Rad Fitness Fads From the '50s to Now

Rad Fitness Fads From the '50s to Now

These popular 1960s machines are now laugh-out-loud funny thanks to  advances in science made in the last 40 years. Believe it or not, these machines weren’t thought to just simply give you a massage, but were actually meant to somehow roll the fat off your body! Yes, people actually believed this. How uncomfortable must it have been to lean against a machine that raked your abs with wooden knobs? Some people will do anything to lose those extra pounds. (And some still do.)

Unlike the wooden roller massager, this '60s trend looks like something people in this day and age might actually like. Zumba anyone? The twisting action atop a ball-bearing mounted platform improves core strength, leg strength and overall balance, which in turn burns calories—unlike the wooden roller machine. The product’s downside? Who wants to stand in place for a solid 15 minutes and twist their hips back and forth? Dancing, hula-hooping and jump-roping all burn calories in similar ways, but if you’re feeling particularly old-school, go ahead and pull out your grandma’s Trim Twist for a groovy workout.

How can you forget this famous “as seen on TV” product made famous by the ripped body and flowing golden locks of Tony Little? Little, whose bodybuilding career was ended abruptly by a car accident in the '80s, needed a way to get back in shape after putting on unwanted pounds during his recovery. His answer? The Gazelle. This aerobic rider, similar to an elliptical machine, puts no excess pressure on joints and simply uses your own body weight to create resistance. The “conceive, believe, achieve” mentality preached by Little enabled him to sell 13,000 Gazelles within 65 minutes on New Year’s Eve in 1997.

Some women are always looking for “quick and easy” new ways to tone their legs, and the Thighmaster was marketed as one highly suggestive option. Originally endorsed by Suzanne Somers, the fitness mechanism used sex appeal as its primary selling point. One commercial showed Somers squeezing the device between her legs while making faces not usually considered appropriate for network TV. The product was initially designed to strengthen and tone the hip adductors, but users began to realize it worked for any muscle group where a small angle could be created. Don’t be fooled by this flexible piece of equipment, though. If you want to burn unwanted fat off your legs, you’ll have to work in cardio at some point.

US Navy via Wikimedia Commons

It’s not always easy to incorporate your mind, body and spirit into a single workout, but Billy Blanks managed to pull them all together simply by turning on the Rocky theme song while practicing boxing and martial arts techniques in the late '70s. By creating Tae Bo—a combination of Tae Kwon Do, boxing, and aerobics—in a matter of seconds, Blanks established a fitness trend that would peak in the late '90s with his memorable infomercial. Then known to the world as “Tae Bo Billy,” the iconically bald Blanks sold his rhythmic punching and kicking routine to the masses to the tune of 1.5 million videos by the end of 1999.

Crystal Abbott via Wikimedia Commons

Jane Fonda’s famous command to “feel the burn” may be lodged in the minds of millions who bought her videos in the '80s and '90s, but Gin Miller’s introduction of the “step” into “aerobics” truly elevated this trend to a new level of faddishness. Miller is credited with inventing this cardiovascular workout by adding a single elevated platform to strengthen her knee after an injury, and went on to market it through Reebok-sponsored VHS tapes. Icons like Fonda and Denise Austin jumped on the bandwagon and released their own videos, ensuring step aerobics’ place in the spandex and leg-warmer hall of fame. Although the fad may have peaked in the '90s, rec centers and YMCAs around the country still offer a variety of programs, and Amazon is still chock full of step-aerobics DVDs—but nothing quite tops that old VHS workout in your basement.

Ah, the ultimate example of a fitness product going viral for all the wrong reasons. The oscillating dumbbell’s first commercial aired over one July weekend in 2009. By the following Monday afternoon the company’s servers were crashing. Tuesday the product appeared on Jimmy Kimmel and The View. In the next year Ellen, SNL and South Park all had their way with it. Parody aside, it was actually quite successful in its first year on the market, selling 2 million units at $20 apiece.

Thilo Harich via Wikimedia Commons

Nothing was cooler than heading to the roller rink on a Friday night in the late '70s and early '80s. Although most people didn’t consider roller skating a way to get some good cardiovascular exercise, that’s exactly what they were doing. After the roller skating craze died down in the late '80s, the '90s brought roller skating back to life in a different form: the inline skate. As opposed to the once popular four-wheel rectangular pattern, the inline was developed for warm-weather training for winter athletes, and was popularized by the brand Rollerblade for everyday fitness. People could be seen rollerblading through parks, rollerblading to work, playing street hockey on rollerblades—and this time around, the activity was more a form of exercise than a fad for teenagers.

Get ripped abs, a huge chest, a bulging back and jacked biceps by only working out three times a week for 20 minutes. That was what the deep macho-man voice guaranteed in the original Blowflex commercials aired in the late '90s and early 2000s. This home gym was seen as unique due to its compact stature and its use of “power rods” as opposed to conventional heavy weights and pulley machines, but most impulse buyers didn’t get what they were expecting. Many customers complained that the resistance was not consistent throughout each lift and Bowflex recalled over one-million units in 2004 due to mechanical flaws. The company released the Bowflex Revolution in 2006 with new resistance technology and claims the problems are fixed. I’ll stick with the weight room at the Y.

A trend from the 1920s all the way through the '70s, the belt massager, like the wooden roller machine, promised to not only tone the section of your body that the belt was touching but to once again shake the fat away into some unknown universe. And guess what? It didn’t work. Today, similar products are offered on the market, but these products have belts that use electro-stimulation while shaking your body. These can come in handy when recovering from hard workouts to break up excess lactic acid build-ups around muscle fibers, and the constant muscle contraction can actually help tone your muscles. The machines will not help you burn fat, though. That’d be too good to be true.

What’s that you say? Jogging’s a fad? Everyone and their cousin may run for exercise now, but “joggers” didn’t become a mainstay of America’s sidewalks and trails until the late 1960s after the publication of the book Jogging by legendary coach and Nike co-founder William J. Bowerman. Jogging is The Beatles of fitness fads: it had a meteoric rise in popularity in the '60s and is now so ubiquitous that it’s part of the cultural furniture—except that to go “jogging” now sounds a little passé. “Running” is more and more the word.