"Training gives us an outlet for surpressed energies created by stress and thus tones the spirit just as exercise conditions the body." -Arnold Schwarzenegger

A lot of people believe that the obsession with health and fitness seems to be a relatively new preoccupation which sprung from the hippy-ish trends of the ’60s and ’70s of drinking wheatgrass shakes and regularly eating trail mix.

Also, it is essential to state that many favourite television shows from the past few decades such as Baywatch featured perfectly toned characters who candidly ran along the white and sandy beaches of Los Angeles showing off their perfect physique; the envy is real!

However, the trends of eating well and getting fit to have perfect beach bodies have long existed; some estimate they have lasted for thousands of years. 

Many truthful accounts from older individuals show that for our ancestors keeping fit was a way of life rather than a leisure activity to look better than everyone else. 

It is essential to state that centuries ago people didn’t have memberships to state of the art gyms, access to highly effective bodybuilding machines or the best personal fitness professional that money can buy and yet they were much fitter and more ripped than modern man; except for you Arnold, you're a legend!

When considering a topic in further detail, such as physical training, it often helps to look into the past to understand the origins of the subject on a deeper level and understand why the practices are currently different now than before.

Therefore, without further ado, Superprof is here to provide fitness enthusiasts with a thorough explanation of sports training before the days when Zumba, Pilates, and CrossFit was the norm.

Hand on tight fitness amateurs, it's going to be a thrilling ride through the past, present, and future world of sports training!

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Fitness: An Essential Survival Skill

Thousands of years ago, at the beginning of time when the human race first emerged and before the existence of the struggles of modern-day society, humans only had one thing to worry about: staying alive.

The physical developments of early man, as well as their muscle gain, followed a natural evolution which was mainly determined by the physically demanding tasks that were required to survive in a wild environment full of unpredictable and terrifying threats. Running, jumping and climbing were the only ways to escape the risks known to man during the beginning of time and this was their exercise.

Therefore, our prehistoric ancestors worked out, did their cardio and toned their bodies without even realising they were doing so! 

Survival was only possible if you hunted your food by chasing it, built shelter by lifting heavy objects such as logs and stones, and learnt how to fight enemies to save your life effectively; you might call this nature’s version of personal training!

Our ancient ancestors would not have even considered the same benefits of physical activity that modern-day humans do since practically all daily tasks required effort and the aspects of poor eating habits and the distractions of technology were not present.

Flexibility and agility were not, the main focus of their skills, and there was no access or need for personalised training programmes or advice on what time of the day is best for training and nutrition to maximise results; it was all down to instinct and the need for quick thinking and wise decisions.

Also, the further changes in human activities such as agriculture, which came about some 8000 years before our modern era, were many historians often consider a significant development of human activity as the mark of the beginning of civilisation.

Humans went from being hunters and gatherers to becoming farmers that cultivated the land; their activities became regular and limited, with no more reason to jump, climb and chase animals to feed themselves. Times had changed for the better and the worst.

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Fitness Training in Antiquity: Preparing for War

the best tactics
In the first centuries, before the fall of the Roman Empire, training for war was physically demanding and similar to today's tactics. (Source: Visual Hunt)

"All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal." -John Steinbeck

Between human prehistory and the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, many civilisations established themselves as stronger than the rest and also disappeared through war and conquest; these civilisations include the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, and the Persians, as well as the Greeks and the Romans.

Every one of the civilisations mentioned above in the previous paragraph imposed fitness programmes on their young men to improve their chances of victory in war. Also, it is essential to state that ancient military physical training was more structured than during the cavemen era and had a different end goal.

For example, young soldiers practised essential skills to succeed at war such as walking and running on uneven terrains, jumping, crawling, climbing, lifting heavy objects, catching, throwing, unarmed fighting techniques, and weapon handling. 

During ancient times, the human body was celebrated as beautiful and becoming the perfect human specimen was encouraged. It is noteworthy to mention that the Romans who celebrated the strength of the human body, saw fitness as a philosophical ideal and an essential part of education that would improve their civilisation.

It is essential to mention that the Romans were not the only ones obsessed with pushing the human body and achieving physical perfection. The Greeks famously created the first Olympic games, that are still celebrated today, with the intention of having athletes, only young men at the time, perform in sports that were all based on natural and practical movement skills that would be essential in combat.

Fun fact: popular belief has claimed that ancient Greek olympic runners used to run naked because it was believed that they could run faster than if they had clothes. 

Interestingly, the phrase ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ comes from this era (mens sana in corpore sano), which marks the beginning of health and fitness as a lifestyle choice; isn't that interesting?

Fitness Training in the Middle Ages

Between the fifth and fifteenth centuries, chaos reigned in Europe as various empires, kingdoms, and governments rose and fell without any sign of slowing down. At the same time, many nations were invading and being invaded, and devastating epidemics such as the Black Plague took a significant toll on human health at the time.

Christianity spread across the continent as did the belief that life on Earth was the preparation for life elsewhere after death in a better place. 

Adopting a healthy lifestyle and perfecting the human physique lost all importance when the soul, viewed as the essence of man, became the centre of the populations’ main concerns.

Fitness education, the importance of the human body's health, and training sessions were forgotten and replaced with religious teaching; a trend that was utterly different from the past period when Greeks and Romans praised the human body.

Nevertheless, under the feudal system, the aristocracy and mercenaries were required to do any physical training that was mainly done in preparation for their military service and only focussed on natural movements and martial skills.

The rest of the population in Europe during this period worked in the fields, so their physical exercise was a part of their manual labour and daily chores.

It is safe to say that sports training or physical fitness was not viewed as necessary during the middle ages and without a doubt, the health of citizens was negatively affected.

The Renaissance: A New Beginning for Fitness

Between 1400 and 1600 the human body became an area of interest in science since the study of the human anatomy took off and became highly influential.

Human exercise physiology was a central part of the advancements in the study of biology and human health.

In 1420, the Italian humanist Vittorino da Feltre, who was considered to be one of the first modern educators, opened a school with physical education at the centre of its teaching beliefs and methods.

The Book of Bodily Exercise, written in 1553 by a well-known Spaniard called Cristobal Mendez, is considered to be the first work wholly dedicated to physical exercise and its benefits on the human body. The book explained workouts, functional training techniques, games and sports from a medical point of view and advised preventing injury when participating in sports or exercise.

Another work on the human condition that was popular during this period was titled De Arte Gymnastica by Girolamo Mercuriale, an Italian doctor, who wrote about hygiene, fitness nutrition and the importance of physical exercise.

It is essential to mention that although the accuracy and breadth of the books mentioned above are far from the health and fitness aids available today, they are believed to be some of the first books were directly focusing on the human body and fitness training.

The Modern Age: Training for King and Country

training exercises
Training for pleasure to have a physically perfect physique become popular among young men in the Modern Age that instilled a sense of pride for country and self. (Source: Unsplash)

The Industrial Revolution considerably changed the world and marked a clear transition from manual methods, that were common before, to the fabrication of goods using machinery.

The use of machinery and automated machines changed the way people lived, worked, and moved.

Therefore, since life became more sedentary than in previous centuries and man did not have to work long hours of intense labour, intentional physical exercise arose and became more popular than ever before.

At this point, dedicating time to exercise was a trend that became more popular especially with the rise of nationalism in many European countries since the workforce was not as physically demanding as before. 

Muscle gain and toning to look more intimidating to the enemy, reflex training to become quicker than the rest, and cardio exercise to endure longer than the opponent were all practised by young men during this period since being ready to fight in the event of war instilled a sense of pride for many men in themselves and their country.

Initiatives to work out for sheer pleasure and to reach the pinnacle of fitness were present all over Europe as the value for fitness grew exponentially. The following are some of the sports training methods adopted in various countries across Europe and other parts of the world during the Modern Age:

  • Germany: the Germans are well-known and have gained a reputation for being strong and tough. Therefore, it is no surprise to learn that during the Modern Age, Johann Bernard Basedow opened a school specialising in games and exercise training. At his fitness school, Basedow included wrestling, running, horse riding and dance in the curriculum to make fitness training a priority for young individuals. It is important to state, that even the school uniform was designed to be comfortable and allow for flexibility when working out.
  • Sweden: when one discovers that the Swedes are descendants of Vikings, it comes as no surprise that they are viewed as strong and healthy individuals who are interested in sports training. For example, in the Modern Age, Per Henrik Ling explored the principle of physical development with an emphasis on the aesthetic qualities of muscular strength and toning that could be achieved by working out at the gym, cardiovascular exercise, stretching, and massages.
  • Spain: the Spanish are well-known for their appreciation of a natural and low-stress life that includes portion control and lots of siestas. Spaniards also highly value fitness training and exercise; therefore, it is no surprise to learn that Francisco Amoros founded a military academy and published a guide of gymnastics, excellent physique and moral education.
  • France: the French love fatty foods, wine and bread but that does not mean that they are not physically active. Citizens of France have the reputation of walking a lot, riding their bikes everywhere, and doing other forms of physical training. In the Modern Age, Hippolyte Triat founded the first ever gymnasium for the use of the aristocracy, bourgeoisie, and young athletes; these facilities and their emphasis on fitness training at this gymnasium are probably the earliest example of fitness centres that we widely recognise today.
  • The United States of America: while the other countries on this list are all European, the USA, currently reputed for developing fast food and unhealthy lifestyles, started adopting sports training methods in the Modern Age. For example, Catharine Beecher, an early fitness pioneer, developed a fitness programme to music which focused on helping people get fit and become healthier overall.

The Evolution of the Fitness Industry

At the beginning of the 20th century, the use of fitness equipment such as weights and exercise machines to specialise in resistance training, strength training and building muscle mass started to take off and become more popular than ever before.

People started to want exercise machines in their own home to work out at a time most convenient for them without having to leave the house to go to a fitness centre. 

Little by little, the health & fitness industry became more popular and grew as a significant player in the global economy. For example, the worldwide fitness and health club industry has been estimated to be worth over 80 billion USD (over 61 billion GBP) and shows no signs of slowing down.

The last century was marked by the importance of competition, specialist sports and the emergence of organised group fitness classes or training sessions which opened the industry to amateur athletes who had no previous experience in sports training.

Meanwhile, personal trainers kept the rich and famous fit and healthy, a service that has now become less exclusive and more affordable to all people in countries around the world.

What Does a Fitness Trainer Do?

The work of a fitness instructor is quite varied and changes from one day to the next. Furthermore, the following are some of the most common tasks accomplished by a personal fitness trainer or online personal trainer:

  • Demonstrates routines and exercises new and returning clients to have them all meet their fitness goals,
  • Providing general information about fitness training and describing the benefits of adopting a healthy diet,
  • Monitoring the client's progress and suggested new methods to have all reach their goals at the scheduled time.

A certified personal trainer may find himself working in fitness centres, hospitals, or for himself when they have a significant number of clients.

Most fitness trainers have attained a personal trainer certification from a qualified institute that significantly depends on their country of residence. For example, in the United Kingdom, personal trainers receive a level three training qualification from organisations such as the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPS) or the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA).

Modern Pioneers of the Fitness Training Industry

the best exercisers
Jane Fonda is one of the most famous fitness gurus of all time. (Source: Visual Hunt)

From the mid-20th century to the present day, there have been many precursors of the sports training industry that have developed training programmes, exercise machines, and modern-day methods to help fitness amateurs train in a way that will reap desired results.

The following are some of the most well-known pioneers of the fitness industry from the past few decades:

  • Jane Fonda: "Are you ready to workout?" Widely regarded by many as the fitness queen, Jane Fonda's workout videos have inspired many women all over the world to take fitness training seriously. The VHS Jane Fonda's Workout has sold more than 17 million copies, the most of any exercise series, and made the Oscar Winner a household name when discussing sports training. She encouraged many Americans to buy a VHS in the early 80s so that they could follow her fitness routines at home.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger: one of the best champions in the world of fitness, Arnold Schwarzenegger has dramatically influenced the world of bodybuilding. His fitness results shaped the world's views on bodybuilding in general and his workout plans such as go for the pump, clear goal, and go heavy are still practised by bodybuilders today. Mr Olympia's effect on the fitness world will never be forgotten.
  • Shaun T: an American motivational speaker and personal trainer who revolutionised the sports training industry by creating great personal workout videos such as T25, Insanity, and Hip-Hop Abs that have helped many modern-day individuals get back in shape. Although many of his famous videos were released over ten years ago, they are still used and practised in people's living rooms after the world.

Other well-known fitness gurus who influenced the sports training world in the 20th century include Jack Lalanne, Richard Simmons, Heather Locklear, Denise Austin, and Tony Little.

The Future of Fitness Training

having a fitness tracker
Fitness trackers such as the Fitbit and the Apple Watch have modernised the health & fitness industry. (Source: pixabay)

Over the next few decades, the fitness and personal training industries will continue to grow in popularity and influence many individuals all over the planet to get their best body.

Popular aspects of bodybuilding, body conditioning, sophisticated machinery, as well as alternative workout methods like Pilates, Wii Fit and personalised fitness training services with online personal trainers will shape the future of personal fitness.

New technologies such as the Fitbit, personal training applications, and hydration trackers have modernised the fitness industry. 

Many new possibilities are emerging in the fitness world for athletes, trainers, and fitness newbies which makes working out much more enjoyable than before; technology will continue to develop and every few months something new to guide your workout will be released.

For those who prefer training alone and embracing new technology, fitness-tracking bracelets and watches are becoming a more significant part of day-to-day life – even for non-athletes!

It is important to state, that not only technology will develop in the future of fitness training and exercise science but also many new trends will be adopted. According to the online magazine SELF, the following are the top ten fitness trends to expect throughout 2019:

  • Wearable technology,
  • Group Training,
  • HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training),
  • Fitness Programmes for Older Adults,
  • Bodyweight Training,
  • Employing Certified Fitness Pros,
  • Yoga,
  • Personal Training,
  • Functional Fitness Training,
  • Exercise is Medicine.

While you might say that the previously mentioned trends are not relatively new; however, the methods and angles in which they will be approached at in 2019 and future years will be entirely different from the past.

So, whether you need guidance from an accredited fitness and wellness expert that possesses a trainer certification, or you would only like some advice on taking your training to the next level, lace up your trainers - the 21st century has something for you!

In conclusion, at Superprof we aim to intrigue all, the history buffs, the fitness enthusiasts, and the casual readers; we hope we've accomplished that in today's article about the fascinating history of personal fitness sports training!

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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.