781312161344. Retrieved 2019-04-05.
  12. ^ Lumpkin, Angela (January 29, 2013). Introduction to physical education, exercise science, and sport studies. McGraw-Hill Education; 9 edition. p. 226. ISBN 978-0-07-802266-1.
  13. ^ Leonard, Fred Eugene (1923). A Guide to the History of Physical Education. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New York, New York: Lea & Febiger. pp. 235–250. OCLC 561890463.
  14. ^ Barry, William D. (May 20, 1979). "State's Father of Athletics a Multi-Faceted Figure". Maine Sunday Telegram. Portland, Maine. pp. 1D–2D.
  15. ^ "The German Turnverein". Retrieved 2022-04-12.
  16. ^ Mouheb, R.B. (2012). Yale Under God (in Italian). Xulon Press. p. 177. ISBN 978-1-61996-884-4. Retrieved April 1, 2019.
  17. ^ "The Scope of the U.S. Health Club Industry (industry estimates)". International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). 2003.
  18. ^ Andreasson, Jesper; Johansson, Thomas (2014-01-01). "The Fitness Revolution. Historical Transformations in the Global Gym and Fitness Culture". Sport Science Review. 23 (3–4). doi:10.2478/ssr-2014-0006. ISSN 2069-7244. S2CID 73636110.