Americans’ capacity for self-improvement is always evolving. With a history of fitness trends from the wacky and technical to the dull and robotic, new concepts are continually introduced. Through a fine-tuned, high-profile marketing machine, sometimes with a beautiful celebrity attached (think Christy Turnlington and yoga), an exercise trend comes in with a bang. However, like the bright purple spandex gear of the 1980s few health crazes stand the test of time. (Did Jane Fonda ever make the transition from VHS to DVD?) This isn’t to imply that later discoveries prove certain workouts to be ineffective; rather, our appetite is perpetually changing.
Long distance running hit in the 1970s and soon people were flying out the door with their feathered hair roughly tucked into their headbands. Then a few “experts” bemoaned the high-impact exercise, saying it was harmful to the joints and our knees simply couldn’t handle it. Not to mention that few people feel motivated exercising alone.
A viable solution appeared in the form of Jane Fonda. She offered low-impact routines and simple choreography that could be done by anyone. With her tapes (that have sold more than any other home videos) you could have the “feel” of participating with a group yet you were free to squeeze your butt in your own unfinished basement.
The 1990s ushered in an era of flashy punch-and-jab routines and advanced choreography. Americans wanted quick results and sweaty routines that would burn an entire holiday meal off in one fast-paced hour. We had cardio kickboxing and step aerobics that claimed to burn upwards of 1,000 calories per session. We had Billy Blanks’ Tae Bo with its smattering of kickboxing, martial arts and dance. With Blanks claiming that Tae Bo works by aligning the spirit with the body, we saw the first glimpse of trends capitalizing on the mind body connection.
It’s difficult to state that yoga finally hit it big in the late 1990s and early 2000s because as we’ve all been repeatedly told, it is a centuries-old practice. That debate aside, yoga appealed to the masses with its benefits of flexibility, improved posture and circulation, and calming and meditative effects. Americans were ready to go barefoot and contort themselves into all sorts of wacky poses with names like awkward standing pose and eight-angle pose. Also, since it’s offered in a trillion different versions, yoga vows to defy the pattern of fitness trends that die off. You have fast-paced ashtanga yoga, vigorous power yoga and Bikram yoga. Then there is hatha, viniyoga and kundalini. You say you don’t like yoga? Well you obviously haven’t tried it all.
The many diverse fitness trends are as varied and as different as there are types of Americans. We are all looking for the particular type that will stimulate us and keep us from growing bored and will also be inexpensive, not complicated, burn lots of calories, and ultimately transform our bodies into those of sleek, toned, strong and lithe models. We proclaim to rebel against societal standards and eschew the so-called look of celebrities but we keep striving to emulate them somehow.
This brings us to the next craze that has group classes in fitness clubs filled to capacity. What is it? Check back for Part 2.