Q I’m getting ready for the new year! Can you tell me about the history of fitness?

This answer is A. part 2 of last week’s column – the fitness story.

The roots of fitness for the modern era are found in the people who made it possible. People like Catherine Beecher, who was known for her contributions to advancing women’s exercise and nutrition in the early 19th century. Beecher introduced calisthenics to improve women’s health in defiance of prevailing notions of female frailty. Dudley Allen Sargeant, commonly considered the “father” of evidence-based physical education, as well as the leading advocate of variable resistance training equipment, emphasized training all students, not only athletes. Thus, he largely created the discipline of physical education. He is also credited with developing the pulley systems (adjustable weight plates on pulleys) that have become a staple of gyms around the world. (Earth)

The modern fitness movement evolved from military competition between nations during World War II and the Cold War, beginning around 1946. (Becic) When the United States entered the war, it became necessary to recruit military personnel. However, as more and more men were recruited, it became embarrassing that many of them were unfit for combat. By the end of the war, it was reported that almost half of all conscripts were to be dismissed or given non-combatant positions. These disturbing statistics have helped focus the nation’s attention on the importance of physical fitness. (Dalleck) The Cold War, baby boomer era was marked by the development of an important factor influencing the modern fitness movement known as “Minimum Muscular Fitness Testing in Children” by Kraus-Hirschland. It has been reported that almost 60% of American children fail at least one of the tests. In comparison, only 9% of children in European countries failed one of the tests. During the Cold War, these startling numbers spurred political leaders into action to promote health and fitness. President Eisenhower responded by arranging a conference at the White House in June 1956. From these meetings came two important results: 1) the formation of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness and 2) the appointment of the Citizens Advisory Committee of the president on the fitness of Americans. Youth. It was an important first step to help focus the nation’s attention on his level of fitness.

President Kennedy encouraged the federal government to become more involved in national fitness promotion and launched pilot fitness programs for young people. Kennedy’s commitment to fitness can best be summed up when he said, “Fitness is the foundation of all other forms of excellence. (Dalleck)

The 21st century has had other influencers as well. Charles Atlas is best known for his mail-order business that revolutionized fitness marketing, and Jack LaLanne introduced the world’s first exercise-focused television show. James Fixx was the author of “The Complete Book of Running” as well as the recognized “father of jogging” even though he died while running due to a genetic predisposition. Joseph Pilates developed the floor exercises and equipment moves that now bear his name and are still offered in fitness clubs and fitness studios around the world. (Tharrett)

The “Father of American Weightlifting,” Bob Hoffman (1898-1985), influenced physical culture for over 40 years and inspired more modern weightlifters like Arnold Schwarzenegger, another fitness icon. Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons made home aerobics all the rage with their VHS tapes and targeting the female fitness market. Here is a short selection of the exercise DVDs available in the library:

• Zumba fitness [DVD]. Cardio night.

• Reinforced chair exercise program for seniors [DVD]. Basic exercise on fitness chair.

• Strong knees [DVD]

• yoga movement [DVD] : 10 fun and easy to learn yoga routines

• Classic stretch [DVD]. Full Body Workout Vol. I, more intense stretching of athletes.

• Becic, Samir. Physical fitness through the history of time. Health Fitness Revolution. Retrieved December 29, 2021, from

• Dalleck, LC (nd). History of fitness. History of fitness. Retrieved December 28, 2021, from unm. edu/~lkravitz/Article%20 folder/history.html

• McCullough, M., (2017, October 6). Fitness legends – 5 most influential people in health and fitness. Retrieved January 12 from

• Tharrett, S. (2021, September 24). The legends that shaped the modern fitness industry. The windmills. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from

Suzanne Sanders is the library’s new columnist. She is the Community Services Manager for the San Marcos Public Library and joined the Austin Public Library in 2015 after serving as a librarian there for more than 20 years. She gratefully accepts your questions for this column.