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A short history of home fitness, from 600 BC to today

Tom Jones works out at home in 1980
AP/Reed Saxon
Its not work out at home.
  • Corinne Purtill
By Corinne Purtill

Corinne Purtill is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist and a regular contributor to Time Magazine, the BBC, and the New York Times. She was formerly a senior reporter for Quartz.


Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, home fitness represented roughly a quarter of the $11.5 billion global fitness equipment market. As millions of people find themselves confined to their homes, they are embracing modes of exercise that have roots that stretch back much further than the exercise tape and home yoga mat.

“Exercise as a deliberate habit of relatively affluent people goes hand-in-hand with the rise of white collar labor and the sedentary work associated with that,” explains Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, an associate professor of history at The New School and author of a forthcoming book about American fitness culture. “As you have more men working at desk jobs and labor-saving devices in the home, you have more cultural pressure to be deliberate about exercise.”

The pandemic has made that even more the case, as large companies and small studios sprint to capture home exercisers. But home fitness didn’t start when we found ourselves desk-bound. Here’s a quick journey through some highlights in home-fitness history.

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