Bonnie Prudden (January 29, 1914 – December 11, 2011) was an American physical fitness pioneer, expert rock climber and mountaineer. Her report to Eisenhower on the unfitness of American children as compared with their European counterparts led to the formation of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness. Prudden authored 16 books on physical fitness and Myotherapy for all ages and abilities including two best sellers, How to Keep Slender and Fit After Thirty (1961) and Pain Erasure: The Bonnie Prudden Way (1980). She produced six exercise albums, hosted the first regular exercise spots on national television, had a syndicated television show, and wrote a column for Sports Illustrated. Schools, prisons, summer camps, factories, hospitals, clubs, YMCAs, universities, geriatric homes and facilities for the physically and emotionally challenged all used and benefited from the many physical fitness programs she provided for them. Prudden also designed the first fitness fashions and developed numerous pieces of exercise equipment that could be built in the average garage and used by the family. Prudden developed Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy. “A method of relaxing muscle spasm, improving circulation, and alleviating pain. Pressure is applied, using elbows, knuckles, or fingers, and held for several seconds to defuse “trigger points.” The success of this method depends upon the use of specific corrective exercises of the freed muscles. The method was developed by Bonnie Prudden in 1976.”
Born (Ruth Alice) in New York City Prudden began her climbing and dance career at age four when she ventured out the second story nursery window of her Mt. Vernon home to go night walking. After three such escapades a doctor told her mother, “There is nothing wrong with this child that discipline and exhaustion won’t cure. Put her in the Russian Ballet School.” During her growing up years she trained in the Koslov, Magna and Alviene Schools of dance, drama, elocution and gymnastics. She attended German Turnverein and Finnish exercise, took piano, violin, voice, riding, writing and studied anatomy. In 1931 she was enrolled at Horace Mann School where she excelled in English, art, sports, music, drama and taught dance to her classmates. After graduating in 1933 she took extension courses in art at the Grand Central School of Design and journalism and psychology courses at Columbia. At the same time she began studying modern dance with Charles Weidman and Doris Humphrey and became part of the Weidman/Humphrey concert/theatrical dance group performing on Broadway.
In 1936 she married Richard Hirschland, a mountaineer and skier. Their honeymoon in Switzerland was marked by a climb on the Matterhorn following one day of training and the purchase of a new pair of boots.
She first climbed in the Gunks in 1936 with her husband along with Fritz Wiessner and Hans Kraus. In the winter of 1937, however, she badly fractured her pelvis in a skiing accident, which was followed by three months in traction and a doctors’ prediction that she would always limp, would no longer be able to ski, climb, dance, or be able to have children. Nevertheless, daughter Joan Ellen was born in May, 1939 and Susan Ann in August, 1943. She rehabilitated herself with chair exercise and aqua-exercise to music. Prudden went on to become the first woman to hold a National Ski Patrol Badge, and formed the Addlepate Ski Club, the first dry ski club in the country. It was for children eight to eighteen and became the basis for the first Jr. Ski Patrols. Over eleven years she taught 1,000 children ages eight to eighteen without even one fracture. For her work she was awarded the Eastern Amateur Ski Association for ski safety.
Seven years after her injury, Prudden returned to the Gunks, partnering with good friend Hans Kraus. From 1946 to 1955 (mentored by Hans Kraus) she became the most prominent woman climber with a documented 30 first ascents in the Shawangunks Mountains. In 1952, Prudden and Kraus attempted a new climbing route on the cliff known as The Trapps. After attempting the crux overhand, Kraus backed off, handing the lead to Prudden. She was able to find a piton placement that had eluded Hans at the crux, and went on to claim the first ascent of “Bonnie’s Roof”. Since then, she has stated that she and Kraus always climbed as equal partners, always swapping leads. She stopped climbing in 1959 as she said she was working fourteen hour days and no longer had weekends off. After the Hirschlands were divorced in 1954 Bonnie changed her name legally to Bonnie Prudden. She never remarried.
After watching her daughter’s gym class in 1947, she started Bonnie Hirschland’s Conditioning Classes for her two daughters and ten neighborhood children. In a matter of weeks the class had grown to 75. The schools offered their gyms as long as she accepted all applicants. In 1949 new students entered her classes. To gauge the effectiveness of her program she borrowed and applied to practical use a fitness test devised by Kraus and Sonja Weber of New York Presbyterian Hospital. The Kraus-Weber Test involved six simple movements and took 90 seconds to administer. To her surprise the new students failed the test at 58% while the students who had been in the program failed at only 8%. For the next seven years Prudden and her volunteers tested 4,458 children between the ages of 6 and 16 in the United States. The failure rate was 56.6%. While climbing in Europe, Prudden and Kraus arranged to test children in Europe. In Italy, Austria and Switzerland, the children tested exhibited an eight percent failure rate.
In 1952 Bonnie (still Ruth Hirschland) and Kraus began writing papers for medical and physical education journals concerning their findings on Hypokinetic Disease: Role of Inactivity in Production of Disease and various media outlets began to pick up the story.
Prudden bought an empty elementary school in White Plains, NY in 1954 and after renovating it opened The Institute for Physical Fitness. It housed three gyms, two dance studios, a Finnish sauna, a medical unit, two massage rooms, lockers, showers and an office. Taking classes barefoot was a requirement. Equipment, painted in bright colors, was designed after curbs, boulders, fences, railroad tracks, and walls of a less mechanized day. Chinning bars were built in every doorway. Every child used the 42 stairs between basement and top floor for conditioning, discipline and special muscle building. Outside was an obstacle course, that included America’s first climbing wall, cargo nets, hurdles, parallel bars, ladders, ramps, balance maze, tightrope, slalom poles and a rappel roof.
In 1955, armed with statistics and a personal invitation to the Eisenhower White House, Bonnie Prudden presented her findings on the fitness level of American public school children compared to that of their peers in Europe. This became known as The Report that Shocked the President or the Shape of the Nation and was the beginning of a change in American attitudes toward physical fitness.
Kraus’ presentation followed with the medical implications of not enough physical activity: obesity, back pain, high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary heart disease, psychiatric problems and muscle tension. President Eisenhower issued an executive order establishing the President’s Council on Youth Fitness (now the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition). Prudden served on the advisory committee for three years. Prudden and Kraus are credited as co-founders of the Council. In 2007 Prudden was awarded the Council’s Inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award. The YMCA decided to adopt Prudden’s methods of teaching exercise and follow her advice to admit women to their buildings for morning classes. Representatives were sent to White Plains Institute to be taught Kraus-Weber testing and exercise. They went back to their respective states and set up the Prudden Program in their Y. Prudden became a much sought after speaker and the YMCAs became the place to go for the Prudden Programs with diaper gym and swims, pre-natal classes, toddler, mixed teens and family exercise classes. Is Your Child Really Fit? the first book on children’s fitness, was published in 1956. It enlarged on the President’s report and outlined the solution to the problem.
From 1957 through 1960 Bonnie served as a columnist for Sports Illustrated introducing her fitness program and appearing on the cover in a full length leotard of her own design. Fitness fashions were born. Attracted by the fitness fashions The Home Show with Arlene Frances and Hugh Downs, booked her for a weekly family fitness TV spot. Following the closing of The Home Show she moved to the Today Show with Dave Garroway where she remained for two and a half years. She left the show when they started advertising a diet pill in connection with her spot and watchers thought she was endorsing it. At the same time she had regular spots on two radio shows, Tex and Jinx McCrary and Arthur Godfrey. From 1955 through 1975 Prudden continued her crusade for better bodies. She wrote 13 books, countless manuals, set up pilot programs of every kind imaginable, designed fitness clothing and equipment for home and school, lectured nonstop throughout the country, brought out six records, two films, 1 film strip, established five day training workshops, wrote and taped 35 half hour TV shows, The Bonnie Prudden Show. These were so successful that she contracted for 165 more shows. In 1962 The Reader’s Digest began underwriting the Prudden Program. This partnership lasted through the mid-80’s.
Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy
Bonnie Prudden said that there were three friends in her life who made Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy possible. The first was Hans Kraus, who taught her Corrective Exercise beginning in 1943. The second was Janet Travell, who mapped trigger points and referred pain patterns in patients, in the early 1940s. The third was Desmond Tivy, who encouraged Prudden’s research and coined what she had developed as Myotherapy.
Four years after her ski accident Prudden developed back pain which was one of the results of her 1937 accident. She also said that she felt that the stress from her troubled marriage contributed to her physical pain. Back braces, heat, and cold became part of a daily routine.
Her introduction to trigger points began in 1938 when she showed up at the Gunks for a climb with her friends including Kraus. When Kraus noted that she was holding her head in a lopsided position he asked if she had pain and stiffness in her neck. When she said that she did he used his thumb to press on the back of her neck. When he finished she no longer felt pain or stiffness and her head was straight. After this they all went climbing. From 1949 to 1958 Bonnie received training in therapeutic exercise with Kraus, worked in his office with his patients and in 1954 received an appointment as Research Assistant from Howard Rusk.
In 1952 Prudden started receiving trigger point injection therapy from Kraus for excruciating back pain which often kept her in bed for days at a time. The injections were followed by corrective exercises and allowed her to function for a few months before needing another round of injections.
Prudden closed her White Plains Institute in 1959, bought 23 acres in Stockbridge, MA and in 1960 began building the Bonnie Prudden Institute for Physical Fitness. She continued her nationwide workshops, lecture series, Springfield College summer programs, maternity program at Wesson, and a new summer camp program for women, executives and children in conjunction with the Y and Lankenau Hospital in Philadelphia. Montgomery Ward added Bonnie’s fitness fashions and equipment to its catalog in 1960.
During a summer training workshop, in 1965, Prudden hurt her knee demonstrating a “Russian” dance series. Medication for extreme pain was now needed in order for her to maintain her teaching and TV schedule. Ace bandages and bed rest, whenever possible, were also part of the treatment. By 1966 the right hip joint pain had progressed from annoying to limiting and the search for an answer began.
In January 1969 at age 55, Bonnie put in a call to Travell. In March of that year she began regular monthly trips to Travells’ office in Washington, DC receiving a series of trigger point injections designed to make her more comfortable and save her hip. During the summer of 1970 she had her right hip replaced.
It was 1976 before all the pieces of the Myotherapy puzzle fell into place. Bonnie’s working arrangement with Tivy was that he would send the patient to Bonnie who would find the trigger points, mark them and send them back to Tivy who would inject. The patient would them come back to Bonnie for the corrective exercises. One morning a woman arrived with her head lopsided and with a stiff and painful neck. Later Bonnie would say that she may have pressed the trigger point a little longer or pressed it harder when she was marking the point. However, afterward the women no longer had pain, or a stiff neck and her head was straight.
And so began her development of Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy. Over the next four years using herself as a guinea pig, experimenting with staff, friends and patients she developed and mapped out the most common trigger points and the accompanying corrective exercises. It was Tivy who coined the word MYOTHERAPY and said that there were not many modalities available to him such as this with few side effects.
In 1979 at age sixty-five Bonnie’s left hip was replaced. Now because of her own Myotherapy she was able to conduct an entire weekend fitness workshop just prior to her hip surgery. Six weeks later with the help of Myotherapy and aqua-exercise she was back on the gym floor.
In 1980 she launched her ground breaking book, PAIN ERASURE: THE BONNIE PRUDDEN WAY. Within six weeks it was a National Best Seller and has remained in print ever since, having helped and still helping hundreds of thousands of people live pain-free. In 1980 Prudden opened The Bonnie Prudden School for Physical Fitness and Myotherapy, which trained students for the profession: Exercise Instructor, and Myotherapy and Corrective Exercise practitioner. The school also housed a nursery school where pre-school aged children exercised each day, learned anatomy, were exposed to music, learned to swim and were taught rudiments of foreign language through song and rhyme.
In 1984 the Bonnie Prudden School registered the occupation Myotherapist with the U.S. Department of Labor. Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy was trade marked in 1990 to distinguish her system which required 1300 hours of training for certification and approved CE Hours to maintain certification from other persons calling themselves Myotherapists.”
Prudden felt that if the average person had the correct information and tools that they could take care of themselves. She said that Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy is effective whenever the pain is muscle related. Because the tools are fingers, knuckles and elbows she felt that the average person would be able to use the discipline quite easily.
Myotherapy: Bonnie Prudden’s Complete Guide to Pain-Free Living was published in 1982. Her three children’s books were revised in 1986, 1987, 1988 to include chapters on Myotherapy for each age group.
- The Bonnie Prudden Show (1963) 35 half hour daily shows on exercise consisting of three segments, Mail Bag, Exercise and Interview. They were filmed in Canada, Australia and Singapore. They were syndicated in Canada and the United States.
- The Bonnie Prudden Show (1965) 165 half hour daily shows. Syndicated in Canada, Australia and Singapore.
- The Flabby American (May, 1957) ABC-TV network, 30 minute special.
- Grape Nuts Cereal Commercial (1950s)
- Keep Fit Be Happy (1971)
- Your Baby Can Swim (1974)
- Alive and Feeling Great (1974) Girls Clubs of America
- Bonnie Prudden Myotherepy: How to Get Started
- Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy: Quick RX for Headaches
- Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy: Quick RX for Back Pain
- Produced in 1985 by Bonnie Prudden Inc., (Videographer, Donald Hamilton) on VHS and converted to DVD in 1991.
In 1992, Bonnie moved her work and business to Tucson Arizona, where she ran the Bonnie Prudden School for Physical Fitness and Myotherapy and Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy Inc.. Refusing to retire, she continued her fight for more fit and pain-free bodies. For the next eighteen years she continued to teach people of all ages how to take responsibility for their own bodies and to erase muscle related pain for themselves, their friends, family, and pets. She continued to write, lecture and travel, teach at her school, see patients, and conduct exercise classes and pain erasure seminars, serve on boards and garner national and local awards. Despite a pelvis broken in four places in a skiing accident, heart attacks, reconstructive hip surgery on her left hip, stents, by-pass surgery (age 92) she continued to use each seemingly adverse situation to learn and teach.
Awards and Appointments
- 1947 Received first National Ski Patrol badge and appointment for women
- 1948 Awarded Safety Trophy by United States Eastern Amateur Ski Association
- 1955 YMCA award for Leadership of Physical Directors, Massachusetts and Connecticut
- 1956 Honorable Mention for AMA for work in Hypokinetic Disease
- 1958 New York State YMCA award for Service to Youth
- 1958 Honorary Master’s degree in Humanics from Springfield College, Springfield, MA
- 1959 Appointed Adviser on Youth Fitness to the National Commander of the American Veterans of World War II and Korea (AMVETS)
- 1983 Award from American Alliance of Health, Physical Education and Recreation Aquatic Council for her “contributions to the field of aquatics and especially her work with infant water safety.”
- 1984 Governor Dukakis declares January 29 as BONNIE PRUDDEN DAY in recognition of her work in fitness and Myotherapy.
- 1984 Selected by U.S. Jaycees as one of 10 Healthy American Fitness Leaders for “dedication to bring fitness to all Americans: from newborns to the very old and everyone in-between.”
- 1989 Bonnie designated as National Master in sports/fitness by Presidents Council on Physical Fitness and Sport “ demonstrated continued commitment to public service in the interest of sport and earned recognition for contributing to physical fitness and sport nationally.”
- 1991 United States Water Fitness Association Fitness for Living award
- 1994 Tucson Mayor George Miller and Arizona governor Fife Symington honor Bonnie by declaring January 29 as Bonnie Prudden Day in Arizona
- 1995 C. Carson Conrad award in recognition of distinguished contributions, inspirational leadership & extraordinary achievement in Water Fitness
- 1995 Exceptional Woman award by Resources for Women, a Tucson based leadership organization
- 1998 Mayor George Miller and Arizona governor Jan Hull declare Bonnie Prudden day celebrating her 84th birthday and 50 years in business. 300 guests paid tribute in a day long party. Among those paying tribute were the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, The American Massage Therapy Association, The People’s Medical Society, Atria Retirement Living and the Pima Council on Aging.
- 2001 BlueCross BlueShield of Arizona, Ageless Heroes Awards Program gives Bonnie their Love of Learning Award.
- 2002 Arizona Governor’s Council on Health, Physical Fitness and Sports gives Bonnie the Senior Award “for accomplishments which serve as an outstanding example to others.”
- 2006 Inducted into Fitness Hall of Fame. The Hall honors individuals, organizations and businesses who have spent a lifetime promoting healthy living and the adoption of “the Fitness Lifestyle” Bonnie was nominated for the Pioneers/Inventors category.
- 2006 the first person to be inducted into the newly formed Massage Hall of Fame. The Hall honors “bridge builders”, inventors of various types of body work, those who have furthered the profession of massage therapy. She was inducted for her development of Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy, and each year the World Massage Festival distributes a Bonnie Prudden Memorial Award.
- 2007 President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sport and Nutrition – Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony in Tucson, AZ. This “is given to individuals whose careers have greatly contributed to the advancement or promotion of physical activity, fitness or sports nationwide. Winners are chosen by the members of the Presidents’ Council based on the span and scope of an individual’s career, the estimated number of lives the individual has touched through his or her work, the legacy of the individuals work, and additional awards or honors received over the course of his or her career.”
Bonnie Prudden Equipment
- OUTDOOR OBSTACLE COURSE: First such course included first Climbing Wall in the country along with a Rappel Roof. Other equipment Cargo nets, Balance Track, Large and Small Hurdles, Rope Climb, Tires, Ramps, Weaveit, Balance Ladder, Slalom Poles, Balance Maze, Tightrope, Parallel bars.
- BUILD-IT-YOURSELF PLAYGROUND: Balance Track, Double Trapeze, Balance Maze, Fixed Ropes, Hurdles, Stationary Parallel Bars, Movable Parallel Bars, Tires, Ramps
- LARGE EQUIPMENT: Sawhorses, Jumping Ramps, Balance Beams, Ladders with instructions on how to build.
- BONNIE PRUDDEN’S UNDERWATER SLALOM COURSE: Designed by Bonnie Prudden. Produced by Argo Industries Corporation (1962 products brochure)Jackson Heights, NY
- PRUDDEN/PORTER GYMSTER : A children’s portable gym for use in schools, houses, churches. Designed by Bonnie Prudden. Produced by Porter Gym Equipment 1963. Shown in their products brochure 1964. Instructional booklet written by Bonnie Prudden
- DOORWAY GYMS:
- BONNIE PRUDDEN MYOTHERAPY AIDS : Pulley, Bodos, Shepherd’s Crook
- SMALL EQUIPMENT: Exer- Weights, Exer-Wands, Exer-Rug Squares, Blocks, Exer-straps, Exer-paddles, Disk-o-tek, Surfer, Small Parallel Bars
In an interview in 1997 Bonnie Prudden said “Every once in a while I have a conversation with God. I say I’m tired. This work is just too hard. Can I retire? The answer is always no. The reason is that whatever I have in here” she says, pointing to her head,”to give about the importance of fitness, must be given until I can’t give anymore.” “Despite suffering a bone-crushing accident, joint replacements, cancer and heart bypass surgery, the international fitness pioneer, TV personality and adviser to presidents remained healthy and active for all of her 97 years. She was still exercising from her hospice bed, just days before her death, Dec. 11, six weeks shy of her 98th birthday.” Prudden died in Tucson, Arizona.
- Keep Fit Be Happy Vol. I (1960)
- Keep Fit be Happy Vol. II (1960)
- Fitness for Baby and You (1960)
- Fit to Ski (1960)
- Executive Fitness (1960)
- Teenage Fitness (1960)
- Basic Exercises, Number I, Self Published.(1949)
- Is Your Child Really Fit? Harper & Row, The first book on children’s fitness.(1956)
- Bonnie Prudden’s Fitness Book, Ronald Press.(1959)
- How to Keep Slender and Fit after Thirty, Geiss Associates, a first in women’s fitness. A best seller.(1961)
- Testing and Training for Physical Fitness, David G. Smith Printing-publishing, NB Canada.(1962)
- How to Keep Your Child Fit From Birth to Six, Harper & Row, a trilogy emphasizing physical,mental/emotional fitness.(1964)
- Quick RX For Fitness,Dutton.(1965)
- Teenage Fitness, Harper & Row.(1965)
- Physical Fitness for You. A talking book for the blind available through the Library of Congress.(1965)
- How to Keep Slender and Fit after Thirty revised, Pocket books, a division of Simon & Schuster.(1969)
- Fitness from Six to Twelve, Harper & Row.(1972)
- Your Baby Can Swim,Reader’s Digest Press.(1974)
- How to Keep Your Family Fit and Healthy, Reader’s Digest Press, distributed by E.P.Dutton & Co., Inc. (1975)
- Exer-sex, Bantam Books. (1978)
- Dollar Fallax (The Elusive Pain), self-published. (1978)
- Pain Erasure: The Bonnie Prudden Way, M.Evans, hard cover NY Times best seller. (1980)
- Pain Erasure: The Bonnie Prudden Way, Ballantine Books, soft cover. (1982)
- Your Baby Can Swim, reissued as Teach Your Baby to Swim, Dial Press.(1982)
- How to Keep Your Child Fit from Birth to Six, reissued by the Dial Press. (1982)
- Fitness from Six to Twelve, reissued by The Dial Press. (1982)
- Teenage Fitness, reissued by The Dial Press. (1982)
- Myotherapy: Bonnie Prudden’s Complete Guide to Pain-free Living, The Dial Press, Hard Cover.(1984)
- Myotherapy: Bonnie Prudden’s Complete Guide to Pain-free Living, Ballantine Books, soft cover.(1985)
- Bonnie Prudden’s After Fifty Fitness Guide, Villard Books. (1986)
- How to Keep Your Child Fit from Birth to Six, Ballantine Books, revised and up-dated with a chapter on Myotherapy. (1986)
- Bonnie Prudden’s After Fifty Fitness Guide, Ballantine Books, soft cover. (1987)
- Fitness from Six to Twelve, Ballantine Books, revised and up-dated with a chapter on Myotherapy. (1987)
- Teenage Fitness, Ballantine Books, revised and up-dated with a chapter on Myotherapy. (1988)
- Myotherapy: Bonnie Prudden’s Complete Guide to Pain-Free Living, reprinted by Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy,Inc.(2010)
- Bonnie Prudden’s After Fifty Fitness Guide reprinted by Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy, Inc. (2011)
- Exer-sex, Reprinted by Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy, Inc. (2011)