The word "gymnastics" derives from the common Greek adjective γυμνός (gymnos), which means to "train naked", "train in gymnastic exercise", generally "to train, to exercise". Gymnastics developed in ancient Greece and was used as a method to prepare men for warfare. 

Pehr Ling is considered to be the father of Swedish gymnastics. He outlined a system of gymnastics, exercises, and manoeuvres divided into four branches: pedagogical, medical, military, and aesthetic, which carried out his theories and demonstrated the scientific rigour to be integrated or approved by established medical practitioners. Ling was the gymnastics instructor in the Military Academy at Carlsberg. 

In 1881, the International Gymnastics Federation was established. Five years later, gymnastics was also included in the sports program of the first 1896 Olympic Games in Athens.