Evolution of Fitness: From the 1940s to the Present Day in 10 Trends

Wearable fitness bands had to come from somewhere.

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You can get a rundown of fitness evolution from any standard gym class you’ve taken. Some coaches have you hula hoop, jump rope, do P90X workouts, use weights, or track your steps. Basically, each of these things was hugely popular at one time in the last century, and many of them are used as important methods of exercise, except for a few, such as the vibrating waist belt, which was one of the biggest cop out exercise has ever produced.

Celebrities have endorsed these methods as well, influencing whether or not the trends would rise to popularity or fizzle out without much of an impact on the fitness world. Here’s a list of the most popular fitness trends from each decade.

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1. The Hula Hoop

Though the modern hula hoop was only created in 1958, using hoops for exercise or dance has been a popular form of entertainment throughout history. Native Americans would perform hoop dances as part of their religious rituals. Hula hoops, as we think of them today, were extremely famous in the 50s and 60s. In recent years, hula hoops have been used for weight-loss, and Kelly Osbourne claims to have lost 70lbs using hula-hooping as her preferred form of exercise.


2. Bodybuilding

Muscle Beach had long been the epicenter of testosterone-filled competitions between muscular lifters. In 1940, Vic Tanny pioneered the creation of his weightlifting gym, which was known nationwide. He only lived two blocks away from Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, and his gyms were credited with drawing, even more, attention to the beach.

Not far away, in Venice, California, Joe Gold opened “Gold’s Gym” in 1965. After the gym was featured in the 1977 film Pumping Iron, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the gym became internationally famous. Soon, several corporate gyms popped up, which boasted more than just weightlifting and appealed to both women and men.


3. Vibrating Belt

In the 50s and 60s, a strange contraption became all the rage. It used a vibrating strap you put around whatever area you think is problematic because of its flabbiness — and let the machine do all the work. Advertisements for the device claimed it would jiggle your fat to the point where it would be flushed away from your body’s system.

Unfortunately, the users of this miracle machine saw no improvement. The machine’s popularity ended after scientists came out saying this was not actually how fat loss works — at all.



4. Jazzercise

People have always tried to find fun methods to lose fat that they actually enjoy doing. In the early 70s, Jazzercise was born. The innovator of this trend was Judi Sheppard Missett, a dance instructor who wanted to combine ballet, jazz dance, aerobics, kick-boxing, pilates, and yoga. It became extremely popular among fitness enthusiasts and especially women. In case you were wondering where the gifs of the poodles in leotards and neon colored headbands came from, it was jazzercise.

There have been many offshoots of Jazzercise, such as the ever-popular Zumba. It was originally called Rumba and was created by Alberto Perez, who wanted to combine salsa and merengue into an exercise routine. Jazzercise-like workouts are extremely popular on morning-time infomercials as well.


5. Aerobics

Spandex leotards, neon tights, and frizzy hair made the aerobics videos of the 70s and 80s even more iconic than Richard Simmons. In the late 1960s, Kenneth Cooper published a book about aerobics exercises, and they soon became famous in several forms.

Though, in theory, Aerobics is indeed very similar to Jazzercise and has more varieties: swim aerobics, dance aerobics, step aerobics and sports aerobics. I know my gym’s water aerobics class is one of the most popular classes they offer. Jane Fonda was the queen of aerobics tapes, and she sold more than 17 million copies.

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6. Home Exercise Equipment

If you’ve ever tripped over your mom’s treadmill in the basement, you’ll understand the popular use of clunky workout machines at home. It became especially popular in the 80s and 90s when more women had joined the work force and spent their free time around the house.

Infomercials boasted easy ways to get a hot bod while in the comfort of your own home with a treadmill, a ThighMaster, stationary bike, or a pilates machine. Even Elle Woods in Legally Blonde brings her treadmill to Harvard so she can work out her brain and her bod.

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7. Tae Bo

Another exercise video series, Tae Bo is a mix of martial arts (Tae Kwon Do) and boxing, incepted by martial artist Billy Blanks. He opened his first Tae Bo studio in Los Angeles after he was a bodyguard for Catherine Beach during the 1988 film Driving Force, so you know he was a buff guy. He sure did his Tae Bo. His studio even attracted celebrities like Paula Abdul.



8. Spinning

Now that Soul Cycle has hit the market of fitness from California to the East Coast, stationary bikes are no longer seen as that one boring machine at the gym no one wants to use. This hasn’t been the first time stationary bike exercises were In Vogue.

In fact, when South African cyclist John Goldberg created a handmade stationary bike in 1989, he began teaching “spinning” classes to his friends and opened the first Spin Centre in Santa Monica in 1990. Spinning classes are now meditative experiences for many, who are willing to pay $60 for 50 classes.


9. Wearable Activity Trackers

The FitBit Flex was one of the most purchased Christmas Gifts for 2015. In 2014, Fitbit sold 5.28 million fitness trackers, more than Apple and 20 other app companies. Wearable fitness trackers got their start from the clunky clip-on pedometers of the 90s. Now they can track steps and heart rates, to tell you when you might be a little too stressed or if there are irregularities.


10. CrossFit

CrossFit is essentially the most bad ass sport of the 21st century. It combines gymnastics, strength training, weightlifting, high-intensity interval training, and calisthenics in an effort to prepare your body for any physical challenge. CrossFit was created in 2000 by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai in Santa Cruz, California.

There are more than 13,000 gyms in the US devoted specifically to CrossFit training. These gyms are extremely involved in your training. It’s not like you can just sit on the elliptical and watch Netflix for an hour. There are different segments you perform, and one is called the “Workout of the Day (WOD),” which is often a high-intensity workout.

Though CrossFit has achieved immense popularity, especially among younger generations, it has its critics, who believe it to be incredibly dangerous because of its intensity when not taught with proper form.


Though very popular in their time, these workouts have often become no more than fitness fads that have come and gone. It is easy to find yourself coaxed into believing that one fitness product or routine will solve all of your problem areas. That, however, is often never the case. We will always try to find ways to make fitness work in our lives, but will we ever learn to prioritize our health and bodies, and put that first, before anything else.

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