The History of Women’s Fitness

The History of Women’s Fitness

January 30, 2023

The History of Women’s Fitness

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 that weakness was attractive; hence the “pretending you couldn’t open the pickle jar” debate to boost men’s egos. Even female magazines always advised them to allow men to win games. In this way, women’s fitness faced a major uphill battle. That is until pioneers such as Lotte Berk and Judi Sheppard Missett decided to embark on a new path of empowerment for women in the future.

Let’s explore the history of women’s fitness in further detail.

Woman on a treadmill

Exercise in the Mid-20th Century

Exercise in the mid-twentieth century was considered quite unusual at the time. The 1950s were a low point for Americans, both males and females, in terms of physical activity. It wasn’t seen as necessary or even desirable as Americans saw such hardship and loss during the decades prior.

Post-World War II Era

The 1950s was considered the post-World War II era, and, with decades of uneasiness with the Great Depression, individuals focused primarily on maximizing leisure and comfort. An excellent example of this is how modern appliances, such as the modern-day oven and television, became standard for families during this time.

A Primary Focus on Comfort & Leisure

The focus on comfort and leisure meant it was unusual for men and women to embark on a daily fitness routine. They also didn’t feel they needed it as most cooking was still done at home and American diets were much less processed, therefore most individuals were of a healthy weight and stature. What changed the course of history, however, as it always does, was education—an understanding of the emotional, mental, and physical benefits of exercise.

As time passed, men eventually came around, but for females, it was a harder sell. You must understand that this was at a time when females still adhered to “proper social order” and gender norms—they were told to behave gently and sweetly and to leave the hard work to the men. It would take wise females who saw beyond these standards and could market female fitness in a more positive and appropriate light who would change the course of history. Let’s dive into their stories further.

Woman working out using dumbbells

Lotte Berk

Lotte Berk was a German dancer and wellness 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 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 taught in her makeshift women’s fitness center in her basement.

Group fitness class

Judi Sheppard Missett

Judi Sheppard Missett is an American dancer and instructor who sought to advance women’s health.


For a full-body workout, Jazzercise, founded by Missett in 1969, combines dance aerobics, strength, and resistance training with popular music.

group of people dancing

A New Narrative in Women’s Fitness

In addition to the two women mentioned, several others have blown past traditional gender stereotypes to help women move, jump, do cardio, attend workout classes, and live active lives full of energy. A new narrative in women’s fitness began and isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

The Fight for Gender Equality

The fight for gender equality continues to rise along with women-focused fitness classes, apps, social media pages, and more. Women’s empowerment and community are at the forefront of it all, primarily focusing on health and wellness.

A Focus on Health & Wellness

Proper nutrition and consistent training, whether a strength or cardio workout, are critical for anyone who desires a full, happy life. While the history of women’s fitness is rather complicated, thanks to pioneers such as Lotte Berk and Judi Sheppard Missett, there is a new path of empowerment for women today and in the future. The key is to go after your goals and focus on you.

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