Shadows of Our Past: A Look at the Legends Who Shaped the Fitness Industry

Shadows of Our Past: A Look at the Legends Who Shaped the Fitness Industry

In a brief respite from the daily COVID-19 news and updates, ClubIntel takes a look back at individuals whose influence on the industry has become everlasting, and therefore ‘legendary’.

The following is excerpted from Shadows of Our Past part 3. To download a copy of the full white paper, click here.


Babe Ruth, one of baseball’s most endearing legends, was once asked if he was a hero or legend, to which he responded, “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” The quote has gone on to become legendary itself, oft used by those seeking to inspire future generations. What did the Babe mean when he said, “legends never die”? He was speaking to the enduring power of legends as symbols of their culture, to their unrelenting and ongoing influence on the spirit of those that follow in their footpaths, and finally, to their ability to ground a culture in the face of constant change. Without legends, the underlying fabric of a culture, whether a nation, family, or in the case of this whitepaper, an industry, requires that we never allow the legends to die, for if they do, so does the fabric of who we are. Helen Hayes, an accomplished actress, may have said it best when speaking to the eternal influence of legends when she said, “Legends die hard. They survive as truth rarely does.”

This paper, the final in our three-part series entitled Shadows of Our Past, introduces those we believe to be the legends of the fitness industry. Like the first two papers in our series, this one has been adapted from a three-part series written for Les Mills in late 2019 leveraging content from the book Legends of Fitness authored by Peterson, O’Rourke and Tharrett.

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Catherine Beecher (1800 – 1878)

Catherine Beecher was renowned for her contributions to advancing exercise and nutrition for women. Beecher co-founded her first school for women in 1823, called the Hartford Female Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut. It was during her tenure at the Hartford Seminary that she introduced calisthenic exercises for women. In 1831, she wrote an essay entitled, “A Course in Calisthenics for Young Ladies,” which expounded on her approach to exercise for women. Later in 1833, she and her father opened the Western Female Institute, where she expanded upon her innovative callisthenic exercises for women involving performing lightweight resistance exercises for multiple repetitions, almost always to music. Over the next several decades, her callisthenic exercises for women grew in prominence, finally gaining acceptance as proper for women of the period. In 1856, she authored a book entitled, Physiology and Calisthenics for Schools and Families, in which she laid out her style of gymnastics for women. Beecher’s callisthenic exercises for women were ground-breaking and led to her being anointed as the founder of American-style gymnastics for women. In 1873, she authored another book entitled Housekeeper and Health Keeper, in which she laid out further guidance for physical exercise and proper dieting for women.

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Eugene Sandow (1867 – 1925)

In the 1880s, Sandow, a student of Professor Atilla, established himself as one of the most well-known and affluent strongmen in the history of physical culture. Sandow was a strongman, entertainer, health educator, trainer, and celebrity. He established numerous records in strongman competitions and is considered by many to be the first professional bodybuilder. He developed several pieces of training equipment, including the “The Sandow Physical Training Leg Machine,” and his special-grip dumbbells. He also authored numerous books, including Sandow’s System of Physical Training (1894); Strength and How to Obtain It (1897); The Gospel of Strength According to Sandow (1902); and Bodybuilding by Sandow (1904). In 1897, he opened a gym facility, The Institute of Physical Culture, that was dedicated to delivering advanced training techniques to aspiring professionals in the field of physical culture. He laid the foundation for modern bodybuilding, but also for many of today’s modern training techniques.

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Download the full white paper

ClubIntel is a brand insights and market research firm focused on serving the health/fitness and private club industries. For more information, visit

To access Part 1 and Part 2 of Shadows of Our Past, visit

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