The History of Women’s Fitness

The History of Women’s Fitness

November 30, 2023

Overcome the Gender Gap & Focus on You

The history of women’s fitness is rather complicated. In fact, personal fitness used to be considered unladylike.

Females were told weakness was attractive, hence the “pretending you couldn’t open the pickle jar” debate to boost men’s egos.

In this way, women’s fitness faced a major uphill battle. That is until pioneers like Lotte Berk and Judi Sheppard Missett decided to embark on a new path of empowerment for women in the future.

Proven once and for all that there’s nothing like “A weaker sex.”

Exercise in the Mid-20th Century

Physical fitness in the mid-20th century was quite different from today. In the 1950s, most Americans, regardless of gender, didn’t exercise much.

People at that time didn’t see it as necessary or fun because they remembered the tough times and loss of life during World War II, which influenced their views on physical activity. Even in suburban America, where many families live comfortably, people spend more time watching TV than being active.

A woman was expected to act like a woman should in the eyes of a man, as far from a gym as possible.

Woman on a treadmill

Fitness Pioneers of The XX Century

However, a few pioneers were ahead of their time in promoting fitness, including both men and women.

For example, Jack LaLanne and Eugene Sandow used TV shows and books to tell people that exercise was essential for their health.

Tired of being restrained, women like Jane Fonda played a significant role in popularizing fitness among women.

Her workout videos helped encourage prioritizing physical well-being and finally breaking free from societal constraints.

A Primary Focus on Comfort & Leisure

Back then, most people didn’t regularly exercise because they preferred comfort and relaxation. Most people back in the time believed that they were naturally healthy.

But what changed things, as it often does, was learning about the many benefits of exercise for our emotions, minds, and bodies.

Over time, men started to see the value of exercise, but the challenge was to convince women. The expectation to follow strict rules about how they should act and behave constricted women.

To change this, it took smart and forward-thinking women who could show that exercise was positive and suitable for everyone. Let’s explore their stories in more detail.

Woman working out using dumbbells

Empowering Women Through Fitness: Lotte Berk and Judi Sheppard Missett

Lotte Berk was a German dancer and wellness class instructor who sought to advance women’s health and fitness journey.

Facing Unrealistic Standards

Berk was instrumental in helping empower women of the mid-twentieth century, encouraging them to seek a healthy physical shape through workout classes and nutrition programs.

The Invention of Barre

After feeling Nazi Germany, Berk created her workout class—Barre—which drew on ballet moves and training positions that concentrated on building core stability.

She prioritized steady movement and cardio training through weekly classes in her makeshift gym and women’s fitness center in her basement.

Judi Sheppard Missett

Judi Sheppard Missett is an American dancer and instructor who sought to advance women’s health. She’s also the founder of Jazzercise, a fitness dance studio that focuses on “combining dancercise, martial arts, and strength training with popular music for a full-body workout.”


Founded in 1969, Jazzercise grew rapidly when Missett began selling franchise rights to different locations outside of California. They have built a fitness studio around the philosophy: “We develop fun and effective fitness routines and products that enhance the well-being of people of all ages.”

Jazzercise shows the positivity and brightness that comes from women-run businesses. And just like their Mission Statement says:

We Believe You Can Create A Stronger, Happier, Healthier Life Through Fitness

Group fitness class

A New Narrative in Women’s Fitness

Thanks to the work of these heroines and several others, the traditional gender stereotypes of the past have been pushed out and have helped women move, jump, do cardio, attend workout classes, and live active lives full of energy.

A new narrative has begun and isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

The Fight for Gender Equality

The fight for gender equality is rising, and women’s fitness is a powerful part. Uniting through fitness classes, apps, social media, and more. This movement isn’t just about getting in shape; it’s about empowerment and building a supportive community centered around wellness.

A Focus on Health & Wellness

Eating well and exercising regularly are essential for a happy life. The history of women’s fitness can be tricky, but thanks to pioneers like Lotte Berk and Judi Sheppard Missett, women can now be empowered. The secret is to set goals and prioritize yourself.

Join Us At Crunch

Crunch promotes a culture of positivity, inclusivity, and fun with no judgments by providing an environment for all individuals regardless of their health and fitness goals. Find a Crunch gym near you to try our free trial membership, or join Crunch now.


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