Friedrich Julius Jahn was the founding father of a concept of physical training named "Turnen." His goal was to educate the youth to become aware of a healthy concept of being German when Napoleon occupied large parts of the territory that would become Germany. Jahn's first athletic field opened in Berlin in 1811, and his movement spread across all cardinal points within the German-speaking territory. The athletes wore grey linen dresses and were trained in climbing, broad jumps, physical training, and target practice. The athletic fields should form defensible citizens without thrill instructions. His attitude against foreigners, especially against French people, is seen by many historians within Napoleon's occupation. His good intentions to prepare Germans to stand up against the French outweighs controversial aspects about his person. His concept emphasized the importance of physical fitness, which he believed was essential for the development of a healthy and strong nation. The Turner Movement aimed to create a community of physically fit and morally upright citizens who would be ready to defend their homeland against foreign aggression. Jahn's emphasis on physical fitness and national identity made him a controversial figure in German history. Furthermore, Jahn's concept of Turnen influenced the development of gymnastics as a sport. Gymnastics became an Olympic event in 1896 and remains a popular sport today. In addition, Jahn's philosophy of physical fitness and self-improvement continues to influence fitness and bodybuilding culture worldwide.


Jahn's Turner Movement plays together with another movement that arose during that time, namely the singers' movement, a significant role in the unifying process of Germany. Also, his Turner Movement can be seen as the forerunner of modern bodybuilding.



The turner movement was introduced to the United States by Jahn's former students Karl Beck and Karl Follen. In 1828, they published Jahn's training guide in Northampton, titled "Treatise on Gymnastics taken chiefly from the German of F.L. Jahn." The guide included new instructions on physical training that helped promote the movement. Jahn's friend Franz Lieber also played a role in spreading the turner movement in the United States.

Throughout the 19th century, German immigrants established Turner Associations across the United States. In the first two decades after the failed German Revolution of 1848/49 and the arrival of the Forty-eighters, more than 40 associations were founded in cities such as Cincinnati, Boston, Philadelphia, Louisville, St. Louis, and New York. The associations provided training not only in gymnastics but also in fencing and swimming. Emphasis was placed on cultural aspects and education.


These Turner Associations were also the first contact points for German immigrants arriving in the United States. They served as a way for German immigrants to maintain their language and culture while adapting to American society. Many Turner Associations also supported the abolitionist movement and were involved in social and political issues of the time.