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Fitness Trends Throughout History

By Jennifer Smith, Saddleback Church Communications Intern

From the beginning of time, physical activity has been a necessity of survival. But today, exercise must be planned into a "busy schedule" and there are a wide variety of options.

Here's a look at a brief history of fitness and some of today's most common trends.

Before the development of civilization, our nomadic ancestors achieved fitness through the necessity of manual labor. Over the years various ancient civilizations devised their own theories about what it means to be physically fit. The Chinese developed Cong Fu Gymnastics and India developed yoga, both expressing the importance of mental, emotional, and physical strength.

Physical endurance and mental strength became the focus of societies like Sparta and the Romans. The focus on fitness was a means for military strength, and activities like hunting, riding, and javelin throwing were used to meet the needs of soldiers. While Sparta has been known as one of the most physically fit societies in history, the Romans became overthrown by barbaric tribes due their lavish lifestyles and decreased interest in fitness.

In America, many prominent figures have promoted the value of being physically and mentally fit, including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt. Among Presidents, John F. Kennedy has been the most involved in promoting fitness in America, and encouraged the government to be involved and began youth fitness programs.

During World War II, America saw an increased interest in fitness because of the alarming number of men found to be unfit during the drafting process. During this time Dr. Thomas K. Cureton, developed the test for cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, and flexibility.

Many of the modern exercise routines and equipment were pioneered in the 1950s by by fitness grandfather Jack LaLanne. With daily televised exercise routines, he also developed the first cable-pulley machine, the Smith machine (a safety system for doing squats), the first leg extension machine, and the "jumping jack" movement. However in the 1960s, Dr. Ken H. Cooper is credited with the title "The Father of the Modern Fitness Movement" with his philosophy to maintain good health through proper diet, exercise, and emotional balance.

From the 1950s, most fitness programs emphasized "get fit quick" schemes which led people to do or try anything, including fat loss pills that have proved to be deadly for many people. Consider the vibrating belt, where you simply had to stand in one spot while a band violently vibrated your fat, but was never proved to be effective.

The 80s ushered in the aerobics era with people like Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons televised or videotaped aerobic routines. Fitness fashion started to become established as well, featuring spandex, legwarmers, and sweatbands.

Group aerobic classes gained increased popularity. Dancing has become a popular way to engage their core muscles in each movement, while having fun at the same time. There are hip-hop, funk, hustle, ballroom or disco dance classes today. Even traditional classes like kickboxing have turned their routines into dance like workouts; therefore Turbo Kick Boxing is a high intensity mix of Cardio and body resistance moves done usually to music.

However, people like bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger brought strength training into focus. Soon group classes were incorporating a mix of aerobic and strength training. We've seen an increased interest in Boot Camp classes which emulate military style workouts, which emphasis "old school" but effective moves to stay in shape.

Here are a few today's latest fitness trends:

  • Zumba, a Latin inspired dance fitness program
  • TRX, an intense workout program that targets all muscle groups and combine cardio training. TRX uses a suspension training system.
  • P90X (Power 90 Extreme) - Designed as a home workout with minimal equipment, focusing on the concept of muscle confusion.
  • Pilates - Trains core muscle groups, increases strength and flexibility using your own body weight, with the help of specialized equipment.

References:

"About Zumba® Fitness." Zumba® Fitness. N.p., 2011. Web. 22 June 2011.
http://www.zumba.com/en-US/about/

"Fitness History." ABCs of Fitness. Max Lifestyle Net, 2008. Web. 22 June 2011.
http://www.abc-of-fitness.com/fitness-focus/history-of-fitness.asp

"How does P90X Work?." Extreme Body Workout. N.p., 2011. Web. 22 June 2011.
http://www.extremebodyworkout.com/p90x-products/p90x.php

"TRX Suspension Training." TRX. N.p., 2011. Web. 22 June 2011.
http://www.trxtraining.com/learn/

Tuszynski, Tina. "Fitness Trends & Busts: A Look at the Past and Future of Fitness."
OrlandPark Patch. N.p., 17 Dec. 2010. Web. 22 June 2011.
http://orlandpark.patch.com/articles

Quinn, Elizabeth. "What Is a Fitness Boot Camp?." About.com. Ed. Medical Review
Board. N.p., 21 Dec. 2009. Web. 22 June 2011.
http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/sampleworkouts/a/FitnessBootcamp.htm