The History of Women in Fitness

March is recognized as Women’s History Month. As a female myself, with a quarter century of experience in the fitness industry, I wanted to learn more about the history of women in fitness. Let’s look at how fitness and gyms first came into existence and what types of exercises women were doing at the beginning. How has their involvement evolved over the decades, and which women led the charge? 

Gymnasiums date back to mid-1800s.

The word gym is short for gymnasium. Gymnasiums date back to Ancient Greece as a place to prepare/train for public competitions and translates to “naked.” By the mid-1800’s, the idea of a commercial gym appeared in Europe. In America, Kenneth Cooper with the U.S. Air Force began to market aerobics and exercise to the general population in the 1960’s. 

Women rise in the fitness industry.

Women were already exercising by the 1920’s but were encouraged to do so at home, as they shouldn’t sweat in public. By the 1940’s, women were exercising more in public facilities, all while wearing dresses and skirts. Yoga came on the scene in the 1950’s and women began to exercise in leotards and leg warmers. Running picked up in popularity in the 1970’s following the Olympics for both women and men. Aerobics and being fit/healthy become a main reason to exercise, rather than just to be skinny. 

 Aerobic exercise becomes more popular.

Aerobic exercise through fitness dancing led the path for rising female pioneers in the industry. Jacki Sorensen and Judi Missett were leaders in the 1970’s. Missett started Jazzercise in 1969 and studios are still found all around the country. Jane Fonda came into the picture in the 1980’s, as video exercise tapes increased in demand.  

So much progress.

Fast forward to 202, and we currently have many females dominating the fitness and wellness industry. Countless gyms, fitness center boutiques, training apps, tracking devices and A.I. fitness equipment are all available to us 24 hours a day. Female athletes, performers, musicians, and others lead healthy lifestyles as role models to women. Social media allows for exercise tips, guidance, and expertise to be at everyone’s fingertips.

Still more work to do!

Yet, we have an obesity epidemic in America. We wear athleisure clothing but don’t seem to actually exercise the recommended daily amount. The future of fitness looks encouraging for women of all ages, shapes, and sizes. I hope it can be a way for us to unite, bond, and enjoy some self-care.  

Read more about memorable female athletes.

Allyson Felix: American Track and Field Athlete (1985-present)

Althea Gibson: First African American to win a Grand Slam title (1927-2003)

Anjali Bhagwat: Indian Olympic athlete (1969-present)

Diane Crump: American jockey (1948-present)

Flo Hyman: American Olympic medalist in volleyball (1954-1986)

Written by Emily Morris – Front Door Fitness Trainer and Yoga Instructor