Around five years ago, I had an idea that I wanted to help nerds get in shape.
“I’m a nerd and I like fitness…I wonder if there are other people out there like me?”
I did a quick Google search, nothing popped up, so I quickly paid my $10 and purchased NerdFitness.com.
Looking back, I realize I’m pretty lucky this domain wasn’t taken. After all, nerds having an interest in being physically fit isn’t new – if you were to look back in history, it’s easy to find examples of some of the world’s best and brightest who also happened to be fitness fanatics.
Now, if scouring old history books for references of smart fitness figures sounds like a long afternoon, fear not! The Nerd Fitness team has already done that for you!
Today, I wanted to have a bit of fun. I think we’ve earned it, yea?
Here are eight famous nerds that could probably bench press you while destroying you at Jeopardy.
Nerd Cred: A man that needs no introduction or explanation of nerd credibility, but I’ll give it to you anyway. According to my source at Wikipedia, Mr. Franklin was an “author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.” In short, he was really really good at practically everything, and responsible for founding, forming, and beginning a tremendous number of things in early America: the first library in the country, the first fire station in Pennsylvania, and was elected the first president of the American Philosophical Society.
Fit Cred: Believe it or not, Benjamin Franklin was actually in incredible shape for most of his life; it was only later on that a disease forced him to become less active. He was such a great swimmer that he considered becoming a swimming instructor and was posthumously inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame! According to Sports Illustrated, ”Franklin advocated lifting weights, sleeping in cold rooms and drinking great quantities of water. These practices have been accepted today, but back when Franklin proposed them they were usually considered eccentric.” Further, Franklin once said, “The amount of exercise should be judged not by time or distance” but by “the degree of warmth it produces in the body.” We all know these truths today including understanding the concepts of heart rate and intensity – back then this was BIG news.
Fun (made up) fact: P. Diddy’s “All About the Benjamins” was actually a rip off of the first rap song ever recorded…hand-written lyrics for the song were discovered in the back of a Farmer’s Almanac, written by Mr. Franklin himself.
Leonard Da Vinci
Nerd Cred - Leonardo Da Vinci was THE Renaissance Man, and probably the most diversely talented nerd in human history – he is known for being a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. Along with painting the Mona Lisa, perhaps the world’s most famous painting, he was also an incredible engineer and inventor, drawing up plans for things like the hydraulic pump, steam cannon, airplane, helicopter, and structurally sound bridges. He was one of those guys that knew a lot about everything.
Fit Cred – Although details are light on Leonardo’s particular favorite exercises and activity, we do know that he was in incredible shape. According to Italian Biographer Giorgio Vasari, Leonardo was tall, athletic and good-looking. He was also known for possessing “great strength and dexterity.” A man who loved science, anatomy, and studying the human form as much as Leonardo certainly treated his body like a temple and did whatever was necessary to stay in peak physical condition.
Fun (made up) fact: Although he was famous for pretty much every skill under the sun, one skill that often escapes the record books was Leonardo’s love of racially insensitive stand-up comedy. He was a regular at Tuesday Night Open Mic Night at the Florence Laugh Factory.
Socrates and Plato
Nerd cred: Socrates is considered the father of Western philosophy. His student, Plato, was one of the world’s most famous philosophers and mathematicians. To this day, Plato’s Socratic Dialogues are still being used at Universities around the world to teach things like philosophy, ethic, logic, and mathematics.
Fit cred: Socrates strongly believed that every human being had a responsibility to live up to their physical potential. “No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training…what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” Meanwhile, Plato is quoted as having said: “In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.”
Fun (made up) fact: Plato and Socrates were on the same bar trivia team, “Algorithm & Blues.” They never lost.
Nerd Cred: Teddy Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States, was known for reading an entire book every day before breakfast, and sometimes two or three more books in the evening. By his own estimate, Teddy Roosevelt read tens of thousands of books. I guess that would make President Roosevelt the most famous book worm in history!
Fit Cred: Growing up, Teddy was sickly, asthmatic, and near-sighted. As explained in “Lessons in Manliness from Theodore Roosevelt, “his father was aware of Teddy’s conditions and refused to let his son feel sorry for himself. He pulled Teddy aside and told him, “Theodore you have the mind but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. I am giving you the tools, but it is up to you to make your body.” Teddy responded with “I will make my body!”
Teddy immediately went to work building himself into an absolute machine. He and his father built a gym in the house where he could box and lift weights. He found hiking particularly vitalizing and would climb mountains in all sorts of weather. While studying at Harvard he was incredibly active in both rowing and boxing. In fact, he finished runner-up in the Harvard Boxing Championships!
Fun (made up) fact: Next time you’re out, walk up to the bar and order a “Teddy Roosevelt.” You’ll receive a punch in the face and a copy of the Iliad, which you have to finish reading while chugging a boot full of beer. It’s good fun.
Nerd Cred: Hippocrates was an ancient Greek doctor and teacher, widely recognized as the “father” of modern medicine. His contributions to the fields of medical science were so crucial that even to this day he is recognized in hospitals and medical schools around the world. After completing their medical training, modern physicians recite an oath written by Hippocrates.
You know, the Hippocratic Oath. Yeah, that thing.
Fit cred: Hippocrates is widely regarded as the first man to consider treating the body as a whole; although his buddies often felt that diseases were caused by things like evil spirits and the wrath of angry gods, he had a hunch that they were caused by issues within the body. Had he been born in another century, he might have been burned at the stake for defying conventional wisdom and suggesting such “preposterous” claims. Had he been born in the late 20th century, he certainly would have been a Nerd Fitness rebel.
Like us, Hippocrates shunned conventional wisdom and knew that the path to optimum wellness came through exercise, a proper diet, fresh air, and hygiene. I knew I liked this guy for a reason!
Fun (made up) fact: Hippocrates was also an accomplished playwright; one of his earliest works revolved around his medical students who built relationships and friendships while learning about medicine. Although the play never saw the light of day, its script was acquired in an auction thousands of years later by Zach Braff, who pitched it as a show to NBC. That show was Scrubs.
Nerd Cred: Margaret Thatcher is known as the only woman to have ever been elected Prime Minister of Great Britain, a post she held longer than any other Prime Minister in the 20th century. However, did you also know she was quite the nerd?
Growing up in Lincolnshire, Margaret received numerous scholarships to attend schools; her extracurricular activities included poetry recital and the piano. She graduated from Oxford with a degree in Chemistry, specializing in X-ray crystallography. Upon graduation, she went to work as a research chemist before moving on to politics.
Fit Cred: Although specific information about Margaret Thatcher’s exercise information is tough to come by, she was quite fond of physical activity when she was younger: her favorite activities outside of school included field hockey, swimming, and going for walks. Before her first photo shoot as Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher switched to a paleo-like diet and shed almost 20 pounds in just a few weeks. Her diet consisted of steak, spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, and 28 eggs a week (along with the occasional glass of whiskey). She’s still alive and kicking at the age of 86.
Fun (made up) fact: Margaret Thatcher famously won the first (and only) “Chemistry, Whiskey-drinking, Arm-wrestling” contest, cementing her place in history as one of Britain’s most multi-talented Prime Ministers. She’ll join the ranks of other multi-talented Prime Ministers, such as Winston Churchill, who we all know is famous for being a talented orator and quite the beer pong dunker.
Nerd Cred: You’re probably wondering what Dolph Lundgren is doing on this list, one of the most jacked and badass dudes of all time…how does he qualify as a nerd? Ohhhh, let’s see: Dolph apparently has an IQ of 160, he graduated from the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, then got his Masters in chemical engineering from the University of Sydney. He even received a Fulbright scholarship to attend MIT. He’s also fluent in multiple languages. Yeah, he’s pretty damn smart. It’s only a matter of time until he figures out that darn pesky “time travel.”
Fit Cred: If you were to design the perfect human, it might be Dolph Lundgren (sorry Chuck). He played The Punisher, He-Man in Masters of the Universe, the Universal Soldier, and most famously Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Sure, his acting skills may not be Oscar-worthy, but his performances speak volumes about his level of commitment to his training and body development. He also holds a 3rd dan black belt in Kyokushin Karate and was European champion in 1980 and 1981. Basically, Dolph could tell you in multiple languages that he will destroy you…and then destroy you in multiple ways.
Fun (made up fact): Although he doesn’t like to admit it, Masters of the Universe is actually a biography of Dolph’s true life as He-Man; he comes from another dimension and decided to stay on Earth because of his love f0r bacon cheeseburgers.
Who are we missing?
And there you have it, proof that for as far back as the times of ancient Greece, nerds have been interested in getting in shape! Clearly I haven’t chronicled them all – Who am I missing? What were their nerdy and fit accomplishments?
[Author's note: I decided to respect the wishes of Abraham Lincoln's estate by not drawing attention to his vampire-hunting workout plan]
I wanted to add in more female famous fit nerds but the history books weren’t very kind to leading ladies and often left out all sorts of details…and by details, I mean EVERYTHING! If you happen to know of any famously fit female nerds from history, please share in the comments!
Who’s your favorite famous fit nerd?
PS – If you live in the Portland Area: We are doing a Nerd Fitness meetup on July 22nd! We’re actually hiring a parkour teacher to take us through parkour lessons for the afternoon. If you want to participate in the lesson, it’s $10 (to cover costs of the facility and instructor), or free if you just want to come hang out, watch me make a fool of myself, and meet other rebels in the area! Join us!