Until the late 1960s, the idea of exercising for good health and well-being was virtually non-existent.
Then in 1968, Kenneth H. Cooper, a Major in the US Air Force Medical Corps, published a global bestseller in which he coined the term ‘aerobics’ and explained that the more the human body moves, the better it performs.
It could be argued this was the catalyst for the jogging ‘craze’ that commenced in the early 1970s – or as the front of Cooper’s 1980 book states “The man who started America running.”
Around the 1960-70s, fitness clubs largely focussed on traditional strength training and bodybuilding, which could be an intimidating environment for both men and women. In mid-1970s came a fitness format that had a number of components such cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility – and also came with some funky music.
This format took on Coopers term aerobics and with the release of Jane Fonda’s Workout video in 1982 became a global phenomenon.
Many of the early aerobics instructors came from dance backgrounds, and had received little, if no, training in human movement. As consequence there was a high incidence of shin splints and back problems, and even vocal cord damage.
The early 1990s witnessed a decline in the popularity of aerobics as classes became ever more technical in their choreography – meaning beginners and the under co-ordinated missed out.
In the late 1990s, Les Mills started their global ascent with their updated aerobics format.
In the early 2000s, the term aerobics was once again losing its magic, but the fitness industry adapted once again, this time with a re-brand by using the term ‘group exercise’. Group exercise can now include a variety of classes including: HiLo; Step and Freestyle; Zumba; pre-choreographed; cycling; boxing; functional training; Pilates; HIIT; bootcamps; military fitness; and (group) outdoor fitness. Personal trainers also utilise group exercise through the small group training (SGT) format.
It will be interesting to see how virtual classes, immersive training, augmented reality, and home video streaming impact on the group exercise model.
Cooper, K.H. (1968) Aerobics. M. Evans; distributed in association with Lippincott, Philadelphia.
Cooper, K.H. (1980) The Aerobics Program for Total Well-being. Reissue Edition. Bantam USA.