Before there was Soul Cycle or Zumba, other fitness crazes came and went leaving a trail of sweaty people in their wake. Some changed the way we thought about movement and health, others changed the way we dressed. Today we’re looking back at some of the strange and wonderful fitness fads from the last 100 years.
Fitness from the Early 1900s
With bathing suits made of wool and dumbbells made of wood the major fitness trends of the years before World War II were strangely mechanical. Like literally, machines. It seems there was a huge desire for body perfecting products that required no effort on the part of the participant—Weird, right? *cough, wink* Things like vibrating belt machines, inflatable personal saunas, and strange “sculpting” machines that rolled springs all over your body were touted as an easy way to shape the body. In urban areas, folks would visit salons/studios to use the apparatuses, and early photos of these places depict people reading, knitting, and socializing while strapped into these contraptions. Did they work? We have no idea. Ask your grandmother and report back! Interestingly enough, one of the most enduring trends to come out of this was resistance band training (they seriously loved metal springs back then!) which many still incorporate into their fitness routines today (minus the loud metal springs hopefully!).
Fitness in the Middle of the 20th Century
Have you ever been in a fitness class and had the instructor tell you to make “tiny circles” with one or more of your limbs? If so, you’ve participated in one of the biggest trends in midcentury fitness. Tiny circles and slow stretching were BIG in the fitness scene back then. This practice took many forms and many names (Pilates being one of the biggest) and many books were published, and even records were made giving detailed instruction to these movements. In addition to circles and stretching, the 1950s saw some seriously silly trends like Bongo Board (a plank balanced on a cylinder) and hula hooping. To be fair, these are both super fun and great for your core, but can you imagine the domino effect of taking a tumble in a Bongo Board class? We can, and we’re glad we did.
Fitness in the 70s, 80s, and 90s
Grab your leotard and leg warmers! While the 1970s saw a huge boom in personal home fitness equipment like stationary bikes, it was also a time when the early foundation of aerobic dance exercise was being established. This bloomed, as we all know, into the neon leotard + fuzzy legwarmer crazy that defined the 80s fitness culture as well as street style. Before there was Zumba there was Jazzercise and Richard Simmons. Fitness at that time was focused largely around aerobic and cardio health. Dance classes with easy to follow, upbeat choreography were the trendiest way to get sweaty. In the 1990s, research from NASA (how? why?) kicked off a trend of trampoline gyms (which probably kicked off a trend of trampoline related injuries) and the fast-paced aerobic dance classes saw some competition from belly dancing and yoga.
Today we live in a world of wearable fitness trackers, HIIT classes, and Peloton bikes. What will come next for the fitness community? We don’t know, but we sincerely hope it involves hula-hoops and neon leotards.