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History of the aerobics exercise class

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Posted by Cags R under Fitness & Training on 10 March 2013 at 12:00 AM

Zumba, boxercise, step, spin. The list of exercise classes available in the modern fitness industry is endless, but where did the concept of an exercise class orginate from?

Many people credit Dr Kenneth H. Cooper for the invention of the aerobics exercise class in the 1960s, Cooper was a former air force Colonel who advocated the importance of cardiovascular fitness as well as strength training. Although his book Aerobics brought the importance of aerobic exercise into the spotlight, the origins of the aerobic exercise class can actually be traced back to schools in the turn of the 19th to 20th Century Britain where the physical state of soldiers had been an embarrassment during the Boer War and thus lead to physical education being enforced into schools:

Fortunately there is at present a considerable and increasing supply of persons, chiefly women of good general education, who have undergone a systematic course of preparation (extending over two years or more), for becoming instructors in physical exercise

This extract is from a 1904 report on Military style physical education being introduced into schools

Military Drill performed in  Burdett Coutts School, 1916

The Military Drill performed by a mixed class of students in Burdett Coutts School, 1916 - an example of the earliest aerobic exercise classes which were designed to instill discipline and basic level of fitness. Many of the boys in this photo would have gone on to fight in World War 2. 

Modern fitness may still include military bootcamp style training, but it's surprising to see how much the military has influenced our modern aerobics classes. For a start - how many of us expect aerobics instructors to women?

This gender stereotype originates from the lack of men available to teach during the world wars - rather than aerobics being a 'soft option', it was women's roles to get student's fitness up to military standards. After World War 2, the lack of men returning from war meant that women remained in roles of physical education. Below is a photo of female physical education instructors from 1950s America - it's a long way from perms and lycra!

1950s women teaching physical education

So now we've just about caught up with when aerobics classes are supposed to have begun, and Dr Cooper's the man of the hour!

Dr Kenneth Cooper running the Boston Marathon in 1962After running track in college, training to be a doctor and serving in the US Air Force as a surgeon, Dr Cooper's relationship with aerobics is not only a professional one, but a personal one too. At 29 years old, he suffered Supraventricular Tachycardia (rapid increase in heartrate from 120-240bpm) whilst waterskiing. Thinking it was a heart attack, he went to the hospital only to be told that he was simply out of shape. The realisation of his lack of fitness was a wake up call to Kenneth Cooper and he got back into shape and rekindled his love of running again, completing his first Boston marathon in 1962.

The Air Force commissioned Cooper to work with NASA on pre-flight conditioning and in-flight antideconditioning for astronauts - the work Cooper did with NASA served as a launching pad for Cooper's Aerobics 1968 success. 

Dr Cooper taught his aerobics program to the Brazilian soccer coach in 1969, the program has been creditted to have helped the Brazilian 1970 World Cup winning team defeat Italy in the final - to this day Cooper is considered a legend in Brazil!

So now that the importance of aerobic exercise had been broadcast to the world with massive success stories, how did the world receive it? Well, in the only way the 70s and 80s knew how - LYRCA!Lycra, aerobics, 1970s 1980s Jane Fonda

Once aerobic exercise was known to improve health, everyone wanted a piece of the action; videos, programs and classes based on aerobic workouts lead to an increase from 6 million US citizens performing regular aerobic exercise in 1978 to an estimated 19 million in 1987! 

The aerobics movement in the fitness industry has done wonders for cardiovascular health, the depth and range of different exercises now available is incredible, with aerobics classes which use dance, swimming, boxing and a whole variety of different sports to make your class sport specific or just more fun! 

Join the High Energy Exercise Class Tribe and take on the Challenge of 3 aerobics classes in a week

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