30 Years of Fitness


Exploring the Evolution of Health and Wellness

Walk into any aerobics class 30 years ago, and Reebok-shoed, headbanded ladies were sweating to the beats of “It’s Raining Men.” High impact aerobics and Jazzercize were a few of the class offerings. Lois Miller of Fitness Formula Clubs, a more than 30-year veteran instructor, remembers how “thongs were worn outside leotards and leg warmers were worn without purpose.”

The only personal trainers in the early ‘80s were body builders, flexing muscles as they pumped up the guys – women didn’t lift weights back then. A personal trainer for almost 30 years, Jim Karas recalls, “The packed aerobics classes were about jumping around, with no idea what we were doing.”

The ‘80s and early ‘90s were the real birth of female fitness at the gym, and the club scene was building in Chicago. Premier health clubs like East Bank, Midtown Athletic, Fitness Formula and Lakeshore Athletic Club expanded membership and activities. “The ‘90s proved fitness could be a great business opportunity, with growing demand and promises to get fit,” says Nancy Fudacz, director of performance training, East Bank Club. “The group class schedules expanded from dance-like classes, to classes with weights, circuit training, spinning, step and even the slide. We also expanded to 200 group classes a week to accommodate lots of new offerings.”

As clubs grew, so did research and understanding of exercise. Personal training became a degree and career in the 21st century instead of part-time work for many dancers, actors and singers. Personal training was no longer considered bodybuilding. Both men and women were hiring certified personal trainers to help them form their health and fitness regimens. “Chicagoans became smarter,” explains Mr. Karas. “They were no longer into the latest fad. They asked, ‘Why am I doing this exercise?’”

That’s where the health and wellness movement is today. “An expansion in education of exercise science encourages women to seek out fitness that serves not only as cardio respiratory conditioning, but also as stress relief, strength, balance, flexibility training and fun. It’s about specialization and viewing fitness as a balance between many components,” says Ms. Fudacz. As the term “wellness” replaces “fitness,” the change is evident everywhere. “The shift in recent years is that people view fitness less as a part of their day and more as an overall lifestyle,” observes Jeff Riney, regional director, Fitness Formula Clubs. “People look for more than equipment and classes from their health club. They want healthy food offerings, marathon training, involvement in the community and a social component – things that extend beyond the walls of the club, because their lifestyle does the same.”

The health and wellness movement has saturated our lives. Lululemon and Fleet Feet sports stores are among many retailers involved in bringing fitness to our daily experience and partnering it with our purchases. We’ve also seen the age of digital technology with websites like www.FitStudio.com and www.Retrofitme.com helping us evolve at home with online training programs. Mobile phone applications such as Lose It, iMap Fitness and Nike Plus also expand the health market to a digital platform, reaching those who never make it out of the house to work out.

Over the years, although there’s been a shift in programs, information and places to be active, fitness still comes down to one thing: Doing it! Fitness isn’t just about looking good anymore; it’s about the whole package: strong heart, toned muscles, calm mind and confident body.


About Andrea Metcalf

Andrea Metcalf is a celebrity fitness trainer, author of Naked Fitness, social media maven and nationally recognized speaker. She is a contributor to NBC Chicago, Better TV, GMA Health and NBC Today Show as well as Oprah.com, Shape.com and her own Naked Fitness blog. She participates in many charity events, from Bright Pink to ovarian cancer to American Diabetes Association. She hopes to inspire people to feel good in their own skin.