Do you believe in fate? How about serendipity? Or providence? I’m agnostic about the idea of an interventionist deity of any kind but I’ve always believed that it pays to pay attention to synchronicities and coincidences.

When I was looking for inspiration to create a venue that for The Wilding Project I searched the planet for ideas.

I also searched history.

Before the ‘assembly line’ version of a gym that we’re all familiar with today, the ‘gymnasiums’ of old were impressive structures. Just take a look at this selection of sketches and photos of gymnasiums in eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

In my view, the gymnasiums of yesteryear are extraordinarily beautiful. Made almost exclusively from wood with high ceilings. Many venues were outdoors. Often near ponds and lakes for swimming. Landing mats (the ‘Crash Mat’ of their time) were made from canvas and horse hair. If I close my eyes, I can imagine the smell of the wood, the canvas and sweat.

Quite apart from being beautiful places to visit, the mode of training was ‘whole body’.

A typical training session would include stretching and mobility activities, skipping, swinging on parallel bars, vaulting over gymnastic horses, rolling, shuttle running with a medicine ball, hitting a heavy bag, shadow sparring and balancing. Hanging opportunities were abundant. All gyms had rings, bars, ropes climb either horizontally or vertically.

But there one very important critical element that is present in all of the gymnasiums of old that is absent from the modern gym: space.

Room to move!

In an old gym there was loads of space. From a practical perspective, the layout and structure of the old gymnasium meant that the movement of people within that space was a little chaotic but open to spontaneity and ‘flow’.

This opportunity for spontaneous movement is great for fitness so where did it go? And why?

Fast forward to the 1970’s and a man-mountain named Arnold Schwarzenegger does to bodybuilding what Ninja Warrior has done for obstacle course training.

In a blink, Arnie’s body was the most desired and sought after physique for men and body building, ‘a form of male modelling that has nothing to do with agility, endurance, range of motion, or functional skill, became the new gold standard for gym training.’

At a time when the hype surrounding bodybuilding was at it’s peak, a chain-smoking high school dropout dropped a piece if exercise equipment into the fitness world that would, over time, radically alter the look and feel of the gymnasium. His name was Arthur Jones and his machine was the Nautilus.


The Nautilus was a weight machine that had universal appeal to millions of men eager to emulate ‘Arnie’. Here was machine that could make you feel like a pro.

But the real hook was not for the user of the Nautilus, it was for the gym owner. In instant the ‘chaos’ of wide open training spaces and spontaneous movement was resolved by a row of machines that had us all lining up in front of a mirror.

And that is where we find ourselves today.

‘From a fitness standpoint, [the Nautilus] was a step backwards. But economically, it was genius. [Gymnasiums and whole body movement training] takes up lots of room, but bodybuilding is about staying in one spot. It requires remarkably little floor space’.

The equation is simple and timeless. ⬆️ PEOPLE per square meter = ⬆️ 💲

Fast forward a few decades and training venues that once made some of the best conditioned functional athletes became a place for developing some of the worst.

The static nature of body building requires the isolation of a muscle and then blasting it until the muscle fails, tears, swells and grows.

You might look great but you won’t be moving like a supple leopard anytime soon. Bodies that once climbed ropes and understood how to swing on the rings now stand fixated in front of a mirror cranking out bicep curls.

But in my mind that is changing. It must.

So I’m hear in Austria in search of a modern-day example of the gyms of yesteryear. The Sport Halle. To me, this venue is a modern-day gymnasium that accurately represents the cutting edge in functional fitness and whole body movement.

And I’m here now!

In my search to find the best example of what the The Widing Project venue should look like I happened upon the Sports Halle. Go Google. And it just so happens that the MovNat Cert III will be using the Sport Halle for parts of the course!

I’m positively tingling!

The coincidence of the fact that MovNat course is going to be held in the venue I’ve been lusting after for years is, well, one of those serendipitous sychronicities that it pays to pay attention to.

Come on! Let’s check it out.

Damien Norris is the founder and senior whole-body movement and lifestyle coach at The Wilding Project (LINK), Perth Western Australia. Recently featured in TEDxPerth (LINK), Damien teaches children, young people, adults and seniors how to move and live a full life! Olympic Fun & Fitness and The Wilding Project like Rewilding is dedicated to a movement rich life. Programs like Gymnastics, GymFIT, FootyEDGE, Parkour, Workplace Athletes, ActiveAgers and more all follow a simple philosophy, “Learn to move well and then never stop.”
Damien Norris