Ch. 4 – “Bodyweight Politics”

Chapter 4 takes a look at fitness from a political lens, as more than an individual pursuit, but a community builder. Fast-forwarding to a couple centuries ago, Kunitz details the birth of German gymnastics and the work of Johann Friedrich Guts Muths and Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, who propagated physical training and attached ideas of national strength to physical strength. In both Germany and Denmark during the 18th and 19th centuries, outdoor gymnasiums opened. In addition to balancing beams, vaulting blocks, ladders, and ropes, Jahn added parallel and horizontal bars to the repertoire of gymnastics equipment. He contributed more than just exercise technology, but cultivated an ethos of nationalism in his gym with explicit intentions of preparing the people to fight for their country. Similar gyms opened up in Italy, Russia, Finland, and France, and in America, this emigrated in the form of the Turner movement which was pivotal in driving the abolishment of slavery. Through these examples, Kunitz uncovers the patriotic history of fitness, first expressed by the belief in a connection between the health of citizens and the strength of a country.