Welcome back to another installment of our deep-dive into the history of physical fitness! Last time we discussed yoga and its rising popularity in India as well as the Western World. Today we are going to look at the Near East from 4000-250 BC!
Unlike with the history of China and India, which brought us both Kung Fu and Yoga, respectively, we don’t have any huge fitness trends that emerged from this time period in the Near East that followed us throughout history and is with us today, but we can still learn from the history of fitness in this area of the world!
Although most of us might think of the movie “300” (and therefore the Spartans) when we think of this time period, they were not the only civilization that focused on the physical fitness of its citizens from a young age. They adopted similar practices as the Persian Empire- rigid training from a young age focused on military prowess- but despite their best efforts they were outnumbered and ultimately lost to the Persian Empire at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. Nonetheless, Sparta’s legend lives on, and is highly associated with the peak of human physical fitness. (While the movie is not a historical telling of this battle and the events surrounding it, it is pretty motivating to see Gerard Butler in HIS peak physical fitness).
At this time in this part of the world, physical fitness was encouraged by rulers, mostly for military gain. The Persian Empire is perhaps the best example of how fitness was used to gain political and military advantages in this time period. They placed high importance on physical fitness, and for good reason- it is how they maintained political power. Starting as young as the age of six, boys became property of the Empire and began training. This rigid training included hunting, marching for long distances, riding horses, javelin throwing, and sparing. This type of training, while it did create an Empire of physically fit citizens, was not done for the health benefits, but was instead done to create better soldiers with higher stamina on the battlefield.
During the height of the Persian Empire, the empire encompassed all of the Near East. Many attribute this to its emphasis on high physical fitness and policies surrounding levels of fitness within their society. It should be no surprise then, that when emphasis on fitness levels decreased, so did the influence of the Persian Empire. Although the fall of the Persian Empire is of course much more complicated than just a lack of focus on fitness, it does coincide with a time period in which that society could largely be characterized by an overall lack of fitness.
BUT before we end this segment, and while we are on the topic of Sparta and the movie “300”- it is well known that actors and actresses were at their physical peak during the filming of this movie. Did you know that one of our favorite exercises at FIT was used frequently in preparation (and during) filming? Workout like a Spartan, and do Press-to-Wipes today as a part of your total body workout! You don’t have to be Gerard Butler and do 100+ of them at a time, but adding them to your workout today will engage your abs as well as your hamstrings, quads, biceps, gluten, triceps, deltoids, rhomboids, trapezius, and lower back!