Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
In This Section

Sport Science Review

The Journal of National Institute for Sport Research

3 Issues per year

Open Access
See all formats and pricing
In This Section

The Fitness Revolution. Historical Transformations in the Global Gym and Fitness Culture

Jesper Andreasson
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Sport Science, Linnaeus University, Kalmar, Sweden
  • Linnaeus University, Department of Sport Science, 391 82 Kalmar, Sweden
  • Email:
/ Thomas Johansson
  • Department of Education, Communication and Learning, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Published Online: 2014-09-19 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/ssr-2014-0006


Today, fitness gyms and private health clubs are a huge global business. Fitness has turned into a folk movement, but not one comparable to the old 20th-century movements, often connected to national sentiments, but instead a highly individualized preoccupation. In this article the historical development of modern gym and fitness culture is described and an analytically developed approach to the understanding of the emergence of this multi-billion-dollar phenomenon is developed. The analysis suggest that the techniques, tools, and physical exercises used today in gyms all over the world are the results of a physical culture developed and refined during the 20th century. The body ideals, exercises, techniques, and the pedagogy of fitness have become an increasingly international enterprise. A tentative analysis of the globalization of gym and fitness culture is developed and presented. Three important and decisive phases in the globalization of gym and fitness culture are identified and analyzed.

Keywords: fitness culture; history; body; globalization


  • Bale, J. & Christensen, M. K. (2004). Post-Olympics. Questioning Sport in the Twentyfirst Century. Oxford: Berg.

  • Bridges, T. S. (2009). Gender Capital and Male Bodybuilders. Body & Society, 15(1), 83-107. [Web of Science]

  • Budd, M. A. (1997). The Sculpture Machine. Physical Culture and Body Politics in the Age of Empire. London: MacMillan Press.

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (2012). Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Projections Overview. Accessed April 18, 2013 at: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/about/projections-overview.htm.

  • Chapman, D. L. (1994). Sandow the Magnificent. Eugen Sandow and the beginning of Bodybuilding. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

  • Connell, R. W. (1995). Masculinities. Cambridge: Polity Press.

  • Crossley, N. (2006). In the gym: Motives, meaning and moral careers. Body & Society, 12(3), 23-50.

  • Denham, B. E. (2008). Masculinities in Hardcore Bodybuilding. Men and Masculinities, 11(2), 234-42. [Web of Science] [Crossref]

  • Dutton, K. R. (1995). The Perfectible Body. The western Ideal of Physical development. London: Cassell.

  • Dutton, K.R. (2012). The Self Contained Body. The Heroic and Aesthetic/ Erotic Modes of Representing the Muscular Body. In Locks, A & Richardson, N (ed.). Critical Readings in Bodybuilding. New York/London: Routledge.

  • Dworkin, S.L. & Wachs, L. (2009). Body Panic.Gender, health, and the Selling of Fitness. New York: New York University Press.

  • Fair, J. D. (1999). Muscletown USA. Bob Hoffman and the Manly Culture of York Barbell. Pennsylvania University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

  • Fonda, J. (2005). My Life So Far. New York: Random House.

  • Fussell, S. (1991). Muscles. The Confession of an Unlikely Bodybuilder. New York: Scribner’s.

  • Gaines, C., & Butler, G. (1974). Pumping Iron.The Art and Sport of Bodybuilding. London: Sphere Books Ltd.

  • George, M. (2008). Interactions in Expert Service Work. Demonstrating Professionalism in Personal Training. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 37, 108-31. [Crossref] [Web of Science]

  • Glasner, B. (1990). Fit for Postmodern Selfhood. In Becker, H. S., and McCall, M. M. (editors) Symbolic Interaction and Cultural Studies, pp. 215-243. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

  • Grant, S. (2013). Physical Culture and Sport in Soviet Society. Propaganda, Acculturation, and Transformation in the 1920s and 1930s. London: Routledge.

  • Green, H. (1986). Fit for America. Health, Fitness, Sport and the American Society. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

  • Hoberman, J. (2005). Testosterone Dreams.Rejuvenation, Aphrodisiac, Doping. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Hunt, W.R. (1989). Body Love. The amazing career of Bernarr Macfadden. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Press.

  • IHRSA. (2013). The 2013 IHRSA Global Report. The state of the Health Club Industry. Boston: IHRSA.

  • Jeffords, S. (1994). Hard Bodies. Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

  • Kimmel, M. (1996). Manhood in America. A Cultural History. New York: The Free Press. Klein, A. M. (1993). Little big men. Bodybuilding subculture and gender construction. New York: State University of New York Press.

  • Lau, K. J. (2011). Body Language. Sisters in Shape, Black Women’s Fitness, and Feminist Identity Politics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

  • Lindsay, C. (1996). Bodybuilding: A Postmodern Freak Show. In Thomson, R.G. (ed.). Freakery. Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. New York: New York University Press.

  • Liokaftos, D. (2012). From ‘Classical’ to ‘Freaky’. An exploration of the development of dominant, organised male bodybuilding culture. London: Goldsmith’s College, PhD.

  • Luciano, L. (2001). Looking Good: Male Body Image in Modern America. New York: Hill and Wang.

  • McGrath, S., & Chananie-Hill, R. (2009). ‘Big Freaky-Looking Women’. Normalizing Gender Transgression through Bodybuilding. Sociology of Sport Journal, 26, 235-254.

  • Mansfield, L. (2011). ‘Sexercise’: Working out Heterosexuality in Jane Fonda’s Fitness Books, Leisure Studies, 30(2), 237-55. [Web of Science]

  • Melnick, J. M. & Jackson, S. J. (2002) ‘Globalization American-Style and Reference Selection: The Importance of Athlete Celebrity Others among New Zealand Youth’. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 37(3-4), 429-448.

  • Miller, L. K., & Fielding, L. W. (1995). The battle between the For-Profit Health Club and the “Commercial” YMCA. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 19, February.

  • Mogensen, K. (2011). Body Punk. En afhandling om mandlige kropsbyggere og kroppens betydninger i lyset av antidoping kampagner [Body Punk. A Thesis on male bodybuilders and the meanings of the body in the light of anti-doping campaigns]. Roskilde: Roskilde Universitetscenter.

  • Monaghan, L. (2001). Bodybuilders drugs and risk. Health, risk and society. New York: Routledge.

  • Monaghan, L. F. (2007). McDonaldizing men’s bodies? Associated (ir)rationalities and resistances. Body & Society, 13(2), 67-93. Mosse, G. (1996). The image of man. The Creation of Modern Masculinity. New York/ Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Probert, A., Leberman, S., & Palmer, F. (2007). New Zealand Bodybuilder Identities. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 42(1), 5-26.

  • Putney, C. (2001). Muscular Christianity. Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880-1920. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

  • Ram, U. (2004). Glocommodification: How the Global Consumes the Local - McDonald’s in Israel. Current Sociology, 52(1), 11-31.

  • Reich, J. (2010). The World’s most Perfectly Developed Man. Charles Atlas, Physical Culture, and the Inscription of American Masculinity. Men and Masculinities, 12(4), 444-461. [Web of Science] [Crossref]

  • Ritzer, G. (2011). The McDonaldization of Society 6. London: SAGE.

  • Sassatelli, R. (2010). Fitness Culture.Gyms and the Commercialisation of Discipline and Fun. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Schwarzenegger, A., & Hall, D. K. (1977). Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder. New York: Simon & Schuster.

  • Smith, A. C. T., & Stewart, B. (2012). Body Perception and health Behaviours in an Online Bodybuilding Community. Qualitative Health Research, 22(7), 971-85.

  • Smith Maguire, J. (2008). Fit for Consumption. Sociology and the business of fitness. London/New York: Routledge. [Web of Science]

  • Spielvogel, L. (2003). Working out in Japan. Shaping the female body in Tokyo fitness clubs. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Steen-Johnsen, K. (2007). Globalized Fitness in the Norwegian Context. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 42(3), 343-62.

  • Stern, M. (2011). Real or Rogue Charity? Private Health Clubs vs. the YMCA, 1970-2010. Business and Economic History, On-Line, 9.

  • Todd, J. (1998). Physical Culture and the Body Beautiful. Purposive Exercise in the Lives of American Women 1800-1870. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press. Urry, J. (2003). Global Complexity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

  • Urry, J. (2007) Mobilities. Cambridge: Polity Press.

  • Yang, C. F. J., Gray, P., & Pope, H. (2005). Male body image in Taiwan versus the West: Yanggang Zhiqi meets the Adonis complex. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162(2), 263-269.

About the article

Published Online: 2014-09-19

Published in Print: 2014-08-01

Citation Information: Sport Science Review, ISSN (Online) 2069-7244, DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/ssr-2014-0006. Export Citation

© by Jesper Andreasson. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Citing Articles

Here you can find all Crossref-listed publications in which this article is cited. If you would like to receive automatic email messages as soon as this article is cited in other publications, simply activate the “Citation Alert” on the top of this page.

Rebekah Brennan, John S.G. Wells, and Marie Claire Van Hout
Health & Social Care in the Community, 2016, Page n/a

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in