The fitness boom

While the worlds of sport and fitness are intertwined, it wasn’t until the 1970s that popular culture was ready to embrace fitness as eagerly as it had embraced sports. Fitness had not yet gained its importance in improving health, and general opinion compared fitness to work and physical labor. In the 1940s and 1950s, few participated in fitness voluntarily. Among those who did were Jack LaLanne, Victor Tanny, Joseph Gold, Joseph Weider, and Les and Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton. These fitness pioneers and others drew people to the beach in Santa Monica, California – the original Muscle Beach. Visitors came to see their feats of strength and acrobatic performances. More and more viewers became participants, and these originally marginalized people became part of the cultural mainstream. Jack LaLanne, Vic Tanny, and Joe Gold all founded chain gyms with a bodybuilding focus. Due to the influence of Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton, women were introduced to the musculature and strength that came with bodybuilding. No longer just the preserve of the “strong men,” bodybuilding changed the mindset of everyone who visited Muscle Beach.

From the seeds planted in the Santa Monica came Venice Beach, home to bodybuilding legends Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane and many, many more. Venice Beach spawned a fitness explosion around the world in the 1970s. Not only did bodybuilding go mainstream, but general opinion about fitness changed dramatically. Americans in the 1970s would do anything to improve their health and fitness.

Sport and athletics also grew in the 1970s. Women became increasingly interested in participating in sports; However, very little funding was available for the development of women’s athletics. A landmark law was passed in 1972. As part of a series of educational changes, “Title IX”, gender equality in athletics was enshrined in legislation. Not only were women becoming more active and physically fit, there was now a law requiring equal funding and equal opportunities for female athletes. On September 21, 1973, tennis star Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the first ever “Battle of the Sexes” all-win tennis match. The hype around this event – and its outcome – provided even more incentive for women to get involved in sports and fitness. By 1977, a record 87.5 million US adults over the age of 18 reported being involved in some form of athletic activity.

The fitness industry continued to grow into the 1980s. Gym owners adapted their facilities to attract patrons, and new gyms opened across the United States and around the world. A healthy lifestyle has become part of popular culture. It was no longer unfashionable to be athletic, strong or healthy. With the development of new technologies, health and fitness have found their way into the home. Fitness bands became available in the early 1980’s and continue to encourage those who may not be able to access a gym or health facility. Innovators like Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons were able to bring their training programs to a new population. Joe Weider became a major force, bringing health, fitness and bodybuilding as close as the mailbox through his magazines and pamphlets. Fitness continues to play a significant role in modern society due to fitness pioneers such as Weider, Gold, Fonda and Simmons. The importance of being in good health and physical fitness has and continues to have implications.