Photos of Retro Exercise Equipment You Definitely Remember From Years Past
From treadmills to the sneaker, exercise equipment has come a long way. Gone are the days of the “fat wobblers” and Richard Simmons workout tapes — though they certainly do hold a special place in the hearts of many. Now, treadmills, bikes, and exercise videos are totally streamlined, even though a part of us still misses the old days.
Here are photos of exercise equipment that will take you (or the generation before yours) right back.
1. Thigh slenderizer – 1940s
Want slimmer thighs? While common knowledge dictates there’s no such thing as targeted fat loss, it was commonplace for women in the ’40s to partake in these slenderizing machines.
As the video provided by Vintage Fashions shows, women would combat “the battle of the bulges” by standing in a mechanism that would rub away the fat and show off their curves in all the right places. The Huffington Post notes these machines were marketed to stimulate muscle contraction, thus supposedly leading to fat loss.
Next: These machines from the ’60s were equally as strange.
2. Vibro massage machines – 1960s
As the video from British Pathé states about men’s gyms in the ’60s, “Here you’ll get rubbed down, shaken up, tumbled, and pushed around.” And they weren’t kidding.
Not only did gyms back in the day offer exercise equipment to fit your cardio and resistance training needs, but you could also find a vibro massage machine. It was considered a “mechanical wonder” that was “a grueling way to lose weight, and for some, the only way.” We know a caloric deficit is truly the only way to whittle a waistline — but it’d be nice if it was as simple as using this spot-treatment tool.
Next: You definitely played around with one of these.
3. Hula Hoop – 1950s
From hop dance to playground antics, the Hula Hoop has been a staple for children, adults, and fitness fanatics over time. The modern hula hoop was first popularized in America in the ’50s by the Wham-O Company. In the first year, it’s estimated 100 million were sold, though the fad died out quickly. It did see a resurgence in the ’60s, however, and it continued to be a popular item for circus artists and fitness fanatics to whittle away their waist.
Next: You definitely wore one of these in the ’80s.
4. Sweatbands – 1980s
You may still use one of these if you’re a regular gym-goer — but you definitely remember them at their height of popularity in the ’80s. The Holabird Blog notes the athleisure trend truly started in the ’80s, and that’s when you probably started seeing terrycloth sweatbands worn outside of the gym. Even so, they also were used for athletics during this decade and were popularized mostly by tennis players.
Next: This iconic piece of ’90s equipment was in everyone’s home.
5. The Thighmaster – 1990s
Want slimmer thighs? In the ’90s, you could look no further than the mighty Thighmaster. This piece of equipment is as easy to use as it looks — you simply put it between your thighs and squeeze.
The Thighmaster, which was marketed by Suzanne Somers, was a huge success. NBC News reports she stopped counting how many she sold after she hit 10 million units. And while it certainly is by no means the most effective workout tool, we’ll never forget it.
Next: We still use these today, but they look a lot different.
6. Retro treadmills – 1930s
Believe it or not, PBS reports that the treadmill actually started as a decide used to reform convicts. When it was first invented in the 1800s, it took the shape of a large paddle wheel that prisoners had to climb. As one guard said, it was its “monotonous steadiness, and not its severity, which constitutes its terror.”
It wasn’t until the ’60s when treadmills actually became popular again, but as you can see, new models were being made for the average American as early as the ’30s.
Next: This invention from the ’40s make absolutely no sense.
7. Whole-body slenderizer – 1940s
Like the thigh slenderizer from before, here’s another machine that was thought to shake you into slimness. Here, you can see a woman from the ’40s has her entire torso inside the mechanism, which was thought to roll her into her ideal shape and weight.
Unless she was watching what she was eating, she certainly wouldn’t lose any weight, however. And The Huffington Post notes many variations of these machines existed for any part of your body you can imagine.
Next: All you had to do was twist for this mechanism to work.
8. Trim Twist – 1960s
Want to lose inches off your waistline? It’s as easy as twisting it away — or at least that’s what everyone thought in the ’60s. PopSugar notes the Trim Twist consisted of a single rotating board that you would stand and start twisting on. If you remember the advertisements from this era, you’ll probably recall many women in iconic beehive hairstyles and pencil skirts rotating away in hopes of being slimmer. It didn’t work, of course, but the effort was there.
Next: There’s a good chance you had one of these sitting in your basement for many years.
9. NordicTrack Classic Pro Skier – 1970s
Who didn’t have one of these lying around? As large, cumbersome, and oddly loud as they were, just about everyone could get on board with owning a NordicTrack Pro Skier machine, especially in the ’70s. All in all, the Pro Skier isn’t actually a bad aerobic machine (even if the skis would frequently fall off of the track). And if you’re interested in living out your cross-country dreams while safely inside your house, you can still purchase one today.
Next: This popular machine has come a long way.
10. Original rowing machine – 1950s
Rowing machines have a seriously long history dating back to the early 1900s. But it wasn’t until the ’50s and ’60 when rowers really started gaining popularity with the fitness community. Physical Culture Study explains the first rower to accurately estimate how much power the user was putting into the machine came out during this time.
Nowadays, you’ll surely see plenty of modern rowers in the gym — and they still provide an excellent aerobic workout.
Next: If you’ve ever seen a commercial from the ’40s, you’ve seen this mechanism.
11. Vibrating exercise belt – 1940s
It’s funny to look at now, but this vibrating exercise belt was serious business back in the ’40s. For men who didn’t want to put themselves through the slenderizing machines that were popular with the ladies, it was typical for them to head for the vibrating belts. Here, the belt goes around the waist and theoretically shakes the fat away. Clearly it didn’t work — but it’s always fun to look back.
Next: Want to sweat? Look no further than this ’80s product.
12. Sauna suits – 1980s
The answer to fat loss certainly isn’t sweating, but according to this ’80s fad, that was exactly what you should be doing. The NCAA reports sweat suits were first popularized by pro wrestlers who aimed to make their weight class by losing a few pounds of fluids prior to a weigh-in. Those aiming for weight loss then also wore them during exercise for serious weight loss.
These heavy suits can easily cause dehydration, however, making them potentially dangerous. This is one fad we’re extra glad is over.
Next: Just about every celebrity has tried this silly piece of equipment.
13. The Hawaii Chair – 2000s
While not technically as old as some of the other equipment here, the idea behind the Hawaii Chair feels particularly dated now that we know how ineffective it is. Dr. Atta Jilani said the Hawaii Chair offers a “fat-burning aerobic workout” that will “shape and tone the abs.” Unfortunately, getting a six-pack isn’t as easy as sitting in a moving chair.
Ellen DeGeneres and actor Rob Lowe both tried this product, too, and had hilarious commentary.
Next: You may still have one of these lying around from the ’90s.
14. Ab sliders – 1990s
Here’s a piece of equipment that can actually prove quite challenging. Ab sliders take many shapes nowadays, but they looked a lot like this when they hit their peak in the last ’90s and early 2000s. Essentially, you push the machine out in front of you and hold your upper body steady while you bring it back in. And while you can do this with just about anything that will slide under your hands (a piece of paper on a hardwood floor works), it’s likely you had one of these plastic mechanisms with handlebars to help you slide your way to a strong core.
Next: Foam rollers are a modern-day equivalent to this.
15. Roller massagers – 1940s
Much like the ’40s slenderizing machines, the roller massages were a staple slim-down method for both men and women. The Huffington Post notes at the time, you were instructed to massage over any of your problem areas to thin them down.
While this practice didn’t affect anyone’s weight, we know now it may not be as silly as it once appeared. Today, plenty of athletes swear by foam rolling for relieving sore muscles and increasing flexibility.
Next: These were in just about every ’90s workout video.
16. Looped exercise bands – 1990s
No matter whether you looped them around your wrists or your feet, these looped bands were a staple in ’90s workouts that called for serious resistance training. And while you may not be using this version of the elastic band today for exercise, the concept is still quite popular. In fact, many personal trainers swear by resistance bands because of their accessibility and ease of storage.
If you’re looking to get your ’90s workout on, head to Greatist for a few strength-training exercises using this equipment.
Next: Your local YMCA definitely had these in the workout room.
17. Steppers for aerobics – 1990s
No matter how high or low you needed, these steppers were there to fit your ’90s workout needs. The beauty of the stepper is that it was buildable — though sometimes that meant stacking four, five, or six on top of each other. Nevertheless, this simple piece of workout equipment persisted well into the 2000s and was popularized by workout videos, too.
And of course, the StairMaster — which was the more mechanical version of these steppers — was popularized in the ’90s as well.
Next: You may have used one of these in your youth, and they’re actually quite difficult.
18. Balance board – 1950s
There are plenty of different types of balance boards — and it’s likely you’ve tried a few yourself. And Vitality Depot notes WWII pilot Stanley Washburn Jr. was the first to create the Bongo Board in 1952. While this balancing toy became popular, athletes started to realize that they could have a use for such a device — and by the ’60s, balancing boards of all kinds were popularized for fitness purposes.
Today’s fitness equivalent of the Bongo Board is likely the Bosu ball, as it can make your workout extra difficult by providing an unstable surface.
Next: For a good stretch, you may remember infomercials for this machine.
19. ProFlex Stretch machine – 1990s
This “Total Body Stretch Machine” is still available for sale — though we know it best for its ’90s popularity. Complex notes before yoga took hold, fitness fanatics were into stretch machines. And one such machine that seemed to be just about everywhere was the Proflex Stretch machine.
Proflex wasn’t the only company to come out with this type of design, either. You also probably remember Precor’s Stretch Trainer or Keiser’s Stretch Zone, which all were introduced around the same time.
Next: It seems spin classes have come back into style.
20. Retro stationary bikes – 1960s
Nowadays, many spin classes are considered to be part of the “boutique fitness” trend, so it’s important to remember the stationary bike came from such humble beginnings. Timeline notes the first iterations of the fitness bike started as early as the late 1800s, though they didn’t come into popularity until the ’60s. Then, they started cropping up everywhere as the perfect cardio alternative to running. And though they’ve become way more technical over the years, the concept of the bike really hasn’t changed at all.
Next: Did you dance to these videos back in the ’80s?
21. Jazzercise videos – 1980s
The ’80s were a time of funky outfits, bit hair, and exercise videos. And if you were around for this era, you surely remember jazzercise. Well + Good reports this fitness craze actually started in the late ’60s with Judi Sheppard Missett, and by ’84, she had an unreal following. With 350,000 students, 2,700 instructors, and $40 million in revenue, the only bigger franchise at the time in the U.S. was Domino’s pizza.
Next: If you did any sort of aerobics, you had to have these.
22. Leg warmers – 1980s
You’ve seen them — and you may have even worn them years ago. Today, leg warmers have come back into style as a fashion item, but you probably remember when they actually were considered a workout must for many.
They were originally used for dancers to keep their muscles warm while stretching — and that was well before the ’80s. But once this fashion-heavy decade hit, aerobics teachers everywhere hit the studio wearing a pair, and those who showed up to their classes followed suit. Watch an exercise tape from this era and note just how many people are wearing them.
Next: It wasn’t just jazzercise that was popular on video.
23. Aerobic workout videos – 1980s and 1990s
The aerobics craze swept through the ’80s fast and furiously, and many women also followed the trend well into the ’90s. Well + Good reminds us of Jane Fonda’s “Workout Video” that came out in 1982 which gave those who weren’t into jazzercise a video workout option. And in the ’90s, who could forget Cindy Crawford’s “Shape Your Body” or “Step-Up With LaToya Jackson”?
Today, you can still visit aerobics classes — but they definitely look a little different than this.
Next: This was a fun pastime and a great workout.
24. Trampoline – 1950s
There was a serious phase in the ’50s that revolved around trampolines. Trampoline jump centers were real destinations for many, as it gave them a place to have fun and get a workout in. It actually seemed to be quite a lucrative business, too. Soon after the homemade version of the trampoline was made, manufacturers followed suit and helped make the product.
The craze didn’t last through the ’60s, however. But today, there are trampoline parks cropping up all over the U.S. so you can feel like a kid again.
Next: The ’90s loved their all-in-one machines.
25. Power Rider machine – 1990s
This machine sure is strange — and it’s even weirder once you get on it and start moving. Livestrong.com explains you place your feet on the pedals and your hands on the handlebars to begin in a seated position. Then, you pull with your arms and push with your legs to rise to a standing position. You do this over and over again for strength and aerobic benefits.
Judging from the huffing and puffing in the video, it looks tough. But we’ll probably leave this machine back in the decade it came from.
Next: Want abs? All it took in the ’80s was eight minutes.
26. 8 Minute Abs videos – 1980s
Men’s Journal reminded us of this fitness fad. During the comeuppance of the workout video, there were these ab videos that were eight minutes long. And in that short amount of time, you were promised a rock-solid core if you did them over and over again. If only it was really that simple.
It seems the fad never totally left, either, as you can find plenty of modern ab exercise videos that are around 10 minutes or so.
Next: If you wanted to build your lats, it was recommended to have this piece of ’70s equipment.
27. Nautilus Pullover machine – 1970s
For those who wanted to make serious gains, there was no better machine than the Nautilus Pullover. T Nation notes it was invented by Arthur Jones, a bodybuilding expert who wanted to make building the upper body easier in the ’70s. Thus, this machine was born.
It came out of style by the ’90s as workout fiends started to go for more functional fitness routines, however. But if you’re looking for a strength challenge, try to find one of these and give it a go.
Next: Tony Little really knew how to sell this one.
28. The Gazelle machine – 1990s
Tony Little may have started selling the Gazelle in the ’90s, but that doesn’t mean he’s finished. In fact, you can still buy yourself a Gazelle trainer today — though the dated advertisements may not convince you it’s really worth buying.
In any case, the Gazelle is advertised as the “ultimate low impact, fat burning workout” that “sheds pounds and strengthens the body with minimal joint stress.” If you missed your opportunity to get one of these nearly 20 years ago, now might be the time.
Next: The ’90s were all about kicking butt.
29. Tae Bo workout videos – 1990s
Need something a little more intense than aerobics? The ’90s were here to offer you Tae Bo as the perfect hardcore workout video to follow. Bustle reminds us that Billy Blanks created this fitness craze that combines aerobics with kickboxing. And judging from how much Blanks and the others on the video sweat, it definitely doesn’t look easy. Give it a shot and see how long you last (you might also have to add in some old-fashioned resistance bands, too).
Next: These athletic shoes were a must-have in the ’80s.
30. Reebok Pumps – 1980s
When Jordan’s Nike Air hit shelves and overtook Reebok’s profits, Mental Floss notes something had to be done — and thus, the Reebok Pump was born. These sneakers had air pumped in for extra ankle support, and fans went wild. When it was introduced to the general public in 1989, it was the athletic sneaker you had to have, even if it was priced at a steep $170.
Do you remember the last time anyone was this excited about a sneaker? Neither do we.
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