P.F. Lesgaft's contribution to development of physical education system in Russia



Dr.Hab., Professor S.E. Bakulev
Dr.Hab., Professor V.A. Taymazov
Dr.Hab., Professor Y.F. Kuramshin
Lesgaft National State University of Physical Education, Sport and Health, St. Petersburg

Keywords: physical education, Peter Franzevich Lesgaft.

Introduction. The anniversary celebrated in 2016 – 120 years of the foundation of the first institution of higher physical education in Russia, which is named after Peter Frantstvitch Lesgaft – draws attention to the creative legacy of this outstanding scientist, teacher and public figure again. The sphere of his scientific interests was incredibly vast. He created more than 130 scientific works in different fields, such as anatomy, physiology, biology, hygiene, pedagogy, theory of physical education, history of pedagogy and physical education [1]. Many of them are still very relevant and useful. First of all, his greatest work “Physical education guide for school children” (1888 – 1901), in which he presented a historical research on the development of physical education, criticized various systems of physical education and outlined his own theory on the subject [2, 3].

The purpose of this paper is to analyze the main ideas of Peter Frantstvitch Lesgaft, characterizing his physical education system and to show its humanistic orientation.

When P.F. Lesgaft began his activity as a scientist and teacher physical education was on a very low level in Russia. His historical merit is that he was the first man to propose new ideas about physical education and also scientifically substantiated the system of physical education for school children.

K.H Grantynya [4] thinks that the main dignity and merit of the Lesfaft`s educational system lies in its design as an organic part of the harmonious all-round development and education of a human being. P.F. Lesgaft believed that the development should be harmonious: both physical and intellectual, also aesthetic and moral, otherwise there was no proof of successive human manifestations. The implementation of this idea was mainly laid by P.F. Lesgaft on school. He saw the main task of schools in the assistance to clarify the meaning of individual’s personality and in the restriction of the highhandedness of his actions. He understood the personality’s clarification as individual’s understanding of his place in life and his self-identification and restricting the highhandedness of individual’s actions as self-control, conscious and free management of his actions and deeds.

The center of the whole pedagogical system of P.F. Lesgaft, his starting position, were the ideas of close interrelation of intellectual and physical development of a person. At the same time, he emphasized that there could be various interrelations: positive and negative, direct and return, direct and mediated between the separate parts of intellectual, physical and moral education and development [5, 6].

So, considering intellectual education, mainly, from the point of view of development of abstract thinking and manifestation of individual creative abilities of the object of teaching, P.F. Lesgaft considered that intellectual education formed the basis for both developing will and forming moral nature.

The special attention is deserved by the connection established by P.F. Lesgaft between intellectual and physical activities. He saw that connection not only in the fact that alternation of intellectual and physical efforts positively influenced health, resulting in increased intensity of mental activity. According to P.F. Lesgaft, physical activities directly influenced the quality of intellectual ones and, on the contrary, the intellectual activities delivered in a certain communication with the physical activities affected the quality and productivity of the latter. He emphasized that from the point of view of normal manifestations of а person, the intellectual and physical activities should be in full compliance among themselves because as unilateral physical development led only to manifestation of the activities which were insufficiently intellectually checked and directed and unilateral intellectual development is without fail connected with a lack of objective check and therefore mental work remained nоt obscure in all particulars.

Now, when the idea of all-round and harmonious development of personality which was integrated as the purpose of the Soviet physical education system, "imperceptibly" "left" the theory and practice of physical education, P.F. Lesgaft's statements have gained relevance.

According to Lesgaft, the purpose of physical education consisted in teaching a person to isolate separate movements and to compare them, to manage them consciously and to adapt for obstacles, overcoming them with perhaps more dexterously and insistently; in other words: to learn to work consciously more intensively with the least effort in a shorter period of time or to act gracefully and energetically. That did not mean the education came down only to forming an ability to control movements and actions, i.e. had its own pedagogical focus. In his system, P.F. Lesgaft set the aims of health improvement and physical development (health strengthening and promotion, ensuring due body shaping, making young people stronger, body functional development) in unity with the educational objectives, including ethical, moral and even aesthetic education of the individual.

As P.F. Lesgaft thought, these educational tasks could be solved in the classroom with the help of physical (muscle) exercises. The frequent repetition of any act in the human body produced for the sake of its assimilation was called exercise by the scientist. The meaning of muscle exercises for P.F. Lesgaft was as follows: with the help of them one can master individual movements and compare them with each other; the entire musculoskeletal system works more intensively; one learns how to work longer and with higher speed, and displaying ever-increasing energy; exercising firmly, one learns to strengthen the body parts being below the moving ones. In this list we can see really all the achievements that we have the right to demand from any sensible exercise system: improving the performance of natural movements, the strength and agility increase due to the improved movements coordination; finally, the conscious attitude to the movements of the body's center of gravity comes to the very skills that are achieved irresponsibly in different systems of gymnastics and sport. This consciousness in progress is the cornerstone of the system, and there is a sharp distinction between Lesgaft’s system and other systems related to the consciousness. That effect was the meaning of the term "physical education", by which the former more common term "physical nurture" was replaced by Lesgaft.

P.F. Lesgaft subdivided all the exercises in his system into five groups: simple exercises, challenging exercises or exercises with increasing strain, the study of spatial relationships and the distribution of working time, the use of regular exercise in the form of complex actions (mostly games, walks, some sport events), elementary work (manual work).

For performing all the exercises consciously, P.F. Lesgaft recommended the following: all required actions should be verbally explained to the trainee, rather than demonstrated them in practice. Action demonstration is needed to clarify and correct what has been verbally explained. Thus, the demonstration serves for the trainee as one of the ways to check his knowledge, clarify what has been learnt before from the teacher’s explanations.

In our opinion, Lesgaft's thoughts on the role and place of the visual teaching method in physical education of children were rather peculiar. He opposed the use of the direct demonstration when introducing into motor actions to avoid imitation, mechanical memorization. He offered, in all cases without exception, to start teaching movement skills with verbal explanations and only then move on to demonstration. This statement is too categorical. Currently, there are different forms of combination of verbal explanation and using visual methods in the practice of physical education, sport, physical recreation and adaptive physical education, depending on current pedagogical problems, age, physical fitness and individual characteristics of people involved in sport, the complexity of the studied movements, the stage of learning and other factors. [5].

According to I.N. Resheten' (1987), Lesgaft referred the use of visual methods not so much to the stage of presentation as to the following learning stages. However, even now we still face the limited understanding of the use of visual methods when it is regarded as only the supporting function for presentation. The development of more complex forms of visualization used in disclosing the essence of complex physical actions (models, audiovisual and technical equipment, etc.) induces to rethink the Lesgaft's theses [7].

One of the most important ideas of the physical education system is the development of the following principles formulated by P.F. Lesgaft [8]:

1. The principle of course and sequence. It is very essential. Following this principle, a person is likely to achieve good results. For instance, Lesgaft considered that competitions among school-age children were unacceptable, because it violated this principle. Feeling great excitement and spending a lot of spiritual and physical strength during competitions a child became unsusceptible to easier exercises which were more useful for him.

2. The principle of forecasting the result of actions. Here Lesgaft came to the conclusion that it was bad to demonstrate physical exercises, considering that it caused a simple imitation without thinking. Exercise should be explained so that a child understood what he/she had to do and could imagine the result of his/her actions and only then perform.

3. The principle of matching physical exercises and anatomical and physiological structure of the body. According to Lesgaft, a person must stand up and work with his/her hands, but not hang on the bar upside down. That is to say he was opposed to the use of gymnastic equipment in the classroom at school.

P.F. Lesgaft believed only by adhering to these principles one could fully develop his/her spiritual and physical strength to be ready for creative work. He built his physical education system on basis of these principles and introduced the term.

P.F. Lesgaft divided the whole process of physical education at school into three age-related stages. The first was dedicated to junior pupils. Here the pupils had to learn simple exercises (walking, running, jumping, throwing, basic gymnastic exercises), to learn to compare, analyze, understand them and, as a result, to perform them properly. P.F. Lesgaft preferred that the exercises had to be explained, not just to be shown in order to be performed consciously: "Think first– then act".

The second stage was dedicated to secondary school children. Here same easy exercises were used, but with the “increasing strain”. Performing them the pupils learnt to overcome gradually increasing challenges: increasing walking and running distances, weight of the apparatuses used in exercises, wrestling was added, etc. The pupils had to strive to run faster, jump further and higher, thus gradually and consistently develop their physical abilities and motor skills.

The third stage was dedicated to senior pupils and aimed to teach them to rely on their skills and movements in time and space accurately, to predetermine the results in advance. This was achieved with the help of the tasks: to run the distance at a certain speed, to hit a ball into the target, to throw an object or to jump a specified distance. Doing these exercises, pupils developed kinesthesia, learnt to control their bodies.

Upon request of P.F. Lesgaft pupils were to exercise at school every day and preferably between other lessons and were considered same important.

Lesgaft obliged the teachers to take two examinations annually to determine the individual differences of the pupils: the pupils had their weight, height and force measured twice and were to fulfill the program requirements once. At the same time, he insisted on the teacher doing the measurements on his own. In addition, to provide the monitoring of the sequence of daily physical education activities, the teacher was to put down the done exercises, including the workout duration and difficulties the pupils had in the process.

P.F. Lesgaft required specially equipped places to be allocated for the lessons, considering the sports ground to be the best location for exercising. The indoor space was assumed to be suitable for the lessons only in winter, in rain and in other adverse conditions.

The P.F. Lesgaft physical education system was the only science-based, advanced system for that time. Despite the fact that it had flows its most important provisions are urgent up to now.

Conclusion. The vast scientific and pedagogical heritage of P.F. Lesgaft has been insufficiently studied yet. Many ideas have been forgotten, but some of them are being revealed again. Nevertheless, many of the provisions underlying the new concepts for reforming the physical education system were formulated in the works of P.F. Lesgaft long ago. Speaking about physical education, he kept in mind the personality formation process being carried out "via corporal aspect”, including the system of physical exercises, forming a harmonious personality, a person of integrity, able to think and act consciously, independently, creatively.

When developing the Federal standards, the "Physical education" curricula the following issue remains aside: the one who will implement their provisions in practice, the teacher, the educator, who is ready to implement the concepts they are based on in practice.

The problem of the teacher of physical education is the key, for the task to raise the physical education of the population to the new level cannot be implemented without proper specialist training. Pyotr Franzevich Lesgaft understood it perfectly creating the physical exercises and game instructor courses to which the genealogy of P.F. Lesgaft National State University dates back.

The given study has been carried out in the framework of the implementation of the work statement for the Federal State Budgetary Educational Institution of Higher Professional Education “Lesgaft National State University, St. Petersburg” to perform the research work entitled "Development of professional education system applicable to physical education and sports". (Order of the Ministry of the Russian Federation of April 7, 2015, No. 318).


  1. Pamyaty P.F. Lesgaft: sb. Statey (In memory of P.F. Lesgaft: collected articles) / ed. E.N. Medinsky. - Moscow: Fizkul'tura i sport, 1947. - 125 p.
  2. Lesgaft, P.F. Rukovodstvo po fizicheskomu vospitaniyu detey shkol’nogo vozrasta Ch. 1 (School physical education guide. P. I) / P.F. Lesgaft. – St. Petersburg, 1888 (: typ. N.A. Lebedeva). – 356 p.
  3. Lesgaft P.F. Rukovodstvo po fizicheskomu vospitaniyu detey shkol’nogo vozrasta Ch. 2 (School physical education guide. P. 2) / P.F. Lesgaft. – St. Petersburg, 1901 (: Typ. "T-va khudozh. pechati"). – VI, 407 p.
  4. Grantyn′ K.H. Systema fizicheskogo vospitaniya P.F. Lesgafta (P.F. Lesgaft’s physical education system) // Uch. zapiski / P.F. Lesgaft State Institute of Physical Education. -1944. -IS. 2.-Pp. 3-23.
  5. Lesgaft P.F. Glavnye Trudy: s kommentariyamy professopov V.A. Taymazova, Y.F. Kuramshina i A.T. Maryanovicha (Main works with comments of professors V.A. Taymazov, Y.F. Kuramshin, A.T. Maryanovich) / P.F. Lesgaft. – St. Petersburg: Pechatny dvor, 2006. – 719 p.: il. - ISBN 5-7062-0231-1.
  6. Taymazov V.A. Pyotr Frantsevich Lesgaft. Istoriya zhizny i deyatel'nosti (P.F. Lesgaft. Life history and activity) / V.A. Taymazov, Y.F. Kuramshin, А. Т. Maryanovich. – St. Petersburg: Pechatny dvor, 2006. – 479 p: ill. – ISBN 5-7062-0230-3.
  7. Resheten′ I.N. P.F. Lesgaft – osnovopolozhnik fizicheskogo vospitaniya v Rossii (P.F. Lesgaft – pioneer of physical education in Russia) // selected works / P.F. Lesgaft, compl.: Resheten′. - Moscow: Fizkul'tura i sport, 1987.
  8. Kharabuga G.D. Pervoprokhodets // Lesgaftovtsy: o sportivnoy, trudovoy i boevoy slave Leningradskogo instituta fizicheskoy kul'tury im. P.F. Lesgafta (Pioneer // Lesgaft followers: on sports, labour and military glory of Leningrad Lesgaft institute of physical education). - Leningrad: Lenizdat, 1986. -Pp. 31-40.


The article deals with the theoretical-methodological and natural science basis of the P.F. Lesgaft’s physical education system. The purpose of the study was to analyze P.F. Lesgaft’s main ideas characterizing his physical education system and point up its humanistic orientation. The results show that whilst developing his system P.F. Lesgaft was guided by the idea of psychophysical integrity of the person, about the correlation between mental, moral and physical development of the person and corresponding aspects of the education. Proceeding from that conception, P.F. Lesgaft put forward some fundamental tenets of his physical education system, consisting in the fact that when exercising the child must learn how to control his movements through analysis, comparison and evaluation of sensations associated with muscular activity. Special stress is laid on the interpretation of the meaning of “physical education” used by Lesgaft. It is not allowed to interpret physical education only in terms of the person’s gaining motor skills and related knowledge as some authors do. P.F. Lesgaft regarded it widely as a process of body and personality formation at the same time. Many of the tenets that underlie the new concepts of the physical education reforms have been formulated in P.F. Lesgaft’s works. The scientific and pedagogical heritage of P.F. Lesgaft is huge and has not been fully studied yet.