Physical training methods have certainly changed a lot over the centuries—and most of those changes have been absolutely wrong.
It’s well known to any serious physical culturist that the state of modern fitness training is dismal. Just look at the rates of obesity in the developed world, and then ask yourself if it counts as “development” to move towards a dysgenic state.
Philosophy aside, I will often say to the people I train that “worthwhile development in physical culture stopped around 1905” (the year that Thomas Inch invented the plate loading barbell), and I stand by that, with the exception of technical advice on the traditional lifts—and most of that in recent years has come from the states of the Former Soviet Union. I will admit that I have faced resistance from some over my “antiquated” views.
Speaking of the middle years of the Edwardian Era, I have recently come into the possession of a “Universal Fitness Test”, published in 1902, and written by Dudley Sargent, at the time the director of the Harvard University gymnasium. While the man can be criticized in some ways (namely, naming his son “Ledyard”), the question remains as to whether or not this 114 year old fitness exam has any merit.