Staying fit and healthy has largely been a phenomenon of the past 100 years. Prior to this, most people had active daily lives and wouldn’t even think to dress in workout clothes to head to a pilates class. They tended to their farms or other physical jobs. Over the 20th century, how people viewed exercise changed dramatically to slowly look more like you would expect today. Looking back, it’s easy to chuckle at women wearing dresses while “exerci sing” using a vibrating belt. Surely, technology will continue to advance over the next hundred years, and people will look back at Zumba classes, hot yoga, and shake weights with the same lens of the future. How people exercised in the past is fascinating and a true look into history.

Vibrating belts

The vibrating belt is one of the more well-known pieces of vintage exercise equipment. You placed the long belt across your stomach or thighs, and the belt vibrated quickly to eliminate areas of unwanted fat with its fast vibrations; therefore, no real exercise or exertion was required. The vibrating belt became popular in the 1930s and experienced a renaissance of newfound popularity in the 1950s. Its general lack of effectiveness could explain why it hasn’t come back into popularity today.

One of the businessmen that patronizes the Chicago Athletic Club using the new vibrating belt machine, Chicago, Illinois, October 21, 1927. Underwood Archives / Getty Images


Cycle pram

Moms in every century always have it tough. There are so many expectations for them to do it all. If you spend your days working at home while watching kids, you can understand the idea behind this cycle pram. By combining a bicycle and a stroller, moms could multitask and get in a good workout while pushing their children around town. This made it an efficient choice for moms that needed to go somewhere nearby with their baby.

woman riding a cycle pram Fox Photos / Getty Images


Exercising in a dress

Until the 1960s, there wasn’t much of a market for specialty workout clothes. Many women wore dresses in the earliest days of exercise fads. You can find interesting pictures of people wearing their regular clothes to play tennis, stretch, and use vintage exercise machines. The clothes definitely weren't made of highly breathable fabric that could wick away sweat. In fact, for a long time, many people tried to avoid sweating when they worked out.

Girls with hoops, Lavender Hill Girls School, Bermondsey, London, 1906. Girls performing an exercise drill involving the use of hoops in the school hall. London Metropolitan Archives / Heritage Images / Getty Images


Reducing tables

For much of the 20th century, women have been conditioned to be thin. Reducing tables could help them tone their bodies without exerting themselves or sweating too much. There are many similarities to the machines you see in pilates today and the reducing tables used in the 1960s. Unlike some of the other exercise gizmos that were passing fads, the idea of using a machine to help you stretch and to provide tension for exercises is still popular today.

11th April 1921: New York society hostess Mrs Edgar Leslie doing her daily exercises, wearing baggy knickerbockers. Hulton Archive / Getty Images


Leg springs

Before rubber or latex resistance bands, people wore metal springs often attached to bars to provide tension for exercises. These leg springs were attached to the user’s ankles and provided strong resistance for stretches and calf raises. Fortunately, exercise equipment has come a long way since then, and for less than $10, you can get yourself a colorful set of tension bands from the internet. It’s less expensive, lighter, and way more comfortable than leg springs.

vintage leg spring Hulton Archive / Getty Images


Human hamster wheels

Imagine rolling around in a giant human hamster wheel, where you held onto one end and rolled into complete cartwheels. This used to be a popular fad with large metal hamster wheel-like devices. Today, you might find gimmicky hamster wheels and hamster-ball-like devices at state fairs, where kids can float on the water in their own plastic hamster balls. However, this is a far cry from the metal human hamster wheels popular 70 years ago.

human hamster wheel Reg Speller / Getty Images


Bongo board

A Bongo board was a wooden board that you would put on top of a cylinder. You would then try to balance on the board on top of the curved side of the cylinder. This happened to be an extremely difficult way to balance, requiring a lot of focus and stamina. Surprisingly, this contraption has made a renaissance in the past few years. You can find wobble boards at early education institutions, as well as balance boards made for adults online.

balance board Weir / Getty Images


10. Leotards

Leotards might be the quintessential outfit choice for aerobics classes in the 1980s. However, leotards were used regularly as an exercise outfit of choice long before the colorful and sequined versions made a permanent impression on our memories. Leotards often came in dark colors, like black, and were used in many settings outside of traditional dance schools. You might have worn one in the 1960s on a vintage exercise machine or during a group fitness class.

woman exercising in a leotard on a vintage exercise machine Express / Getty Images


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