Ancient forms of training: physical culture in Greece
Greece is where calisthenics started and the Olympic Games originated – what can we learn from sport in ancient Greece?
Greece is one of the oldest civilisations still around to this day. And whether your interest lies in sport, fitness, art, culture, religion, music or literature, Greece has plenty to teach you. Let’s take a look back at the earliest forms of physical culture in ancient Greece to see what we can use today.
The oldest forms of training from Greece
It’s hard to name an ancient culture with more links to sports than Greece. The modern-day Olympic Games can be traced back to athletic contests held at Olympia in the Peloponnesus in 776 B.C. Marathon running races are rooted in the legend of a Greek messenger who ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver important news of Greece’s victory over the Persian army in 490 B.C. The first official marathon race was held at the 1896 Olympic Games, in (where else) Athens.
Most famous Greek sports
And there’s much more to ancient Greek physical culture than the Olympics. Greek sporting culture traditionally focused on the individual, rather than team sports. That’s why early Greek athletics contests included running, long jump, throwing events, wrestling, and chariot races. One human pitted against the others.
Pankration was a type of combat sport from around 648 B.C. that apparently had very few rules. Athletes used a mix of wrestling, boxing, kicks, holds and chokes. It was reintroduced to the combat world in the 1960s and is considered a big influence on early MMA.
Ancient Greece and calisthenics
This wouldn’t be a Gravity Fitness article without mentioning that ancient Greece is the home of what we now call calisthenics. The Greek Spartans of 480 B.C. called it “kilos sthenos” which roughly translates as “beautiful strength”. You only have to look at Greek sculptures to see how the human body was worshipped as the pinnacle of self-discipline. Calisthenics was one of the sports that helped Greek athletes achieve that look.
Modern sports inspired by ancient Greece
Athletes in ancient Greece used to compete naked, covered in oil to keep off the dirt and dust. Please don’t do this, we won’t be held responsible for you getting barred from every gym in town.
Running sprints and endurance
Most of us include running in our training, whether it’s our main sport or used for conditioning. You can thank the ancient Greeks for the diversity of running training. They originated the idea of short sprint tests, middle distances races, and endurance runs.
Plyometrics and jumps
Ancient Greeks were the first athletes to record jumps as an athletic endeavour. So, whether you love or loathe a box jump, that’s where it all started. Ancient Greek athletes participated in broad jumps (a mark of being able to clear an obstacle in combat), long jump, and plyometric-style vertical jumps, often carrying stones in each hand.
It’s no surprise that people in ancient Greece loved bodyweight exercises. It’s a form of training that encapsulates everything they admired in physical training: it’s noble, self-motivated, and unites the body and mind. Today’s calisthenics workouts can be traced straight back to ancient Greece, where athletes use bodyweight and gravity to sculpt their bodies and build functional strength.