Robert J Roberts

While Robert J. Roberts may not be a household name, he was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of his day. Roberts insisted that exercising at the YMCA should be safe, healthy, and fun. Photo courtesy of the Young Men’s Christian Association of Greater Boston (M13), University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections Department, Northeastern University.

Can you run 100 yards in 11 seconds and swim 160 feet underwater? Robert J. Roberts could. At 5 feet 5 inches and 145 pounds, Roberts looked small but dreamed big. He established the YMCA’s first physical education program in the late 1870s, coining the term “body building.” Roberts’ muscles were as developed as his vision for the YMCA: His chiseled back could be seen on advertisements for the YMCA’s gym.

« While Robert J. Roberts may not be a household name, he was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of his day. Roberts insisted that exercising at the YMCA should be safe, healthy, and fun. Photo courtesy of the Young Men’s Christian Association of Greater Boston (M13), University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections Department, Northeastern University