The Fitness Industry: Through the Years

So i am not going to lie… this  was before my time, so a little research has been taken to see how and where the industry has changed over the last 30 years from the equipment to the classes to the venues to the outfits  (Belted leotards over tights? How did we ever pee?)


The 1980s

While I was not around to appreciate 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,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  VCR and starting the at-home fitness craze. Other programs like Jazzercise 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.

Some would say Possibly the greatest decade ever for fitness fashion, the style was tight, shiny, and neon-bright.

The hair was poofed and Aquanet-ed before hitting the gym and sweatbands where in,  you only have to google the gym fashion in this era to find animal prints, doubled up scrunchy socks, leg warmers, unitards(!), elastic belts and, heaven help us, thong leotards over bicycle shorts or shiny dance tights - Each to there own !!!

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.  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.

In the 90s we loved our matching Adidas tracksuits or cropped tank tops paired with high-rise bike shorts Thankfully this is also when we got shoes specifically designed for cross-training and compression gear trickled down to the masses.  Everything from dresses to sweaters to sleeveless vests came with a hood attached.

The Internet became widely available for the first time during this decade, allowing us to email 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.

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.

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 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.

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.

Today the fitness industry is bigger than ever.

The rise in personal trainers, both online and ‘locally’ has been enormous and has become a lucrative business in its own right.  Gyms and fitness centres are now the hangouts of young men, rather than the local pub, whilst ‘express-gyms’ allowing you to swipe in and out, have experienced success.  The strength-training and supplement industry has tapped into a female market, with the slogan “strong is the new skinny” emblazoned across social media memes and gym posters alike.

Social media has seen an unparalleled growth, allowing fitness companies to target specific demographics with customised adverts and marketing-messages.   Social media in itself, however, appears to perpetuate the fitness craze with the before and after picture often found on personal profiles, as well as fitness companies’ cover photos.

New fitness classes and trends have emerged during this era.  CrossFit and Mixed Martial Arts gyms can now be found in most UK towns; even though they were virtually unknown pre-2010.

Functional Fitness – is a term coined in the last decade and describes exercise which either helps people to perform everyday activities or to perform certain movements related to their sport.  Fitness programmes for the elderly and older adults have become increasingly recommended and prescribed with the aim to increase or maintain strength, mobility, fitness and wellbeing.  As people continue to live longer in the UK; participation in exercise is set to increase in the upcoming years.  This is another industry trend to watch!

Social media remains a huge influence on the fitness industry, with a growing number of apps being integrated with different social media websites, allowing live updates and check-ins.  Not to mention the growth of the topless selfie and the meal pictures that are a mainstream feature on Instagram. Following the lead of many other industries, fitness professional now offer online personal training and nutritional consultations - reducing overheads and increasing the potential scale of their business, whilst reducing costs for their clients.


Interaction on social media is now a must for every successful fitness company as ‘inbound marketing’ takes over from its outbound counterpart.  Creating great, useful content, apps and tools for subscribers and visitors is essential to building a following, who in turn will keep you front-of-mind when looking to buy.

2017 is the beginning of a new decade and given what's already happened , 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.