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The rise of gyms during Georgian England

Do you prefer an at-home workout or a gym?

Our Georgian era heroes had a number of ways to stay fit, as you might recall from one of my previous fitness fast facts. In addition to the London locations you might be familiar with that specialised in specific training, such as Gentleman Jackson’s for boxing or Angelo’s for fencing, our heroes also had gyms!

While the gym choices were not Gold’s Gym quality, you might be surprised at the resemblance to any CrossFit or Strongman gym. While there were fitness machines (yes, indeed!), most of the equipment was functional—and yes, there were dumbbells.

One such gym was run by Professor Voelker, who offered weekly personal training to subscribers of his gymnasium. He had several subscription options and discounts for those who enrolled for multiple months or even a year in advance. Both his lessons and his gym offered functional fitness and a healthy combination of calisthenics and weight training. A few bonus elements of the gym included opportunities for wrestling and fencing with the broad sword.

So popular was Voelker’s gym (with around 1300 members), he had to open a second location!

One of the most well-known makers of gym equipment was Abraham Buzaglo, a London merchant who chose to diversify his expertise by crafting exercise machines that used weight plates and pulleys (not much has changed, eh?).  

By the Regency, there were numerous gymnasiums, some quite large, and many as impressive as today’s gyms. Weight training classes were commonly part of the educational curriculum for young boys.

It’s a common misconception that the majority of gentlemen would be sedentary and adorned with padding because they did not perform physical labour. The Enlightenment Era promoted becoming an Enlightened man, which meant a resurgence of Roman strength training. A truly Enlightened gentleman was not only educated, rationale, and self-governing, he would also be physically fit and could readily climb a rope, lift weights, and match strength against any opponent.


If looking for some fun sources on the subject, and even a more detailed look at Voelker’s training regimen and gym equipment, check out these gems:

Karl Voelker’s Gymnasium, London, 1825

Nester Certified, "History of Personal Training" 2018

Sarah Murden “Eighteenth Century Exercise” All Things Georgian 2019

Francis Fuller’s Medicina Gymnastica: or, a Treatise Concerning the Power of Exercise. 5th edition, London, 1711.

John Pugh’s Treatise on the Science of Muscular Action, 1794.

Philip Jones’ “Essay on Crookedness,” 1788.

Dr. Alun Withey, “Gymnasticks and Dumbbells: Exercise in Early Modern Britain” 2016

Sharon Cotner “Exercise in the 18th century” Colonial Williamsburg 2021

Stephen Tharrett “History of Health Clubs: How Gyms Have Evolved Through the Ages” Les Mills



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