35 vintage photos of bizarre exercise fads from the last 100 years that required little effort and probably yielded few results

New York Daily News Archive/ GettyThere have been a number of fitness trends that seem bizarre today.
  • Since the fitness industry is always evolving, what once was considered a legitimate exercise is now considered pretty pointless.
  • The vibrating belt was a popular device in many homes for a few decades.
  • Portable saunas were also used because it was thought that they could melt away fat.

From the thigh master to dog yoga, the fitness industry has seen some pretty bizarre fads in recent years. But people have been using unconventional ways to get fit and look their best for decades.

Dating back to the 20th century, people used elaborate contraptions, painful machinery, and strange poses to get their ideal swimsuit body.

Here are just some of the most bizarre ways people exercised over the past 100 years.


The Walton Belt Vibrator promised to shake fat away.

Underwood Archives/ GettyVibrating belt.

Although the vibrating exercise belt was invented in the 1800s, it didn’t become popular until the 1930s and again in the 1950s. The idea was to vibrate fat so fast that it loosens and eventually disappears.


It could be worn all sorts of ways.

University of Southern California/ GettyVibrating belt in 1929.

The belt was perfect for anyone with any body type.


The belt was advertised as a way to lose weight while watching TV or even napping.

Mirrorpix/ GettyVibrating belt.

“It is this speeded up motion of your tissues… 3,200 times a minute… that aids in fast, effective, spot reduction… that actually helps trim down the size of your measurements wherever it embarrasses you most,” one ad in 1958 said.


In the ’40s, women spent time in “slenderizing salons” where machines claiming to shape their body were used — like the Slendo Massager.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/ GettySlendo Machine in 1940.

Like the vibrating belt, the Slendo Massager was another – albeit more painful – way to shake away fat. The machine was a cage made of coiled springs that would roll over your stomach, hips, and thighs to shake away the fat. All you had to do was stand there and endure it.


The machinery also worked on your legs and thighs — leaving your hands free to knit.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/ GettyLeg rollers in 1940s.

The leg rollers were meant to loosen fat from the hip to the ankle.


One commercial from the time period said it was a woman’s duty to stay slim, using this equipment of course.

Vintage Fashions/ YouTubeSlenderizing salons.

“Girls, it seems after you helped win the war, you still have another battle on your hands: legs and thighs… the Battle of the Bulges,” an advertisement from the 1940s said.


Springs were also used as tension apparatuses.

Hulton Archive/ GettyLeg tension.

This leg spring is similar to today’s resistance training.


Though resistance training is still popular today, it got its start years ago.

William Davis/ GettySpring apparatus.

Resistance training is great for toning muscle, improving balance, improving stamina, and decreasing joint pain.


A portable sauna, known as the Reduc-o-matic, became popular in the ’40s. It was believed to melt fat.

Bettmann/ GettyThe Reduc-o-matic in the 1940s.

A large cloth bag was placed over a person’s body while an air pump pushed heat into it. This created a sauna-like effect – all while you relaxed and read a book.


People attempted to sweat off extra pounds.

Harold M. Lambert/ GettyMan in sauna tub in 1955.

The at-home sauna was a trend that had very little pay off in the end.


Other, more easily movable renditions were created later.

Mirrorpix/ GettyPortable sauna in 1969.

While sweating in a sauna is a great way to ease pain and relieve stress, it was viewed as a way to lose weight in the ’60s.


The electrical current fad might have been one of the more painful trends.

Mirrorpix/ GettySlimming in 1968.

This electric slimming device stimulated the muscles with a small electric current and was expected to have the same results as exercise. But instead of actually moving and working up a sweat, users were able to lay down and relax.


Electrical currents were also used in small baths to stimulate blood circulation.

GettyElectro baths.

Electrotherapy is said to reduce pain, repair muscles, and improve physical function.


In the ’50s, masks were used to exercise facial muscles.

John Sadovy/ GettyFace mask in 1955.

While face masks are popular today, the one that became popular in 1955 was used to exercise facial muscles instead of cleansing the skin. In the ’50s, facial exercises were a popular way to help women lift their faces to look younger.


Some people in the 20th century used human hamster wheels to exercise.

Reg Speller/ GettyHuman hamster wheel in 1936.

The human hamster wheel dates back to the 20th century and was used as a form of amusement. But it can also be used as exercise equipment, as it takes some core strength to stay inside as the wheel turns.


Women rolled around their local gym for sport.

Keystone-France/ GettyHuman hamster wheel early 1900s.

Today the hamster wheel is still used as a replacement to a treadmill. It can be seen in some offices and is said to increase productivity.


The gyro wheel was also considered exercise equipment, as it flipped people around in every direction.

Daily Herald Archive/ GettyGyro wheel in 1932.

The gyro wheel is a kind of gyroscope, which is believed to increase circulation and improve cardiovascular health.


Yes, it even hung users upside down.

Daily Herald Archive/ GettyGyro wheel in 1932.

The gyro wheel was found at the Fortnum and Mason department store.


The ’50s also saw the invention of a nautical treadmill.

University of Southern California/ GettyNautical treadmill in 1953.

The treadmill was first created to help reform prisoners, but eventually, it caught on as a fitness device. One person even invented a nautical treadmill that combined stationary exercise with water sports.


A sort of mechanical bull was once used as exercise equipment.

Bettmann/ GettyMechanical bull in 1928.

While some bars today offer a mechanical bull ride, the fun piece of equipment was once actually used as an exercise device. The mechanical bull was initially invented to train rodeo competitors, but people quickly learned that it was a way to tone abs and strengthen the core.


The rowing machine has always been popular — but it was once much simpler than what we know today.

Bettmann/ GettyRowing machine in 1925.

In this photo, movie star Helen Chadwick uses the rowing machine to stay fit.


The bongo board was another popular exercise fad in the ’50s.

Peter Stackpole/ GettyBongo board in 1955.

The bongo board was a piece of wood balanced atop a roller. When stepping on either side of the board, the roller would roll from side to side. It was marketed as an individual see-saw that helped you get fit.


It was used to help people relax and work on their balance and core strength.

WesternWORLDHistory/ YouTubeBong board in 1950.

“Everything shapes up nicely,” an ad from 1950 says. “You don’t have to be good at figures to figure that out.”


The Las Picas is an exercise apparatus that became popular in the late ’60s. It allowed users to contort every which way.

Hulton Archive/ GettyLas Picas.

Las Picas was an exercise machine that had two poles attached to a small box. The poles were able to be moved any which way, allowing you to get creative in your movements.


It could also be used with a small group.

The Las Picas was used in ballet schools, but recreationally, it was – as one advertisement said – “most important for slimming.”


The device could take up to 900 pounds in weight.

British Pathe/ YouTubeLas Picas.

The machine itself only weighed a little over two pounds.


Simple workout equipment that people could use at home gained popularity in the ’50s. Versions of this contraption still exist today.

Kurt Hutton/ GettyExercise device in 1950.

With a series of pulleys and tightropes, you were able to get a full body exercise.


But it was in the ’70s that at-home workout equipment really took off.

Dove/ GettyNautilus equipment in 1970s.

Nautilus started mass producing fitness equipment that focused on resistance training. One of the most popular devices was the Slender Bender, which resembled a lawn chair and involved the person just laying down and sitting up. The Prone Cycle, pictured above, helped people work on their legs while laying down.


In the early 20th century, the fitness industry introduced machinery that is still used today — like the butterfly machine.

British Pathe/ YouTubeButterfly machine in 1961.

The butterfly machine is still popular today and can still be seen in many gyms – but the heels have been phased out.


The treadmill also had humble beginnings.

Bettmann/ GettyRunning machine in 1928.

As mentioned earlier, the treadmill was initially intended for prison inmates and has gone through many iterations since its invention in 1818. Today the treadmill is considered a staple in every gym.


Pilates got its start with a simple system of pulleys.

Bettmann/ GettyWomen exercising in 1928.

Pilates is said to help improve posture, strengthen your core, and enhance muscle control.


When exercise equipment wasn’t used, people were prompted to make tiny, repetitive movements with their body.

Picture Post/ GettyExercise instructions from the 1950s.

Repetitious movements were believed to strengthen, firm, and raise certain parts of the body.


Some required so little effort that they could be done in bed.

Picture Post/ GettyExercise instructions from the 1950s.

Many of these exercises were simple stretches.


But sometimes the movements had you upside down.

Denver Post/ GettyShoulder stand.

The shoulder stand was believed to increase circulation throughout the body. It’s now a popular pose in yoga.


Workout apparel has come a long way, too.

A.E. French/ GettyBicycle kicks while doing a shoulder stand.

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