12 Retro Exercise Fads We Can’t Believe We Tried: The Wildest Fitness Trends Ever

If you look back at the exercise fads from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, you might find yourself chuckling at some of the choices people made.

From vibrating belts to aerobic dance videos, there were some pretty wild trends that took the fitness world by storm.

It’s entertaining to see how far fitness routines have come since those days. You’ll be surprised to discover the lengths people would go to in the past to stay in shape.

Ready for a trip down memory lane?

1) Jane Fonda Workout Tapes

In the 1980s, Jane Fonda’s workout tapes became a huge hit.

You popped in the VHS and followed along as she led you through aerobics and stretching routines.

The tapes had different sections for various body parts, like arms and legs, making it easy to follow along.

People loved Jane Fonda’s energetic style and clear instructions.

Her workouts were tough but doable, catering to both beginners and more advanced users.

You could choose routines that fit your fitness level, whether starting out or looking for something more challenging.

These tapes helped make home workouts popular.

Back then, people didn’t need expensive gym memberships.

You just needed a VCR and some space in your living room.

Plus, Jane Fonda made fitness fun with her upbeat vibe and stylish workout gear.

Jane Fonda’s tapes kickstarted a whole new era of home exercise.

They remain iconic, showing how exercise can be both effective and enjoyable.

Whether you were young or old, her routines offered something for everyone, making it simple to get moving and stay fit at home.

2) ThighMaster by Suzanne Somers

In the early ’90s, you couldn’t escape the ThighMaster craze.

Suzanne Somers, a popular actress from shows like Three’s Company, put this simple V-shaped device on the map.

The ThighMaster consists of two metal tubes connected by a spring.

You place it between your thighs and squeeze.

It was marketed as an easy way to tone your legs while watching TV.

Despite its simplicity, it became a huge financial hit.

People loved the idea of getting fit without heavy weights or gym memberships.

More than 10 million ThighMasters were sold.

Somers turned this little gadget into a symbol of home fitness, proving that sometimes less is more.

3) Jazzercise Classes

Jazzercise hit the scene in the late 1960s and became a huge trend in the 1970s and 1980s.

It combined jazz dance, resistance training, Pilates, yoga, and kickboxing.

You might remember the brightly colored leotards and leg warmers.

Jazzercise brought fun to fitness, making it seem less like a chore and more like a dance party.

The routines were choreographed to popular music.

This made working out more enjoyable and easy to follow.

Plus, it was a great way to socialize and meet new people.

Jazzercise classes were known for their high energy and upbeat atmosphere.

Many people found these classes motivating and effective for improving their fitness levels.

4) Richard Simmons’ Sweatin’ to the Oldies

Imagine dancing and sweating to classic tunes from the 1950s and 1960s.

That’s what made Richard Simmons’ “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” so special.

Richard Simmons became a fitness icon in the 1980s with his energetic personality and fun workout videos.

His bright outfits and lively spirit made exercising feel less like a chore and more like a party.

The workouts combined simple dance moves with timeless songs.

You didn’t need to be a pro dancer to join in.

All you needed was enthusiasm and a willingness to move.

The mix of music and fitness helped people stay motivated and have fun.

“Sweatin’ to the Oldies” wasn’t just about losing weight.

It was about feeling good and enjoying yourself.

The program attracted people of all ages and fitness levels.

Simmons’ welcoming vibe made everyone feel included and encouraged.

Even today, many remember these workouts fondly.

The catchy music, positive energy, and Richard Simmons’ infectious joy made “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” a hit that many still cherish.

5) Shake Weight

The Shake Weight became a sensation almost overnight.

Introduced in the late 2000s, it promised to tone your arms with its unique, oscillating motion.

Despite its popularity, many questioned its effectiveness.

While worth a try, it’s not your traditional dumbbell.

The Shake Weight was mainly marketed through late-night infomercials.

You probably remember them—they were everywhere.

It was designed to be used for just six minutes a day.

The product came with a DVD to guide you through the exercises.

People loved its simplicity.

Despite its unique approach, many felt it wasn’t a real substitute for traditional weightlifting or resistance training.

6) Tae Bo with Billy Blanks

Tae Bo with Billy Blanks was a big hit in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

It mixed kickboxing moves with upbeat music, making it a fun way to get a workout.

You’d find yourself punching, kicking, and sweating in your living room.

The moves were basic enough that you didn’t need to be a martial arts expert to join in.

Billy Blanks, a taekwondo practitioner and actor, created Tae Bo.

His energetic personality and motivational style helped make the workouts popular.

The workouts focused on getting your heart rate up while also improving strength and flexibility.

Many people enjoyed the mix of martial arts and aerobic exercise.

Tae Bo videos became a staple in many households.

They were easy to follow, and the fast pace kept you engaged.

If you did Tae Bo, you might remember how sore your legs and arms felt after a session.

It was hard work, but many people loved the challenge.

Though newer fitness trends have come along, Tae Bo remains a memorable part of exercise history.

7) The 8-Minute Abs Tape

Do you remember popping in a VHS tape and letting the 90s vibes wash over you? The 8-Minute Abs tape was everywhere.

This quick, no-fuss workout promised to give you a toned stomach in just eight minutes a day.

The routine consisted of simple exercises like basic crunches, oblique crunches, and toe touches.

You did a series of nine moves, each for about 45 seconds.

It was perfect for busy schedules.

No fancy equipment, just a bit of floor space and a strong core.

It highlighted how short workouts could still be super effective.

Made simply for an era without streaming services, this tape spread like wildfire through word-of-mouth and TV ads.

If you stuck with the program, you could see real results.

8) NordicTrack Skier

Remember the NordicTrack Skier from the 1970s? This wooden machine was a hit back in the day for simulating the motion of cross-country skiing.

You could adjust resistance to make workouts tougher.

It was great for getting in a full-body workout without putting a lot of strain on your joints.

People loved it because it felt smooth and natural.

You’d use similar movements as real skiing, like double poling and diagonal striding.

The NordicTrack Skier became iconic, not just for its design, but because it made exercise fun.

Many still fondly remember it as a piece of fitness history.

Though it might seem outdated now, it was a big deal back then.

If you ever used one, you probably still recall the nostalgia of gliding on those wooden skis.

9) The Bowflex

You probably remember the Bowflex from late-night infomercials.

It became popular in the 1980s.

The Bowflex offered a full-body workout using resistance rods instead of traditional weights.

At the time, it seemed revolutionary.

You could perform many exercises with one piece of equipment.

This was ideal for people with limited space.

The idea was that the Bowflex could replace an entire gym.

For many, it delivered on that promise.

The machine was adaptable, letting users adjust the resistance.

People loved the convenience.

It made home workouts easier and more effective.

Despite its popularity, some found it clunky or complicated to set up.

Not everyone stuck with it, but it was a big hit for a while.

10) The Ab Roller

The Ab Roller burst onto the fitness scene in the late 1980s.

It promised a simple solution for getting a stronger core with a wheel and handles.

You had to kneel down, grip the handles, and roll the wheel forward and back.

This exercise tool gained quick popularity because of its compact size and ease of use.

The ads made you believe it would turn your abs into a six-pack in no time.

You might remember seeing those late-night commercials and wanting to give it a try.

One secret to its popularity was that it was affordable and easy to store.

Unlike big gym machines, you could keep your Ab Roller in a closet or under your bed.

This made it super appealing to people with limited space.

Despite the hype, using the Ab Roller correctly wasn’t as easy as it looked.

Many people found it hard to maintain good form, which led to ineffective workouts or even injury.

Some fitness experts were skeptical about its true benefits, preferring traditional exercises like crunches or planks.

While the Ab Roller isn’t as commonly seen today, it still has its fans.

Some modern versions have been updated to be more comfortable and effective.

Whether you loved it or hated it, the Ab Roller is a memorable part of 80s fitness culture.

11) Sweatin’ with the Stars

In the 1980s, celebrity fitness videos were all the rage.

You could find stars like Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons leading energetic routines.

Jane Fonda’s workout videos became iconic.

She wore colorful leotards and leg warmers, making exercise feel like a dance party.

Richard Simmons was another big name.

His “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” series combined fitness with fun, groovy tunes.

Even Arnold Schwarzenegger jumped in with his “Shape Up with Arnold Schwarzenegger” video.

Known for bodybuilding, he showed you how to get in shape at home.

These stars made fitness feel glamorous and fun, creating a trend that stuck around.

You just popped in a VHS tape and followed along from your living room.

The celebrity exercise craze of the ’80s made working out seem more accessible and exciting.

You didn’t need a gym membership, just a TV and a little motivation.

12) The Total Gym by Chuck Norris

You might remember seeing Chuck Norris promoting the Total Gym on late-night TV.

Although its peak popularity was in the 90s and early 2000s, it actually connects back to fitness trends from earlier decades.

The device was designed to give you a full-body workout using your own body weight.

The idea of using simple, multi-functional equipment ties back to fitness gadgets from the 60s and 70s.

Chuck’s routines often included exercises like overhead pulls and squats.

These moves could work muscles all over your body.

Plus, it claimed to be easier on your joints compared to traditional weight lifting.

You also learned about some tips directly from Chuck Norris.

He shared various ways to maximize the effectiveness of each movement.

People loved how versatile it was.

You could do many exercises targeting different muscle groups.

Famous for its promises of efficiency, you might’ve felt intrigued to try it yourself.

The Total Gym continues to be popular today, but its roots and the influence of Chuck Norris helped cement its place in fitness culture.

The Appeal of Retro Exercise Fads

Retro exercise fads often draw people in due to the nostalgia they evoke and the significant cultural impact they had during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

Nostalgia in Fitness

Many people are drawn to old workout routines because they remind them of simpler times.

Maybe you remember your parents or grandparents doing these exercises, or you saw them in old movies or TV shows.

The 1980s, in particular, were packed with vibrant leotards, headbands, and catchy aerobic tunes that are hard to forget.

There’s also a comforting familiarity in these routines.

Unlike today’s high-tech gyms, retro workouts were straightforward.

Your old VHS of Jane Fonda or Richard Simmons only needed a VCR and some floor space.

This simplicity can be a refreshing change from modern fitness gadgets.

Cultural Impact

Retro fitness trends shaped pop culture in a big way.

Take Jazzercise, which combined dance and aerobics back in the late 1970s—it influenced how people viewed exercise as a fun group activity.

People didn’t just workout—they socialized and danced together, making fitness a communal event.

These old-school exercise fads also impacted fashion.

Those neon spandex outfits and leg warmers from the 1980s are iconic.

They made workouts feel festive and lively, influencing not just how people exercised, but also how they dressed during workouts.

The cultural weight of these trends shows why they’ve left such a lasting impression.

Health Benefits and Risks

Exercise fads from the 1960s to the 1980s had both positive effects and potential drawbacks.

Their impact on physical and mental health varied depending on how they were practiced.

Physical Well-being

Retro exercise fads like Jazzercise and Jane Fonda’s aerobics brought more people into fitness.

These activities helped improve cardiovascular health and muscle tone.

You’ll find that dancing to energetic music or following a workout video kept you moving, which is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.


  • Increased Heart Health: Aerobic exercises improve heart function.
  • Weight Management: Regular exercise helps in maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Strength Building: Activities such as aerobic dance routines also contributed to muscle strength.


  • Injury Risk: Intense activities without proper guidance could lead to muscle strains or joint problems.
  • Overexertion: Some exercises were too rigorous and led to burnout if not done properly.

Mental Health Effects

Exercise not only affected the body but also the mind.

Engaging in fitness fads from the past was a way to reduce stress and boost mood.

Social aspects of group classes like Jazzercise provided community support, which contributed to emotional well-being.


  • Stress Reduction: Physical activity releases endorphins, which help in stress relief.
  • Mood Enhancement: Being active often leads to feeling happier due to boosted endorphins.
  • Community Building: Group exercises offered social interaction, improving mental well-being.


  • Pressure to Conform: Some fads could create pressure to match unrealistic body standards.
  • Mental Fatigue: Intensive routines, especially without proper rest, could lead to mental exhaustion.

These retro fads had their place in fitness history but came with a mix of benefits and risks.

Always consider these aspects when choosing your fitness regimen.

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