Jane Fonda got women into aerobics, and Olivia Newton-John made it cool to get physical.
But that was more than two decades ago.
Times have changed dramatically since then and so has the philosophy surrounding women's fitness. Basic aerobics and step classes just don't cut it anymore.
Women today want to workout like Teri Hatcher, not Barbarella. They want to get into the zone with Brittney, not Sandra Dee. And they don't want to just tone their bodies—they want to rejuvenate their spirit.
In the past 20 years, we have witnessed the Oprah-fication of America. Women now believe they only can be truly healthy when they are physically, mentally and emotionally fit.
Recreation professionals who embrace this philosophy have tapped into an underserved market. They recognize that successful women's fitness programs do more than just make people sweat. They celebrate femininity with classes that engage female patrons physically while indulging their imagination and sense of self.
There is no greater celebration of womanhood than pregnancy, yet the recreation industry overall has been slow to realize this programming opportunity.
With the introduction of prenatal aerobics and yoga, many facilities feel they are meeting the needs of expectant mothers. Stacy Denney, owner of California-based Barefoot & Pregnant, knows otherwise.
She came up with the idea of opening a facility for pregnant women when her sisters and best girlfriends began having babies a few years ago. She loved listening to their pregnancy stories and hearing what things made those nine months easier and harder.
She was surprised to hear, however, how alone many of them felt during the process. She began wondering why there wasn't a resource for them, somewhere they could gather and bounce ideas off each other.
She knew many fitness centers had prenatal water aerobics and yoga. Yet the women she talked to shied away from those classes after their first trimester because they didn't want to be seen at a health club.
"A lot of my customers weren't comfortable working out around a bunch of skinny, younger women in Spandex," she says. "A majority of our clients leave the gym once they are pregnant, and then two months postpartum, they go back to the gym."
Recognizing this unexplored niche, Denney paired with an experienced obstetrics nurse and other health professionals to open Barefoot & Pregnant in Larkspur, Calif. The unique facility offers exercise classes, a full-service spa and childbirth classes.
Industry experts believe it's the first facility of its kind nationwide—a fact that astonished Denney when she began researching the market.
"How can there be a new idea for a business in 2003?" she says. "I thought everyone had thought of everything."
Denney quickly solidified her position in the recreation industry. The facility has evolved, she says, based on customer suggestions and needs. She delved even deeper into her patrons' psyche when she became pregnant with her first child shortly after opening the business.
Barefoot & Pregnant's popularity receives a boost from the fact that more women are having babies later in life. Though women in their 20s are still the majority, the percentage of women having children between the ages of 30 and 44 has doubled since 1981, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This means more women are giving birth at a time when they're more financially secure, studies show. They generally have more disposable income than their twentysomething counterparts and can better recognize their physical and emotional needs.
It also helps that expectant mothers are considered chic these days.
"Right now, pregnancy is in," Denney says. "Celebrities are doing it. Everyone is talking about it. Of course, it has always been there, but now it's more celebrated."
And Barefoot & Pregnant, above all else, is a celebration of pending motherhood. Denney says she has two types of customers: her loyal clients and her spa users.
The loyal customers enjoy regular exercise classes, including prenatal cardio, body sculpting and yoga. There are postpartum fitness sessions, as well as workshops on infant massage and sign-language classes to help mother and baby communicate.
The 3,000-square-foot facility's design fosters a soothing, supportive environment. Soft-filtered light brushes against the maple floors as patrons hear the subtle trickling sounds of a wall-hung fountain. Stunning photos of pregnant women hang throughout the building in a celebration of motherhood and birth.