100 Years Of Women's Fitness Crazes

Photo: Harry Langdon/M. Watts/Getty Images.
Doesn't it feel like every person you know raves about their workouts at SoulCycle? Or maybe all your friends are really into barre class instead. Whatever it is right now, it will probably be something different by summer. Yep, there's always a new way to whip you into shape.

And it turns out, when it comes to working out, modern humans have pretty much always craved variety. In fact, fitness trends and workout crazes have been around for thousands of years, dating back to Ancient Greece. But for women, particularly women in the U.S. and Britain, fitness became a priority at the turn of the 20th century. As researchers began to focus on the effects of exercise on the human body — especially the female form — new workout trends were developed.

And over the years, we've been given every manner of fitness craze: From dumbbells and stretches in bloomers to high-cut bodysuits and neon spandex for Jazzercise. Not all fitness trends are crazy or funny or require outrageous outfits. But so many of them have — and therein lies a lot of the fun.

From Buns of Steel videos, to the ThighMaster, to the magic of the Trim Twist, click ahead for some of the craziest, funniest, weirdest, and all around best workout trends from the past 100 years. Who knows, maybe you'll want to try one this #tbt.
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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?)
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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.)
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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.
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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.
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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.
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1950s: The Bongo Board

When kids in the '50s weren't using their hula-hoop, they were on their Bongo Board. It's being used by girls in swimsuits in Palo Alto, CA — so it had to be awesome! Best line in this video: "By using Bongo — bingo! Everything shapes up nicely.”
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1960s: Crazy machines, Part II

With time comes innovation. By the '60s, women had all new workout equipment available to them, including the Trim Twist (for which there is sadly no informercial), and a slew of top of the line machines. Apparently working out in heels and miniskirts was still totally fine. The good news? Women are starting to use weight lifting machines that look a lot like the modern ones you might find in your local gym.
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1970s: Jazzercise

"Let's go Jazzercising!" Yes, Jazzercising was (is?) a verb. Say hello to the beginning of spandex and official "workout wear." The high-energy woman in this compilation video is Jazzercise founder Judi Sheppard Missett. With Jazzercise, she created the first dance party workout, making it a precursor to Zumba. The class and community around this workout is still around, with Missett serving as company's CEO.
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1980s: The Jane Fonda Workout

In 1979, actress Jane Fonda started a workout studio in L.A. that became so insanely popular that she then wrote a book about fitness that landed on The New York Times best seller list. With all that success, the natural next step was workout videos. The Jane Fonda Workout is low-impact aerobics, lots of stretching, and high-cut leotards. If you want to know more, or try them yourself, the Jane Fonda Workout videos were rereleased just last year.
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1990s: Buns of Steel

Ah yes, Buns of Steel. While this workout actually originated in the late '80s (with Greg Smithey leading classes), it didn't become a craze until the '90s, when the classic body-sculpting workouts were led by a totally ripped Tamilee Webb. Buns of Steel was promoted by infomercial and made millions in video sales. It was so popular that it received a shout-out in Clueless. And Cher's right Tai, do it every day, and your buns will feel like steel.
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1990s: The ThighMaster

There are three things Suzanne Somers is known for: The classic sitcom Three's Company, being the mom on the classic TGIF show Step by Step, and the ThighMaster campaign. One of the reasons for its success had to do with its marketing. The infomercials show women sitting and watching TV while working out. Who doesn't want to have a workout that's so easy they can eat popcorn and watch a movie while they do it?
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1990s: Tae Bo

If the phrase "double-time" still haunts your workout dreams, it's because of Billy Blanks, a martial arts expert and the creator of the Tae Bo workout. The Tae Bo website notes, "The first Tae Bo® fitness workout video was released in 1998. This revolutionizing workout combined martial arts, boxing, and elements of dance, set to fast pace music to form this intense cardio workout, which quickly became an international phenomenon."
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2000s: Zumba

What happens when you mix Latin dance moves and music with fitness? Zumba happens. Created by Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto "Beto" Perez during the '90s, Zumba became an international phenomenon in the '00s, with most gyms and studios now offering classes.
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2010s: SoulCycle

Some people call SoulCycle a cult. Here, we're referring to it as a fitness craze. Everyone — celebrities and us normal people too — love spinning. Especially if there's loud music, and a dark room full of strangers. SoulCycle's origin story is the stuff of dreams: "Cofounders Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice met on 'the best blind date ever' and immediately clicked on their shared vision: To create an alternative to the fitness routines that felt like work." And so, SoulCycle was born.

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