At Fitness Formula Clubs, we know that our members value variety when it comes to their fitness routines. Our members have the option of hitting the fitness floor for a solo weight-lifting session, diving into one of our indoor pools to swim laps or participating in one of our many group fitness classes. Group fitness classes in particular have grown in popularity over the past decade, with IHRSA reporting that nearly 40% of regular exercisers attend group fitness classes.

What we’ve come to known as “group fitness” is a far cry from what it was five decades ago when it burst onto the exercise scene. In this blog post, we’ll take a journey through the evolution of group fitness. This timeline will give you an idea of where your current favorite formats originated, and we’ll also include exactly where our FFC team of group fitness managers (Lois Miller, Dominick DeFranco, Lara Mele, Paige Bartley, Elissa Peterson and Laurie Streff) entered the group fitness stratosphere.

1951: The Jack LaLanne Show

In 1951, health and exercise expert Jack LaLanne brought exercise to the American public via his television show, where he performed exercises and encouraged his viewers to join in at home. Because of its daytime television slot in the 1950s, much of LaLanne’s audience was stay-at-home mothers who would tune in to join the exercise class. While not a direct correlation to the idea of group fitness, The Jack LaLanne Show is our first example of a virtual workout program which served as an inspiration for decades to follow.

Related: How To Choose The Best Classes At the Gym

1966: The Invention of Aerobics

Group fitness would not exist today without aerobics. The word “aerobics” was coined in 1966 by physician Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a physiologist/ physician in the Air Force and founder of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas. Cooper set out to study and develop a series of exercises to help combat coronary artery disease. His first of many books, titled “Aerobics” was published in 1968.

1969: Aerobic Exercise

Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s book, “Aerobics,” inspired dancer Jacki Sorensen to put exercises together in a rhythmic fashion to create an Aerobic Exercise Pattern, Dance Aerobics and high/low impact Aerobics. 

1970: Jazzercise

In 1970, Jazzercise took the fitness industry by storm. In 1969, Judy Sheppard Missett was teaching dance classes in Evanston, IL. After learning that more of her students were interested in the fitness-aspect of dancing than actually becoming dancers, she blended the two to create an exercise program that included both aerobics and easy dance moves. Jazzercise was the first franchised group fitness program.

1980s: The Rise of Celebrity Fitness

In the 1980s, Richard Simmons created a fitness program geared toward weight loss. Using motivational and inspirational mantras, he encouraged healthy living during his aerobic dance workouts themed to music (you may remember “Sweatin’ To The Oldies”). Jane Fonda joins the explosion of the home video workouts and delivers a series of VHS workout tapes. This is the era where group fitness classes really start to evolve and become more mainstream. Health clubs and YMCAs become more popular, and with them, so does the demand for group exercise classes.

1986: FFC’s Lois Miller Begins Her Career In Group Fitness

FFC’s very own Group Fitness Director Lois Miller entered this amazing industry in 1986. Lois was inspired by getting people moving and seeing how happy it made her class participants. Creating high/low aerobic choreography was her start and her specialty!

1989: Step Aerobics

Founder Gin Miller created a workout phenomenon based on her physical therapy routine to rehabilitate her knee by stepping up and down on a box. Reebok teamed up with Gin, and by 1995, Step Aerobics was hitting its peak. Thousands of instructors worldwide were trained by Gin herself, memorizing the bible she created of all the possible moves: how to teach them, how to cue them and how to build choreography. With the invention of Step Aerobics, more men started to join group fitness classes.

1989: FFC’s Laurie Streff Begins Teaching

Laurie Streff, our Group Fitness Manager at FFC Park Ridge, started her fitness career in 1989. After giving birth, Laurie improve her strength and fitness to be able to keep up with her child. Step aerobics was her jam, and she began her teaching career with Step.

1990: FFC’s Lara Mele Pops Onto The Group Fitness Scene

When FFC Group Fitness Manager Lara Mele was a freshman in college, she decided to stay physically active by participating in an aerobics class being offered at her school’s gym. Lara was inspired to become an aerobics instructor herself after watching her class’s instructor jump and yell on stage, motivating everyone to follow along. High/low impact was her very first class as an instructor. 

Early 1990s: Tae Bo

Like Step, Tae Bo continued to draw more men into classes. Creator Billy Blanks brought elements of martial arts and boxing training into the group fitness arena with intense cardio and exercises that strengthen all muscles of the body. Kickboxing and boxing-inspired workouts to this day can thank Tae Bo for bringing boxing into health clubs.

Related: Why You Need To Incorporate Martial Arts Into Your Fitness Routine

1992: I (Dominick DeFranco) Join The Group Fitness Movement

Professionally trained in dance, my initial inspiration to become a group fitness instructor came from watching a class at my gym in New Jersey that was being led by an instructor that was not so proficient, rhythmically. I thought, “I’ve got more rhythm, I can move, let’s jump in.” Shortly after, I auditioned and was hired to teach cardio dance. 

Fun fact: I got to work with Step Aerobics creator Gin Miller in Puerto Rico filming a series of Step and dance workouts for Reebok and FitTV.

1993: Spinning

South African distance cyclist, Johnny “Johnny G”Goldberg, introduced the world to cycling in 1993. He and his business partner launched the “Spinning” indoor cycling fitness program. They made a deal with Schwinn and in 1995, they premiered their brand and bikes at a trade show. In 2021, indoor cycling classes are equally, if not more, popular than they once were as the experience continues to evolve. 

1993: Welcome FFC’s Paige Bartley To Group Fitness

FFC Group Fitness Manager Paige Bartley started out teaching high/low and Step, and her inspiration for getting into fitness also came from her dance background.

2001: Zumba

Echoes of Jazzercise and dance aerobics resurface in another trend and brand that changed the game in dance fitness: Zumba. Zumba was created by Beto Perez, a fitness instructor from Columbia who once forgot his aerobics tapes for class and had to improvise by grabbing a salsa tape he had in his car. Zumba is now offered in over 186 countries.

2009: FFC’s Elissa Peterson Becomes A Group Fitness Instructor

FFC group fitness manager Elissa Peterson gets bitten by the fitness bug when she goes through some life experiences and finds her yoga practice to be an escape. The first format she started teaching was yoga, part time, and soon after jumped into the fitness industry full time and couldn’t be happier to have made that decision.

Present Day: Group Fitness in 2021

Today, our options for physical fitness are limitless. Such a simple and basic concept has evolved as our needs and fitness goals have evolved, but the foundation continues to exist today with every new class concept, exercise brand, trend or boutique.

There is no denying that the continued success of group fitness is in part due to the human need for interaction and connection. How better to interact than with the synchronized connection of moving together, through music, as one? What are you waiting for? Check out all of the classes we offer at FFC, and book a class today in the FFC+ app. We’ll see you in the studio soon!

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Post written by FFC Group Fitness Manager Dominick DeFranco.