Le Grand Gymnase de Hippolyte Triat


“Monument,” is certainly the right word, though such a curious and utilitarian monument never saw its like in this world. It is a theater where each participant can be an actor. It is a unique pleasure palace, unique because elsewhere self-indulgence drains the energy, but here the pursuit of pleasure restores and fortifies. It is a shelter for the idler, an altar to hard work, the arena of robust youth, the well where downtrodden virility can drink in new strength. It is, in short, a gymnasium, but a gymnasium in the largest and most beautiful sense of that term.

It is a vast cathedral nave designed for us by Mr. Renard with all the taste and amplitude so characteristic of him. The “transept” is airy and spacious with three ranks of elegant observation balconies encircling the exercise floor. The ground floor is divided into two sections. The first has hardwood floors while the second is filled with a carpeting of sawdust a foot deep thus forming an immense and downy mattress.

What strikes one first of all is the profusion of ropes hanging in all directions. These ropes extend across the hall like a curious lace curtain and the spectator finds himself delighted and intrigued by this pulsing network. This maze of ropes is worth the fortune of a lifetime. The cordage hangs in the form of ladders and garlands as they stretch around the exercise floor and scallop across the gymnasium, ascending and descending in decorative festoons. You can see them from below as the rope bundles follow the bold curve of the vault and descend to the floor. These rough cords, however, dangle lazily at the slightest pressure, as when brushed by a mere child, thereby resembling birds lost in the void. Many other cables hang down for use by the acrobats, still others descend vertically for the “iron arm (gymnast extends his body horizontally while gripping the vertical rope) and horizontally as barriers. Some of the ropes have shining leather rings attached to them and are used for the hanging exercises that Mr. Triat has developed to the supreme degree of perfection.

Hippolyte Triat's Gym, Central France

Hippolyte Triat’s Gym, Central France

On the other side of this hempen tracery one sees from the entrance a masterpiece of carpentry in the form of a monumental wooden stairway. This is built to resemble a Gothic trefoil with all its usual decorative embellishments. If one were to place the steps of this stairway end to end, they would rise higher than the tallest spire atop the cathedral of Notre Dame. The portable parallel bars (invented by Mr. Triat) are at the foot of the stairway. By varying the position of these bars, one can perform over 150 different exercises.

Finally, in the middle of the floor stands a horse of immense proportions who daily witnesses the miracles of strength and agility which surround him. We will not speak of the poles, the horizontal iron bars, nor the instruments which one would recognise from less magnificent gymnasiums. Because they beggar our descriptive power, we will likewise pass in silence over the many different devices of the greatest ingenuity which Mr. Triat has invented for those who are too weak to follow his regular regimen.

Such is the nave, but only in its purely material aspect When eight o’clock sounds, however, and the innumerable gas jets flood the exercise floor with light, the portals of this temple of rejuvenation open to admit the throng of students. The observation galleries fill up and are quickly adorned with flowers, lace, and admiring female smiles. It is then that the great, immobile nave awakens with a start,

Suddenly, the silent palace takes voice, and the inanimate weights begin to move and breathe. The activity resembles at once a carnival and a battle as this bold and audacious army advances to capture health and strength! Adolescents, adults, and middle-aged men all wearing red tights and with bare chests tumble into the arena and commence their work on the ladders, the poles, and the ropes.

Onward! The pliant ash wood of the parallel bars glistens and bends, the polished poles squeak under the hands, the hanging rings swing back and forth while the skilled gymnast performs an aerial somersault. Athletes vault over the horse in a single bound while laughing wrestlers thrash about in the sawdust.

Onward! Onward! Here are happiness, life, and renewed youth! Here is healthful activity: stiffen your soft muscles, find your balance, touch your foot lightly on the springboards elastic surface, build up your chest, fill your lungs with air, strengthen yourself, work, live.

Behold the master, himself. Stop and look at him. Here is a man much like yourself, but why is his strength triple or quadruple that of yours? Why does his physique rival ancient statuary in muscularity and suppleness? Why does his heroic vigor shame our own decadence? Because he has learned from experience what he attempts to teach you. This peerless athlete, this modern day Hercules is the legitimate son of his own method. By working on himself, Mr. Triat has literally been able to strengthen his own muscles and harden his selfsame flesh.

But observe: where even the most agile hesitate, Triat advances. He launches himself in the air like a bounding tiger and seizes a rope and then rapidly mounts it up to the ceiling. Them he seems to swim in midair, but as if to equal these aerial antics, Triat alights onto one of the balcony railings and from there he vaults head first to the floor below. With a terrific clamor, his feet strike the par- quet, and he rebounds by jumping over the horse, his torso at full meter above the animal’s hindquarters.

But the sound of the whistle brings us back to our duties. The time for play is over, and the signal for the lessons to begin is given. While the busy students are choosing their exercise equipment, let us go down to the door and cast an eye on that well stocked arsenal of peaceful weapons. It is here that the visitor will find a veritable fortune in cast iron alone. Judge for yourself whether Mr. Triat should fear his competitors! There are dumbells, rowing weights in all shapes and sizes, and iron bars with globes of carefully graduated size attached to the ends.

The curious visitor might then catch sight with a mixture of admiration and terror of the mass of cast iron called Mr. Triat’s weight. It is thus named because Mr. Triat is the only person in the world who has ever lifted it to arm’s length overhead. Many who have seen the modern Hercules accomplish this prodigious feat cannot forget that their hearts pounded in their breasts as if they were witnessing the most moving scene of a heart-wrenching tragedy.

The normal lesson or the floor exercises are always led by Mr. Triat himself. The director’s purpose is to exercise one by one and in a logical and therapeutic order all the muscles of the human body. This lesson elicits much admiration from men of art. In addition to being of superior utility, these exercises are beautiful and seductive as a performance. Fifty students arrange themselves in two rows, and at the sound of the master’s voice, they bow to him. Triat, clad in an unusual though splendidly elegant costume, takes up his position in the middle of the arena. Indeed, he cuts a striking figure with his head carried high while in his right hand he waves a staff covered in silver filigree. His vibrant and sonorous voice fills the hall like a trumpet fanfare.


Each exercise leads to the next with fiery rapidity: large and small dumbells, the gladiator’s dance, running in long lines that double back on themselves like the coils of a serpent, the short bar, fighting with the bar, club swinging, and finally the heavy barbell. Every move- ment in this series is done with an energy which seems almost mag- ical. Many of the participants are overcome by fatigue, but they do not even have the time to wipe the sweat which drenches them. A magnetic current seems to run from the teacher to each student. The power of the master separates them and causes them to pour out the last drop of energy. Every student hears a mysterious voice within him that says, “Keep going! Keep going!” And, in fact, no one stops until the gymnasium assistants turn on the taps of cool water which soothe the eager, steaming bodies.

Without taking up a question that has been resolved a thousand times by experience, let us say that these ablutions with cool water after the workout are one of the most refined pleasures which it is possible to imagine. Not only is there no danger whatsoever to this behavior, there is, in fact, a decided advantage. After bathing, fatigue departs and one can continue with great heartiness.

Such is the establishment and such is Mr. Triat’s gymnastic system according to the testimony of a man who adds experto crede Roberto (“Believe Robert who has tried it.“) 





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