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. 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 brought to the United States through Jahn's former students Karl Beck and Karl Follen. In 1928, they published his training guide in Northampton under the title "Treatise on Gymnastics taken chiefly from the German of F. L. Jahn". The training guide offered new instructions on physical training. Also, Jahn's friend Franz Lieber promoted the turner movement on American soil. German immigrants throughout the 19th century established Turner Association across the United States. In the first two decades after the failed German Revolution of 1948/49 and the arrival of the Fortyeighters, more than 40 associations were founded in Cincinnati, Boston, Philadelphia, Louisville, St. Louis and New York. They also included training in fencing and swimming. Cultural aspects and education were foregrounded. These associations were also the first contact points for German immigrants in the United States.