The Progression of the Fitness Phenomenon

From the concept of maximal oxygen uptake to the boom of boutique gyms, the industry of exercise has come a long way.


It’s hard to imagine, but in less than 100 years, the fitness industry has grown from a mostly scholarly concept of aerobics, to the simple gyms of yesterday, and into the multitude of fitness programs currently available today.


The Early Age of Aerobics

The foundation for this booming industry was laid in part in 1922 when the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to British physiologist Archibald Hill.  Hill introduced the eye-opening concept of maximal oxygen uptake (also referred to as a person’s VO2 max) and oxygen debt along with German physician Otto Meyerhof who was known for his extensive work related to muscle energy metabolism.  In taking a closer look at the cardiorespiratory fitness of a person and how it factors into endurance and exercise performance, these researchers inspired others to explore this field of research.

Scientists continued to make strides in understanding of how the human body is affected by exercise, and for many years aerobics remained a mostly scholarly field.  Then in 1961, Bill Orban published “The Royal Canadian Air Force Exercise Plans” marking the beginning of a take-off of modern fitness culture.

On this side of the pond, US Air Force Colonels Dr. Kenneth Cooper and physical therapist Pauline Potts, were fervent advocates of aerobic exercise.  Dr. Cooper conducted research on preventative medicine and the first extensive research into aerobic exercise with over 5,000 USAF personnel being the study participants.  He was interested in the idea that exercise could help preserve health.

In 1968, Dr. Cooper published “Aerobics” sharing his ideas.  Two years later, he created the Cooper Institute, a non-profit research and education organization focusing on preventative medicine.  His research produced verifiable proof that aerobic exercise helps reduce the risk of disease.  As a result of his findings, classes began to form to help people achieve those health benefits.  Due to his extensive work, Dr. Cooper is regarded as the “father of aerobics.”


Let’s Get Physical

In the 1970’s, aerobics progressed into an exercise format in and of itself, making the word synonymous with popular workout classes of the era.  Jacki Sorensen, a dance teacher, is credited with developing the first aerobic workout routines.  She slowly morphed her classes into choreographed workouts done to popular music selections, which many people found more fun and appealing than simply running or biking.

Judi Sheppard Missett took these concepts and developed her Jazzercise program.  Like Sorenson, her roots were in dance, and she modified her class to shift focus from proper dance technique to various fitness-focused movements.  Jazzercise became wildly popular and helped create the commercial fitness market which has since grown exponentially.

As new technology gave people the option of working out at home with instructor-led videos and TV shows, fitness gurus such as Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons became household names, and aerobics started to become a global phenomenon.


Step It Up

While aerobic fitness classes and videos were gaining steam, Gin Miller realized that some people were being left out.  For those who avoided aerobics because of its high impact movements like jumping and bouncing, Miller designed step aerobics in 1989 as a low-impact alternative to accommodate people with injuries or people who were beginning at a lower level of fitness.

As the wide-reaching health benefits of regular exercise gained recognition, the fitness industry quickly became a booming business.  It grew more and more common to find a variety of group classes offered at health clubs, gyms and community centers.  Standalone exercise studios began to emerge and fitness franchises were born.  Stores carried aerobic workout videos for every demographic: pregnancy, post-partum, low-impact, high-impact, youth and children, with soundtracks spanning from popular and oldies hits to religious hymns.


The Transformation Continues

As with all things, the passage of time brought innovations to the world of aerobic fitness.  In the 1990’s, Billy Blanks introduced Tae Bo – a cardio-boxing workout that combined aerobics and martial arts movements.  More recently, programs such as P90X and Insanity offer more intense workouts at home.

Appealing to busy individuals looking for more bang for their exercise buck, spawned HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts.  These combine bodyweight movements, weightlifting and cardio exercises.  Today, while some gyms are still all-service style (weights, classes, training, cardio machines), new boutique gyms, specializing in specific aerobic workout classes have emerged.


There is an App for that

With mobile technology has come the addition of technology-based aerobic exercise apps, pod casts and web services enabling individuals to workout where they are, often with little or no equipment.  Some programs merge the social aspect of a live class with the convenience of a video, app or podcast.  Other programs help you find various gyms when you are traveling, making it easier for you to stay on track.  As technology continues to evolve, our understanding of the human body increases and no doubt, further changes will come to the fitness industry.

Whatever type of exercise you do, the primary component is to find something that works for your lifestyle.  Whether that is a live class, a video or an app, if it’s not convenient for you or you don’t enjoy it, then odds are you won’t continue.


Where will fitness take you?

With the variety of programs and gyms available, along with the technology options at your fingertips, there is sure to be something that will be a good fit for you.  Talk to your chiropractor about what types of exercise styles are most suited for your current health condition and goals.  Then, try various methods (live, video, pod casts, etc.) to see which fits your personality and lifestyle.

Once you find what works for you, stick with it.  You’ll feel a difference in your daily life and have an improved prognosis for the future.  If you don’t have a chiropractor, you can find one convenient to your home or work at



“Aerobic exercise.”  Wikipedia.

Halse, Henry. “The History of Aerobics.”