What is Physical Culture?

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  • Written By: D. Blake
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 01 January 2020
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People who are interested in nutrition, exercising, and fitness training as a way of life are members of what is generally known as physical culture. Their goal typically is to maximize their physical capacity for health or aesthetic reasons. Physical culture has had a long and steady history, but has spiked in popularity since the early 20th century. Far from being a mere hobby or pastime, many who live in the physical culture are passionate about being physically fit.

Weightlifting and bodybuilding are two formalized incarnations of physical culture that have lasted since the turn of the 20th century. These are terms that refer to the process of resistance training — the process of using dumbbells, free weights, and weight machines to develop and tone the musculature. Although the methods have significantly increased in popularity, the Ancient Greeks first idealized this type of muscular body type and heroic athleticism.

It was not until the 1880s, however, that this way of life eventually became professionalized. Some of the first professional bodybuilders within physical culture were men like Eugen Sandow, Bernarr Macfadden, and Charles Atlas. They toured America and Europe and, due to their widespread popularity, their tours eventually gave rise to entire industries. This physical culture developed and sold periodicals, instruction manuals, exhibitions, and machinery. During the 20th century, weightlifting went from being regarded as a circus sideshow to a legitimate, and even important, approach to healthy and sound living that remains common practice.


The most recent and probably best-known example of physical culture is the culture that developed in the beach communities of Southern California. Beginning in the 1930s, bodybuilders would gather on or near the beach to lift weights. Crowds would gather to watch as these men, and sometimes women, would put on displays of strength and daring. Places like muscle beach spread, and more and more gyms were established as the number of professionals, amateurs, and health-minded people increased.

Physical culture has become popular in many parts of the world. There are international competitions and events, such as the World’s Strongest Man and the Olympic games, that are part of the history of this culture. The events are part of a culture that celebrates the development of the human physique.


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