A Journey into the History of Health & Fitness: 1960's-2010 + Future Trends

During the 1960's, science and market research helped spark the dawning of the health and fitness industry. It was during this time that the racquet club was established, which brought yet another type of audience to the mix. It was also during this time (late 1960’s and early 1970’s) that the Nautilus machine was invented by Arthur Jones. The Nautilus became the standard for gym equipment, as did the Lifecycle, the first electronically operated stationary bicycle. Aerobics were also introduced in the 1970’s, adding yet another popular activity to club life, this one geared towards women. 

Next, the American College of Sports Medicine created exercise standards. Shortly thereafter, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Richard Simmons popularized “pumping iron” and the aerobics craze, respectively. Films were made (Arnold) and exercise videos brought to the public (Richard). 

In the 1980’s, the International Racquet Sports Association (IRSA) came to life. This organization would go on to be the voice of the health and fitness industry and made a name for the industry in American culture. By 1990, IRSA determined that 7.4% of Americans frequented gyms. This was the time when Bally’s led the pack and the corporate model came to the fore. As the 1980’s came to a close, there were over 13,000 fitness clubs in the U.S. which included: racquet clubs, YMCA’s, multi-purpose sports clubs, fitness clubs and corporate fitness centers. 

In 1996 one of the most significant milestones in our industry took place. The government released the “U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity & Health.” The report spoke loud and clear that all citizens would benefit greatly from physical fitness on a regular basis. These years also brought forth innovations in gym equipment with the Stairmaster invention, the elliptical trainer, the spinning bike, plate-loaded resistance equipment, treadmills, pilates equipment and personal entertainment systems. 

There were also major changes which included:

  • The consolidation and formation of larger multi-club operators on a local, regional and national level.
  • The establishment of fitness centers
  • The development of large suburban multipurpose clubs focusing on the family
  • The beginning of the club-based spa
  • The making of club brands like Bally’s, Crunch, Equinox, etc.
  • The emergence of hospital-based facilities gym facilities
  • More YMCAs and JCCs
  • Hotel and apartment-based gyms
  • The emergence of large, community-owned and operated recreation centers

Trends included:

  • Spinning
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Weight training & personal training
  • Packaged group exercise, kids’ programming, seniors’ programming
  • Day spas 

The last major change that occurred in the 1990’s was the change in direction of the IHRSA. It no longer focused all of its efforts on being an association of quality clubs which at that time allowed it to develop resources to upgrade professionalism of its membership. Instead, it became an industry trade association which focused on public advocacy and growth into the international market. This allowed the IHRSA to be a bigger voice for the industry in public policy and industry promotion. 


By this time, 16,000 clubs serviced 33 million Americans and by 2010 that number reached 29,750 clubs and over 45 million gym members. It was during this time that the percentage of gym members increased from 13% to 16% while the number of clubs grew by 87% but the members grew by only 36%. This trend is the opposite of what occurred in the 1990’s. IHRSA’s 2010 Global Report tells us that during the beginning of the 21st century we had more success with member increased usage than generating members. By 2010, trends showed us that the major challenges we face are:

  • An oversupply of clubs
  • An insufficient number of new members
  • Lack of product differentiation
  • Future trends include:
  • High-volume, low-priced clubs such as Planet Fitness and Blink
  • Independent studios for niche markets like yoga, pilates and cycling
  • Small franchise operations similar to Anytime and Snap.
  • Equipment changes which cardio with personal media centers and functional fitness accessories like TRX, Bosu balls and kettlebells.

Programs and Services:

  • Boot camps, extreme training camps such as mixed martial arts
  • Fusion fitness classes that combine yoga and cycling, for example
  • Fitness classes focusing on the core
  • Youth sports performance conditioning
  • Lower cost group training
  • Internet-based training

At this time in history there’s an increasing demand for professional accountability due to our growth into a 20 billion dollar industry. As such, the government will continue to place greater demands on accountability of the industry and its professionals. Some of these demands include:

  • State-level legislation mandating the placement of automated external defibrillators in every health club
  • State legislation that mandates the registration or licensure of personal trainers
  • State legislation governing spa-service operation
  • Higher expectations for business practices founded upon integrity
  • Greater accountability in the finance world
  • Expectations from investors for quarterly earnings performances that are up to par with Wall Street expectations
  • Public expectations that the franchising of health clubs will continue


  1. http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/sgr/ataglan.htm
  2. Fitness Management by Stephen Tharrett and James A. Petersen
  3. http://www.ihrsa.org/media-center/2010/6/7/ihrsa-releases-the-2010-global-report-the-state-of-the-healt.html