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1900s: Stretching and resistance
What's better than waking up first thing in the morning and doing some exercises in your bloomers? Absolutely nothing. In this video, you can watch a woman perform a few routine workouts from the early turn of the 20th century. Nothing too crazy here, except uh, those fast side planks look like they hurt. (But that might be the camera?)
1920s: "Shadow Shrinking Exercises"
In this video, a woman performs a workout routine recommended by Harold Dearden, an author and psychologist who wrote a book called Exercise and the Will in 1927. Specifically, Dearden had a chapter on obesity which said, "To a man the affliction is grave enough, but to a woman! — who save a woman shall attempt to measure its really dread significance." Doesn't that make you want to practice gingerly placing trinkets on the floor in front of you, and picking them back up again? (Yeah, me neither.)
1930s: Women's League of Health & Beauty
The Women's League of Health and Beauty had a great motto: "Movement is life." Their group was a mass fitness movement that gained popularity in the '30s. It was founded by Mary Bagot Stack. The Women's League of Health and Beauty became so popular at one point that it had over 60,000 members. Some people regard the Women's League of Health and Beauty as the first mainstream workout plan for women.
1940s: Crazy machines, Part I
Truth: Women had been using various types of machinery or equipment for exercise for decades by the '40s, like early treadmills made of wood and some of the very first exercise bikes. But these new and improved machines, that basically roll gently against a woman's body, became all the rage in a post-war world. The idea was that these machines would massage "problem areas" and induce weight loss by stimulating muscle contractions. The best (or maybe worst) part? That women worked out in little rompers, heels, flower clips, and full makeup.
1940s: "Glamour Girl Workout"
But, just in case you didn't want to use a machine in the '40s, you could also do a bust workout in a cute lil two-piece instead. Best moment from the video: "Take it easy honey, the first 100 times are the hardest!" Note that even when a woman is leading the exercises in these videos, it's a man's voice doing the explaining.