The Fitness Industry: Through the Years

Journey back 30 years to see what's changed, what hasn't, and what we can't believe we did!


This month SHAPE celebrates its 30th anniversary of delivering fitness, fashion, and fun tips to women everywhere. Considering that SHAPE and I are nearly the same age, I thought it would be fun to take you on a retrospective (emphasis on the retro!) journey back through the fitness annals to see what's changed, what hasn't, and what we can't believe we did. (Belted leotards over tights? How did we ever pee?)

The 1980s

Fitness: While I don't personally remember much of this decade, its legacy lives on through one name that all women still associate with exercise (or at least, a lot of leg lifts): Jane Fonda. Laugh all you want at her videos-would you like that on VHS or Beta?-but she was the first one to popularize fitness specifically for women. Fonda's first video, Jane Fonda's Workout, came out in 1982 and is widely credited with markedly increasing sales of the new-fangled VCR and starting the at-home fitness craze. Other programs like Jazzercise (I used to go to this in my church gym with my mom!) built on the same theory; emphasizing aerobics, especially choreographed cardio routines, and "toning" exercises with light weights as the best way for women to get in shape.

Fashion: Possibly the greatest decade ever for fitness fashion, the style was tight, shiny, and neon-bright. Our hair was poofed and Aquanet-ed before hitting the gym and we loved our sweatbands, which I personally wish would make a comeback (talk about functional!). Women showcased their personalities (and other things) with animal prints, doubled up scrunchy socks, leg warmers, unitards(!), elastic belts and, heaven help us, thong leotards over bicycle shorts or shiny dance tights.

Fun: I may have been too young to have my own gym membership, but that didn't mean I couldn't have my own set of tiny pink weights! And a pink jump rope! And a ribbon on a stick thingy! I was totally into Get in Shape Girl with its fun music and workout tapes just for girls. When I wasn't trying to figure out how to do "the pony", I was bopping on my Pogo Ball or jumping my Skip It!

The 1990s

Fitness: No longer content to grapevine left and hamstring curl to all four walls, the 90s saw the advent of one of the most popular fitness tools ever: the step. Group fitness classes were designed around stepping up, over, and around an elevated platform in an effort to streamline our workouts by getting in some leg work along with our cardio. This also allowed women to truly compete with each other as we kept track of who could put the most risers under each side of the step. One of my earliest middle-school memories was having to choreograph a step routine to Tom Petty's Mary Jane's Last Dance, a song either about drug use or necrophilia-either way totally inappropriate for a 6th grader. In addition to aerobics, fitness gyms became more popular and we were told that counting fat grams was as important as counting hundreds of crunches to get our abs and buns "of steel" as promised by Tamilee Webb in 1993.

Fashion: In the 90s we loved our matching Adidas track suits or cropped tank tops paired with high-rise bike shorts. And every girl accessorized with at least one scrunchy around our wrist (or ankle if you were really cool) to pull up our hair into that perfectly unperfect looped pony tail. Thankfully this is also when we got shoes specifically designed for cross-training and compression gear trickled down to the masses. And nothing went better over our babydoll tees like the "hoodie." Everything from dresses to sweaters to sleeveless vests came with a hood attached. You know, in case it rained. Or something. Do you remember when spaghetti strap tank tops were scandalous? My high school banned them.

Fun: Late-night infomercials have never been the same since Suzanne Somers cured our insomnia with her enthusiastic demonstration of the Thigh Master. The Internet became widely available for the first time during this decade, allowing us to e-mail our favorite running song suggestions to our friends, which we would then have to purchase at a physical store, load into a CD player or Walkman, and strap to our bodies with a case that looked very much like a fanny pack. Don't bounce too much when you jog or you'll make your CD skip! The 2000s

Fitness: The new millennium saw an explosion in workout options with everything from cycling to kickboxing to Pilates coming into vogue. Celebrity workouts became water cooler conversation and more people than ever before signed up to run a road race. And at long last weight lifting for strength and not just toning emerged as a legitimate workout for women. Interval and heart-rate based training were introduced as well. Also during this decade, science-based training became popular for everyone and not just athletes.

Fashion: The fashion from this decade won't surprise you, probably because we're still wearing it for the most part. At this very moment I'm wearing capri-length running tights, a technical tank top, and a fitted track jacket-all popular options at the turn of the century as well. This was the decade that introduced us to the phenomenon known as the yoga booty, as defined by the clingy boot-cut wonder of yoga pants. Sporting writing on our butts, like "juicy" or the name of our high school, upped the cool factor. Bedazzled velour track suit, anyone? We topped it all off with a tightly swept back high ponytail and, if we were feeling really fancy, several thin headbands strategically arranged on top of our heads.

Fun: Call this the decade of gadgets: Whereas in the 80s and 90s we had to check our heart rate by placing two fingers on our necks (and possibly making ourselves faint) and then doing math in the middle of our workout, the 2000s gave us heart rate monitors with chest straps, Garmins with built-in GPS, treadmills with TVs, and, thank heavens, digital music and an iPod to play it on.


2011 is the beginning of a new decade and given what's already happened (hello, P90X 2!), I think it will be the best yet for fitness fanatics. While we still use a lot of the same cardio principles as Jane Fonda did in the 80s (what else is Zumba, TurboKick, and the like if not Jazzercise with better music and sexier moves?) and the core principles of weight lifting remain the same, the explosion of research in the field of exercise science will lead us to even more effective workouts. That and I'm hoping Lululemon finds a way to make our yoga butts even perkier.

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