How To Keep Fit, By Beauty Contest Winner – Betty Colonna (1963)

After yet another hiatus due to the unexpected necessities of hectic modern living (sorry about that!), FOUNDATIONS OF IRON is back once again to continue the series of posts on women’s weight training in the middle decades of the twentieth century.

Peary Rader’s Iron Man magazine regularly featured a small section entitled “Vivacious Womanhood,” which was dedicated to a female readership, and demonstrated how the modern woman of the mid-twentieth century could stay physically fit. The excerpt featured in our post today, originally featured in the January-February 1963 issue of Iron Man, was written by Betty Colonna, a winner of several American beauty contests in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Formerly Betty Woodhouse, she eventually married Bill Colonna, a physical culturist based in the area of Norfolk, Virginia. Precious little information seems to be publicly available on Betty Colonna today.

The article featured below introduces some basic exercises for general fitness, but it also reveals the importance of weight training in preparation for beauty contests, in an era before women’s bodybuilding.


A captioned photograph of Betty Colonna, which was featured in the original article. Click to enlarge (opens in new window/tab)

Further reading on the Colonnas from Iron Game History (pdf document opens in new window/tab):

Magazine excerpt:

When training for a beauty contest, naturally, I would recommend training at least 3 nights a week, with longer workout periods, but for normal everyday keeping fit I think the following exercises are good to keep good muscle tone and shape. They are the ones I do and I like them very much.

First of all, at the beginning of a routine, it is very important to do a few limbering up exercises such as touching toes and bending from side to side with hands on hips, each of these to be done from 10 to 20 times

After this you can go right into your workout without fear of pulling a tendon or a muscle.

If you are just getting started using weights it is best to start out very light in every exercise. In picture No. 1 is an example of the leg raise, also done with iron boots. This exercise helps to keep the abdominal muscles firm and also helps to firm the waistline. Execute the exercises exactly as seen in the picture.

In picture No. 2 is seen the alternate leg extension, which is a little more difficult to perform than the leg raises This is also good for firming abdominal muscles and the rib cage.

In Picture No. 3 is shown my favorite exercise, because it seems to reach all the muscles, when properly executed.

I use one 10 lb. dumbbell, holding it overhead and slowly, while breathing in, lower it behind the head. When coming up with the weight, breathe out slowly. Correct breathing is very important. This exercise firms bustline, waist and abdominals.

In picture No. 4 is shown the dead lift. This pulls the muscles in back of the thigh and helps to firm them. It also helps to strengthen back and shoulder muscles. Start from floor with weights and continue pulling them until you are in a standing position, then lower them again. Do 2 sets of 10 to start with, increasing to 6 sets of 15.

If you are trying to gain or maintain a slim, but shapely figure, you should also eat a good high protein and lower calorie diet, get plenty of rest and try to achieve a tranquil, happy mind.

Below are photographs of Betty Colonna demonstrating the exercises described in her article. Modern scholars and critics might be inclined to assert that the presentation here is designed to appeal more to the “male gaze,” based on the apparel and posing. Any contemporary fitness trainer would certainly not recommend performing dead lifts or any other weight training exercises while wearing high-heeled sandals! Click the images to enlarge (they will open in new windows/tabs):



2 thoughts on “How To Keep Fit, By Beauty Contest Winner – Betty Colonna (1963)

  1. JB617 December 6, 2018 / 5:03 am

    Great post as usual! I’m glad you mentioned the high heels, I was gonna comment on that. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

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