New Zealand’s first gymnasium (gym) is thought to have opened in Wellington in 1842. As the 19th century went on, more gyms opened around the country. From the 1870s schools also began to build their own.
The 20th century
In the early 20th century gyms and organised exercise systems became increasingly popular, especially for men. Bodybuilding gained a following.
In some places fitness classes for women were offered. After the First World War the Auckland Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) advertised ‘The First Gymnasium in Australasia exclusively for Women.’
The world wars saw the nation’s physical health and fitness become a government priority. In 1938 a Physical Welfare Branch was set up within the Department of Internal Affairs. The government hired halls to run keep-fit classes for public servants.
Jogging caught on in the 1970s, and led to a boom in the popularity of aerobic exercise. By the 1980s ‘aerobics’ referred to choreographed exercise routines that were usually done in group classes at gyms – or ‘fitness centres’ as they began to be called.
The 21st century
In the 2000s New Zealand had around 400 gyms, catering for 500,000 members and employing 5,000 staff.
Most gyms incorporated a main workout area with weights; a cardio area with equipment such as treadmills and rowing machines; and a large space with a sprung floor for group classes. Some gyms also had swimming pools, saunas, squash courts or solariums, and offered the services of nutritionists and physiotherapists.
The fitness industry was represented and overseen by the organisation Fitness New Zealand. Skills Active Aotearoa set standards for the many tertiary qualifications offered in exercise science and leisure studies.