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Friedrich Jahn: Sometimes Known as the Father of Gymnastics

In 1811 in Germany a man named Friedrich Jahn opened his first gymnasium near Berlin in the forest with the squirrels and the bunny rabbits for neighbors. Jahnís gym had balance beams, vaults and lots of dangling bars and good things to climb. Anyone could go to Jahnís gym to play as long as they followed the rules. Many more outdoor gyms opened over the next seven years.

Jahn and his friend Eiselen published a book called German Artistic Gymnastics which became a basic source of information about gymnastics.

Did you know that Jahn invented the horizontal and parallel bars? And the bars became super popular during Jahnís time. As we all know here at Gymnastika these bars are still used today 197 years later!!!

The bad news is that at the time the people in charge of Germany did not like or agree with Jahnís ideas about who should be in charge of Germany. So the people in charge threw poor Jahn in jail and banned gymnastics!!!

The students of Jahn began practicing in their own backyards and mostly practiced on the bars and the vault or the horse as they used to call it. Eventually, Jahn was let out of jail and people could freely participate in gymnastics again.

Did you know that gymnastics was an outdoor sport for more than 100 years?

The last outdoor gymnastics competition took place at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

The first German gymnastics gym opened in 1848 in America and by 1860 there were 70 gyms with over 7,000 athletes in the United States. In 1926, Jahnís gymnastics came to Harvard University. Eventually Jahnís book was translated into English, so more people could understand it.

For more on Jahn including pictures check out:


Kaimakamis, A., Kirialanis, P., Albanidis, E. (2008). Gymnastics and the ideological movement of Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, Studies in Physical Culture and Tourism, 15(1), 43-47.