Every generation has had its own set of fitness fads.
Maybe you watched your mother head off to aerobics class, clad in a shiny unitard and legwarmers. Or maybe you spent the better part of the late 1990s fighting imaginary opponents in a Tae Bo or kickboxing class. It seems that every few years there’s a new exercise program that is better than any that’s ever existed before, allowing you to lose more weight, get bigger muscles or just tone and tighten while having fun.
While some fitness fads have gone the distance others have lacked staying power. Consider some of these former fitness fads from the last few decades.
1950s: Meet Jack LaLanne
Considered by many to be the father of American fitness, Jack LaLanne was a bodybuilder and fitness coach who inspired millions of people to get up off the couch and exercise. In the 1950s he hosted a talk show in which he demonstrated exercises and encouraged viewers to follow along — the forerunner to today’s exercise videos — and he invented the exercise known as the “jumping Jack.” Until he died at the age of 96 in 2011, he exercised every day and encouraged people to exercise and eat a healthy diet, avoiding processed foods and additives. His approach was simple: perform simple exercises every day and eat right, and you’ll stay healthy.
1960s: No Sweat Required
Take a peek into your grandparents’ basement or attic, and you just might find a strange contraption resembling a treadmill with a giant rubber band attached to it. Would you believe that this device is actually “workout” equipment? That’s right. In the 1960s and early 1970s, thousands of consumers were duped into purchasing vibrating belt machines that claimed to shake the pounds away — no exercise required. All you had to do was step onto the machine, wrap the vibrating band around your waist and stand still while the vibrations melted away the extra inches. It might sound silly, but devices that claim to burn fat and build muscle while you do nothing but your regular activities (or sit on the couch) are still on the market today — and aren’t any more effective now than they were back then.
1980s: Let’s Get Physical
Actress Jane Fonda was at the forefront of the 1980s fitness trend with her series of home workout videos. Released in 1982, “Jane Fonda’s Workout Book” introduced the concept of aerobic exercise (which was still relatively new to the masses) to housewives who wanted to have the body of a Hollywood actress. Thanks to the proliferation of VCRs, women (and even a few men) could “feel the burn” in the comfort of their own homes. By the mid-1980s, health clubs and fitness studios had jumped on the aerobics bandwagon, and millions of people attended aerobics classes every day. By the late 1980s aerobics classes had evolved to include step aerobics, a trend that lasted well into the early 90s. Aerobics largely fell out of favor by the mid-1990s though, thanks to the surging popularity of yoga and martial arts-inspired workouts.
1990s: Punch and Kick Your Way to Health
In 1998, an enthusiastic man in a yellow unitard demonstrated how to fight your way to fitness with Tae Bo. Billy Blanks, a martial arts master, developed the mix of aerobics, martial arts and boxing that sold more than 1.5 million video sets in 1999 alone. Gyms responded by adding kickboxing and martial-arts-inspired workouts to their schedules, and soon millions of people were punching, jabbing and kicking their way to weight loss. The trend was short-lived though — by the early 2000s, Tae Bo was little more than a distant memory.
2000s and Beyond
Call it the Madonna effect: When the pop superstar started showing up to events looking more toned and cut than ever before, everyone wanted to know her secret. She claimed that the ancient spiritual practice of yoga created her strong, wiry physique — and millions flocked to yoga studios to twist themselves into pretzels to look like her.
Today, yoga is still going strong, but it’s been joined by Pilates and dance-inspired workouts including Zumba, strippercise (which is exactly what it sounds like) and ballet-inspired workouts. On the more extreme end, workouts like Crossfit and P90X, intense combinations of aerobics and weightlifting, are helping people transform their bodies.
No one can be sure of what the next workout fad will be, but one thing is certain: as long as people are willing to pay for a quick fix, a more interesting workout or a “guaranteed” way to look like their favorite celebrity, fitness fads will never go away.
About the Author: Molly Haley admits to owning the complete set of Tae Bo workout videos. While she always wins a fight against an imaginary opponent, these days she stays fit by running and weightlifting. When she’s writing about health and fitness for national publications, she often uses old Jack LaLanne videos and books for reference — and hopes to live as long and healthy as he did.