It might seem like the things you see on the Internet are new. Most of the training and health practices you see have been around longer than you think. Or maybe that you need the newest, shiniest, cutting edge equipment or most complicated program. There were big, strong, in shape people hundreds of years ago. Ancient physicians knew exercise was important long before that.
Eugen Sandow was strong and shredded 100 years ago. Louis Cyr, around that same time, was 5ft 8in, over 300lbs and pulled 534lbs with one finger! Think ice baths or contrast baths are new? Hippocrates wrote about them around 400 BCE! None of these people had access to any of the horse shit you’ll find floating around today. In fact, the history of exercise, specifically for health, has been around for close to 3000 years. To be fair they did believe some wacky stuff about planets and gods then eventually humoral theory but we've got that (mostly) figured out now. Let’s go way back for a look at ancient exercise prescriptions.
Susruta, an Indian physician from around 600 BCE Was the first to be recorded advocating exercise for health and included exercise in his prescriptions to prevent and treat diseases. Susruta promoted exercise to minimize the consequences of obesity and diabetes. He was concerned that individuals who consumed too much food, slept too long, and remained sedentary while “pampering their belly” would become corpulent, a condition that he associated with a variety of diseases.
He said “Exercise should be moderate in nature or to an intensity that will cause labored breathing. However, before exercise was to be prescribed, the age,strength, physique, and diet of the individual was to be considered as well as the season of the year and the terrain of the area”. Susruta prescribed moderate exercise because it ”improved the growth of limbs; enhanced muscle stoutness, strength, endurance, tautness, and development; reduced corpulence; increased digestion; in-creased the resistance against fatigue; elevated temperatures and thirst while improving appearances and complexions.” He also advocated exercise because it “gives the desirable mental qualities of alertness, retentive memory, and keen intelligence” He felt regular moderate exercise provided resistance to disease and “against physical decay” and stated “Diseases ﬂy from the presence of a person,habituated to regular physical exercise . . .”
As early as 750 BCE, the practice of physical culture was regarded by the citizens of Greece as a national duty, with gyms being established for this purpose.
A former athlete, Pythagoras was the first individual from ancient Greece to advocate daily exercise for health reasons. He did not believe or teach that gods were responsible for disease; rather, “disease and bodily ailments occurred because of a lack of harmony between the elements, qualities, and tendencies of the body.” To restore harmony and to achieve a healthy state, a daily regimen was required, which included long walks, running, wrestling, discus throwing, and boxing
Hippocrates (460–370 BCE) wrote that “eating alone will not keep a man well, he must also take exercise” Hippocrates also stated that “. . . food and exercise, while possessing opposite qualities, yet work together to produce health”. Although Hippocrates was not the first physician to prescribe exercise for patients, he was the first recorded physician to provide a written exercise prescription for a patient. Furthermore, he believed idleness , excessive exercise, and overpowering food consumption could lead to disease. He also wrote on the benefits of hot and cold baths or contrast baths as we call them now.
The most important physician of the Roman Empire for global medicine was a former physician of gladiators and multiple emperors named Claudius Galenus or Galen (129–210 CE). He is recognized because his influence on the use of exercise in the practice of medicine in Arabic and European countries lasted until the end of the Middle Ages. To Galen, work and exercise were equivalent terms, whereas motion had to be vigorous and cause labored breathing if it was to be designated as exercise. He classified exercise as being slow, swift, vigorous, gentle, and violent; running was swift, lifting a heavy weight was vigorous, and continuous jumping was violent. Galen believed that training would cause “thinning” of the body, harden and strengthen muscles, increase flesh, and elevate blood volume while achieving “good condition” of the wrestler or heroes like “Hercules and Achilles”. Galen prescribed exercise for weakened patients or for those afflicted with disorders or diseases associated with arthritis, depression, dropsy, epilepsy, gout, tuberculosis, and vertigo. Galen stated “Everyone speaks in favor of the healthiest body, as also of the most ‘well-conditioned’”, and concludes that “the ‘well conditioned’ is the healthiest arrangement, and the goal of all men”
The idea that physical fitness was an important part of our wellbeing has been around, literally, for thousands of years. Some of the strongest people ever to walk the earth got that way long before gym culture became popular. Rogue equipment didn't exist. Preworkouts didn't exist. Yet they still found a way to get strong and in the case of the first bodybuilders, got pretty damn lean without intermittent keto penguin meat detox juice fasts. The ancients knew what was up. Exercise vigorously, but not too much. Eat well, but in moderation. Things have gotten more precise over the millennia but one thing hasn't changed. If you really want it, you can find a way.