While the worlds of sports and fitness are intertwined, it was not until the 1970s that popular culture was ready to accept fitness as eagerly as it had accepted sports.
Fitness had not yet taken on its importance for improving health, and popular opinion likened fitness to work and manual labor. In the 1940s and 1950s, few participated in fitness willingly. Among those who did were Jack LaLanne, Victor Tanny, Joseph Gold, Joseph Weider, and Les and Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton. These fitness pioneers, among others, drew people to the beach in Santa Monica, California-the original Muscle Beach.
Visitors came to watch their feats of strength and acrobatic displays. More and more viewers became participants, and these people, originally on the fringe, became a part of the cultural mainstream.
Jack LaLanne, Vic Tanny, and Joe Gold all started gym chains with bodybuilding as their main focus. Due to influence of Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton, women were introduced to the muscularity and strength that came with bodybuilding. No longer reserved for just for “strongmen,” bodybuilding brought about a change in the mindsets of all those who visited Muscle Beach.
From the seeds planted at the Santa Monica came Venice Beach, the home to bodybuilding legends Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, and many, many more. Venice Beach in the 1970s brought with it a fitness explosion across the globe. Not only did bodybuilding become mainstream, but the popular opinion of fitness changed dramatically. Americans in the 1970s would do anything to improve their health and fitness.
Sports and athletics grew in the 1970s as well. Women became increasingly more interest in participating in sports; however, very little funding was available for the development of woman’s athletics. A landmark law was passed in 1972.
Part of a series of educational amendments, “Title IX,” legislated gender equity in athletics. Not only were women becoming more active and more physically fit, a law now existed that called for equal funding and equal opportunity for female athletes. On 21 September 1973, female tennis star Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the first-ever winner-take-all “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match. The hoopla surrounding this event-and its outcome-provided even more incentive for women to become involved with sports and fitness. By 1977, a record 87.5 million U.S. adults over the age of eighteen claimed to be involved in some sort of athletic activity.
The fitness industry continued its growth into the 1980s. Gym owners tailored their facilities to attract customers and new gyms opened around the United States and around the world. A healthy lifestyle was becoming a part of popular culture. No longer was it unfashionable to be athletic, strong, or healthy. With the development of new technology, health and fitness were able to make their way into homes. Fitness tapes became available in the early 1980s and continue to encourage those to whom a gym or health facility may not be accessible. Innovators such as Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons were able to bring their exercise programs to a new population.
Joe Weider became a significant force in bringing health, fitness, and bodybuilding as close as the mailbox through his magazines and pamphlets. Because of fitness pioneers such as Weider, Gold, Fonda, and Simmons, fitness continues to play a significant role in modern society.
The importance of being in good health and physically fit has made and continues to have an impact.