Personal training as a profession started less than 100 years ago, which seems pretty recent.
However, the concept of personal training isn’t recent at all. The history of personal fitness training dates back to ancient civilizations, hundreds of years BCE.
These ancient nations used fitness training to prepare their armies for war, as in Babylon and Egypt. Others used it to prepare for sports competitions, like in Greece.
Human interest in physical fitness has an even longer history than systematic training.
Since the dawn of humanity, improving physical fitness has been a desired goal for many reasons. We wanted to fight, survive, and live a healthy life (just to name a few).
Although the specific goals changed over time, our desire to improve our fitness has remained unchanged in almost all ages.
This post is a breakdown of the evolution of fitness training from the moment humans existed until today.
History of Personal Training Timeline
Here’s a quick look at the evolution of personal training since the dawn of humankind:
- Primal Life (10,000 BC): Humans improved their fitness by performing strenuous physical activities like hunting. This helped them survive. The fittest and most able individuals survived.
- Agriculture Development (10,000 to 8,000 BC): Physical activity of humans decreased as most of them moved from nomads who were hunting and gathering to stationary settlements where planting crops was the norm.
- Ancient Civilizations (4,000 BC–the 2nd century): Armies had systematic fitness training to help them prepare for wars.
- 2nd Century: The invention of the first-ever workout routine.
- Dark Ages: Exercise and workout principles disappeared for centuries.
- 1400–1600: Physical education experienced a dramatic evolution.
- 19th Century: The emergence of commercial gyms.
- 1936: Jack LaLanne founded the first gym in the US to offer weight training under experts’ supervision.
- 1951: Jack LaLanne presented one of the first fitness shows in history.
- 1954: The establishment of the first US organization to regulate the fitness industry, the American College of Sports Medicine.
- 20th Century: The inception of the modern fitness industry.
- 20th Century: Jack LaLanne invented the current concept of personal training.
- 2023: The number of personal trainers in the US is over 830,000.
What Is the Origin of Physical Fitness?
The desire for physical fitness has been present throughout human history. Let’s look at how this desire affected the life of primitive people:
Physical Activity in Primal Life: 10,000 BC
Humans started developing their physical abilities during the hunter-gatherer lifestyle around 10,000 BC. This was way before the existence of systematic fitness training and scheduled fitness exercises.
Our predecessors had to naturally improve their running, jumping, and lifting skills to survive the harsh primal life. There were a lot more dangerous things in their environment and they didn’t have a long life expectancy.
They also used to develop their fighting skills to be ready for any physical confrontation with wild animals or other hostile humans.
Physical Activity After the Agriculture Development: 10,000 to 8,000 BC
When humans discovered agriculture, their physical activity changed dramatically. The vast majority of humans became farmers.
As a result, their daily activities shifted from chasing animals and hunting to planting crops and raising cattle.
Although agricultural activities involved movement, they were less intense and required only a limited range of motion.
In that way, the physical activity of the farmers was less than those of their hunter ancestors.
The First Structured Physical Training: 4,000 BC–2nd Century
As human civilization evolved, tribes evolved into nations. With multiple nations established, each nation needed an army of specialized soldiers to defend itself.
Wars at that time involved men fighting with primitive tools like spears and swords, and often bare hands. The physical strength of the warriors played a significant role in determining the winner of the battle.
For that reason, the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Egyptians started training their armies physically. This is the first recorded systematic physical training in human history.
One of the earliest physical training records dates back to 2500 BCE in Egypt. This record is a drawing found on the walls of a funerary chapel in Egypt.
Of course, the training was primitive as they only performed the movements required to improve their fighting skills.
Hundreds of years later, the Greeks invented the first Olympic Games, one of the first athletic competitions in history.
Competitors who participated in the Olympics would receive training under former athletes’ supervision to prepare for competitions.
The First-Ever Workout Routine: 2nd Century
Evidence of workout routines dates back to the second century! The Greek physician Galen was the first one to design what we now call a workout routine.
Galen introduced a complete training program called “Exercise with a Small Ball.”
He was also one of the first physicians to emphasize exercise and motion’s role in enhancing overall human health.
Galen’s training principles spread quickly to the Roman Empire as well. These principles have been applied for almost two centuries.
Nonetheless, with the fall of the Roman Empire, these systematic workouts and training principles disappeared.
All these training principles stayed hidden throughout the European Dark Ages. Luckily, when the Renaissance age started, Galen’s training principles and systems were rediscovered.
The Evolution of Physical Education: 1400–1600
The Renaissance era marked a remarkable advancement in physical education. Here are some of the highlights of the fitness education improvement made during that time:
- In 1420, the Italian Vittorino da Feltre established one of the first schools in history that focused on physical education. The school is named “Pleasant House.”
- In 1553, Cristobal Mendez wrote one of the first books ever to address physical exercise and its benefits.
- In 1569, Mercurilalis published a culmination of studies of the ancient Romans and Greeks’ diet and exercises in a book titled De Arte Gymnastica.
- Mercurialis’s book remained an important reference for training and exercise for centuries afterward.
The Emergence of Commercial Gyms: 19th Century
Until the middle of the 19th century, the idea of commercial gyms hadn’t yet come into existence.
At that time, the Frenchman Hippolyte Triat founded the first-ever commercial gym in Brussels and expanded to Paris later.
By the end of the 19th century, Eugen Sandow, the first bodybuilder, started promoting the idea of increasing body mass.
The German bodybuilder encouraged people to reach the best possible physique.
In addition, Sundew founded a fitness club named “The London Institute of Physical Culture.” The gym included free weights workouts and followed the progressive weight training philosophy.
Despite all these efforts in the 19th century to promote physical training, gyms only attracted small numbers of people.
This is because fitness clubs weren’t that accessible for the vast majority of people.
The Inception of the Modern Fitness Industry: 20th Century
The 20th century marked the emergence of the fitness industry as we know it. The industry started in Europe and the US at the beginning of that century.
Some men had the most significant contributions to developing this industry. Here are some highlights of their contributions:
Georges Hebert: Physical Training Pioneer
Georges Hebert was a physical trainer for the French navy at the beginning of the 20th century.
He invented one of the first modern physical training programs in a book called ”The Natural Method.” The book gives a step-by-step guide to performing the included exercises.
Edmond Desbonnet: The Precursor of the Fitness Industry in Europe
Here’s a quick look at the role Edmond Desbonnet played in developing the fitness industry:
- Edmond Desbonnet was one of the first to promote the importance of fitness to the public. He presented physical fitness as a fashionable concept in his sports journal.
- He founded one of the earliest fitness clubs in the world in 1887
- He wrote seven books that influenced the fitness industry for years.
Bernarr Macfadden: The Precursor of the Fitness Industry in the US
At the beginning of the 20th century in the US, Bernarr Macfadden was one of the physical culture promoters. In an attempt to improve the fitness industry, Macfadden did the following:
- Promoted a millennialist lifestyle that includes daily physical exercise.
- Encouraged eliminating processed food from the diet and spending time in nature.
- In 1899, he established one of the first-ever fitness magazines, “Physical Culture.”
- Staged the earliest physical contests in the US in 1903, 1921, and 1922.
- By 1935, “Physical Culture” magazine and other Macfadden publications reached 35 million readers.
Who Was the First Personal Trainer?
There’s no decisive answer to this question. Thousands of years ago, coaches trained Greek athletes who participated in the Olympics.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, multiple physical trainers have trained army forces and athletes in Europe.
But it is safe to say that Jack LaLanne was the first modern personal trainer, according to the current concept of the profession.
Jack LaLanne: The Father of Fitness
Jack LaLanne is known for being the father of fitness. Here’s why:
- He continued Bernarr Macfadden’s efforts in bringing exercise and weightlifting to the public by offering them simple and actionable exercise advice.
- In 1936, LaLanne founded the first fitness club in the US to offer weight training under expert supervision.
- He participated in designing multiple popular fitness machines, including the leg extension, cable pulley, and Smith machine.
- LaLanne motivated women for the first time to join fitness clubs and lift weights.
- LaLanne had a self-titled show in which he presented a lot of his fitness advice for over 34 years on TV. Millions of the US population watched the show episodes.
- LaLanne’s movement was the inspiration for a lot of people to pursue careers as personal trainers in the following years.
The Growth of the Modern Fitness Industry: 1950–Present
Since the fitness revolution started by Macfadden and Desbonnet, the fitness industry has experienced incredible growth.
Many exercise machines, fitness equipment, and supplements were invented.
In addition, fitness gurus started all sorts of magazines and wrote hundreds of exercise books. Today there are hundreds of fitness apps.
Moreover, in the past 100 years, fitness trainers have invented thousands of training programs and strategies.
Manufacturers introduced special devices that claimed to help people to achieve their best physique.
Because of this evolution, several organizations and associations were established to supervise the fitness industry and certify personal trainers. Here are some of them:
|Year of Establishment||Organization|
|1954||The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)|
|1985||American Console on Exercise (ACE)|
|1987||National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)|
|1994||International Fitness Professionals Association (IFPA)|
|1996||American Applied Personal Training Education (AAPTE)|
The Rapid Increase of Personal Trainers: 2000 and Beyond
With the insane expansion of the fitness industry over the past century, the number of personal trainers has increased incredibly in the US.
Although we don’t have an old record of the number of personal trainers in the 20th century, we have data that shows the increasing number of personal trainers over the past decade.
Here’s how the number of personal trainers changed from 2013 to 2023, according to IBIS World:
|Year||Number of Personal Trainers in the US|
As you can see, the number of personal trainers has increased by approximately 64% over a decade. It’s also expected to continue growing in the upcoming few years.
The history of personal training has roots that go back to the dawn of humankind because improving physical abilities has always been a desired goal for humans.
In primitive life, humans needed to be fit to survive against wildlife. In ancient times, armies had to exercise and prepare physically for war.
Due to the importance of physical fitness, the first workout routine was invented in the 2nd century.
From this point on, physical education evolved year after year. Like many other things, physical training took a business path in the 19th century.
This happened with the foundation of the first commercial gym in France.
From there, the popularity of fitness took an upward curve. As a result, many professions were created in the fitness industry, including personal trainers.
Today, the number of fitness trainers has exceeded 800,000 in the US alone.
Hope you enjoyed reading about this long history of fitness and personal training.