The 1970’s marked a time of radical change, as America was faced with numerous problems including: the Vietnam War, an energy crisis, sky-rocketing inflation, double digit mortgage rates, high unemployment and recreational drug use which combined, defined the Era historically.
The two major physical activities that defined the times with regards to fitness were; racquet sports and jogging. These activities were at the peak of their popularity during the 1970’s.
Tennis’ surge in popularity came in part because of the success of American tennis stars, Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors. The #1-ranked players in the world were captivating the American public by their stellar play on the court and they inspired many to start swinging a racket! In addition, two up and coming American players started to shine. Tracy Austin & John McEnroe brought youth, exuberance and renewed freshness to an old game.
Parks and recreation departments in many cities installed lights for night play. I remember having to wait hours for a court to open up during the summer nights of 1977. The courts were so packed that you would have to place your racket on a special holder, built onto the fence, to secure the next open court. Because of the extraordinarily high demand, recreation supervisors had to start limiting play to an hour. Today you will find those same courts are more or less deserted.
Racquetball, which was invented by Joe Sobek in 1949, became very popular during the ‘70s. It was definitely easier to learn than tennis and the courts were far less expensive for health clubs to build. It quickly became the “in” sport.
Beautifully designed indoor racquetball clubs were erected and many of the better clubs featured glass showcase courts with plush grandstand-like seating attracting many new spectators and members! By the late 1970's racquetball was one of the fastest growing sports in America, but like “Disco,” it died in the 80’s with the advent of Dance Aerobics. Many courts were converted into aerobic dance rooms.
Defined as a form of trotting or running at a slow or leisurely pace, jogging starting in the 1960’s but gained wide-spread popularity during the 1970’s. In 1968 there were about 100,000 people jogging regularly. By 1978 the number of joggers increased to 27 million! In 1977 People Weekly magazine did a cover story featuring the top two television stars of the day. Lee Majors, the “Six Million Dollar Man” & then wife, Farrah Fawcett Majors of Charlie’s Angels fame were pictured on the cover jogging together with the headline, “Everybody’s Doing It! – Stars Join the Jogging Craze!”
Many people credit, Bill Bowerman for developing the concept of jogging in America. In 1962 after visiting Arthur Lydiard, an athletics coach and proponent of jogging in New Zealand, Bill came back eager to tell everyone about the benefits of jogging. Bowerman then published his book, “Jogging” in 1966 and established jogging programs for men and women of all ages. The popularity of these programs helped to spread the concept of jogging as an exercise throughout the United States.
A further boost to jogging came in 1968 when Dr. Kenneth Cooper released his book, “Aerobics.” The book outlined an “Aerobics Points System” which assigned points to exercise based on the type of movement, duration and level of exertion. Jogging was listed in the book as one of the preferred types of exercise.