- This is about the fitness movement; for the study of the physical aspects of cultures, see Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, and Social Anthropology.
The physical culture movement of the 19th century owed its origins to several cultural trends.
German immigrants after 1848 introduced a physical culture system based on gymnastics that became popular especially in colleges. Many local Turner clubs introduced physical education (PE) in the form of 'German gymnastics' into American colleges and public schools. The perception of Turnen as 'non-American' prevented the 'German system' from becoming the dominating form. They were especially important mainly in the cities with a large German-American population, but their influence slowly spread. 
By the late 19th century reformers worried that sedentary white collar workers were suffering from various "diseases of affluence" that were partially attributed to their increasingly sedentary lifestyles. In consequence, numerous exercise systems were developed, typically drawing from a range of traditional folk games, dances and sports, military training and medical calisthenics.
Industry began the production of various items of exercise-oriented Sports equipment. During the early and mid-19th century, these printed works and items of apparatus generally addressed exercise as a form of remedial physical therapy.
The Muscular Christianity movement of the late 19th century advocated a fusion of energetic Christian activism and rigorous physical culture training.
Contemporary interest in 19th century physical culture
Considerable academic research into 19th century physical culture has been undertaken since the 1980s and numerous articles, theses and books have been produced addressing the topic from various perspectives.
A number of contemporary strength and health training programs are based directly upon, or draw inspiration from various physical culture systems.
The historic Hegeler Carus Mansion in LaSalle, Illinois features a gymnasium that is believed to be a uniquely preserved example of a late-19th century physical culture training facility. As of 2008, a project is underway to restore the Hegeler Carus gymnasium as a museum of physical culture training and apparatus.
Modern collections of antique physical culture apparatus include those of the Joe and Betty Weider Museum of Physical Culture, part of the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports at the University of Texas at Austin and the Gymuseum collection at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio in Ravenswood, Chicago.
In Australia, there is a growing number of young girls, teenagers and women embracing the sport for the first time with many Physical Culture Clubs operating mainly on the East Coast. Participants wear leotards and tights for performances and competitions. It is extremely uncommon, although not unprecedented, for boys to participate up to the age of 12. There are a few different types of Physical Culture groups including BJP (Bjelke Peterson), EP (Edith Parsons), Western Zone and the newly formed APDA (Australian Physi Dance Association)established in 2012.
- McKenzie, Shelly. Getting Physical: The Rise of Fitness Culture in America (University Press of Kansas; 2013) 304 pages
- Martschukat, Jürgen. "'The Necessity for Better Bodies to Perpetuate Our Institutions, Insure a Higher Development of the Individual, and Advance the Conditions of the Race.' Physical Culture and the Formation of the Self in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century USA," Journal of Historical Sociology (2011) 24#4 pp 472-493.
- Weber, Eugen. "Gymnastics and sport in fin de siècle France", American Historical Review 76 (1971)
- Shelly McKenzie, Getting Physical: The Rise of Fitness Culture in America (University Press of Kansas; 2013)
- Gertrud Pfister, "The Role of German Turners in American Physical Education," International Journal of the History of Sport (2009) 26#13 pp 1893-1925.
- McKenzie, Getting Physical: The Rise of Fitness Culture in Americach 1