Decades of Exercise Trends

From ancient Roman Olympics to Schwarzenegger’s introduction to pumping iron, fitness trends have been constantly changing and evolving. While the main goal to get moving and be healthier may have always been a constant, the means to do so and the science backing exercise has changed while following those trends.

Going as far back as the Olympic games, Roman and Greek competitors were restricted to men and were considered the most elite athletes. Physique and brutal strength were the top priorities and the games were performed to test the strength and performance of those men. Gladiators and most Roman soldiers followed a strict 4-day regime to build muscle and maintain their strength as it was how they made a living.

Centuries passed and Western countries began to adopt fitness trends of their own. The 1940s and 50s were full of new machines and at-home equipment to promote a slender build, especially for women. The vibrating belt made an appearance during this time in hopes of being able to shake the excess fat off of the user. Dr. Gustav Zander was a common creator of these exercise contraptions and was known for the first “Ab Blaster” machine which involved hand-cranked rollers to circulate over the abdomen for the desired washboard 6-pack abs. While we may have had a comeback with the vibrating belt from Sharper Image, more science-backed equipment has come out and the emergence of the “fitness professional” started in the United States around the 70s and 80s.

Enter Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jane Fonda and the like as the era of pumping iron and aerobics swarms Western culture. Jazzercise and water aerobics also made an appearance during these decades and the general public began looking for fitness experts to lead the way. This trend can be seen even today as many gyms utilize personal trainers to guide members to their fitness goals. These fitness leaders instructed the public through exercise videos and the beginning of small-group exercise and at-home workouts started forming through these years. This trend would also boom in the 90s as legends like Billy Blanks and Richard Simmons made alternative exercise available to people at home.

Richard Simmons’ exercise methods later bloomed into other popular dance fitness classes such Zumba and fitness began to expand and take other forms such as crossfit in the early 2000s. During this time, many major athletes, especially baseball players, were being exposed for using performance enhancers like steroids. Lance Armstrong’s allegations for blood doping first appeared in 2006, however a federal investigation began in 2010. While performance enhancers are still used today, heavier regulations are now set in place for use and distribution. The early and mid 2010s also came with a surge of technological-based exercise– primarily through the Wii as they introduced the WiiFit and other movement-based games like Just Dance (a staple in family game night).

Over the last decade we have seen an emergence of social media fitness influencers as the latest exercise trend. Virtual personal training is available to people through certified individuals and education to become a fitness professional is more available through the use of online courses and certifications. The principles of fitness and wellness have also been adjusted as more focus lies on physique rather than strength. It’s common for men and women’s workouts to be separated; women’s workouts might focus more on legs, butt, and core. And men’s workouts are usually centered around the upper body including the chest, shoulders and arms as well as the core. What have we gained or lost in this transformation of fitness?

As technology advances and knowledge is gained, humans adjust to become the best and healthiest versions of themselves. Do we have a need for focusing on strictly brutal strength? Are we shorting ourselves for honing in on our physique? Is there a right answer for how to be fit? Only time will tell.

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Rachel Palepale

Author Bio

Rachel Palepale has been part of the First Capital Gym team since November 2021. She has been coaching since August 2021. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing.