The fundamentals of fitness have stayed the same over time. For men, this has meant, basically, running to stay lean while lifting weights to build muscle. Even though the basics have always been the basics, we don't have to tell you there have been some strange fitness trends invented over the years that have tried to re-invent the wheel when it comes to getting in shape. While many of these exercises died out for a reason, from making you look really stupid to not actually working, some of them fell out of style just because newer, cooler workouts rolled into gyms and folks lost interest in the old ways. Some of these abandoned workouts were actually pretty cool. There is more to the world than just CrossFit and P90X, and we would like to salute some of the best workouts that you just don't see anymore. These are The 25 Fitness Trends We Would Like to See Make a Comeback.
No. 25 - The Total Gym
Peak Year: 1998
The 1980s fitness craze saw the rise of all-in-one fitness machines. While some of them, like the OmniGym, remain memorable relics of the fitness craze, the Total Gym is probably the one piece of equipment forever associated with all-in-one-machines in your mind. This is because the man, the myth, the legend, Chuck Norris was the Total Gym's pitch man. Though the Total Gym has been around since the 70s and is still around today, we will always remember the Total Gym as the quintessential 90s workout machine because of infomercials like this one.
No. 24 - Nordic Track
Peak Year: 1993
Though NordicTrack has manufactured a wide variety of fitness equipment over time, their flagship product put the "nordic" in Nordic Track. The product that put Nordic Track on the map was a cross-country skiing machine that brought all of the fun of the slopes to your basement. Okay, maybe it didn't bring that much fun, as most of the joy of skiing comes from the whole snow and mountains thing, but it was a good try. Throughout the late '80s and '90s folks were skiing their way slim with Nordic Track machines.
No. 23 - Skate Machine
Peak Year: 1995
The final nail in the coffin of Nordic Track came when skateboarding finally caught on in the national consciousness in the mid-1990s. Along with the growing popularity of Tony Hawk and skate culture came this machine that mimicked the motion of rollerblading in the comfort of your home or gym. These machines had an even shorter shelf-life than the Nordic Track. You would be hard pressed to find one of these around these days, unless it were at a yard sale or a dump.
No. 22 - Air Shorts
Peak Year: 1976
We wish these babies would come back in vogue, not for their effectiveness, which is minimal to stay the least, but for what they add to the fashion landscape. These ridiculous, inflatable shorts were purported to help you "shed body moisture" while supporting and massaging your hips, thighs, and buttocks. We have to give them props for not really lying to us, as you are guaranteed to "shed body moisture" with these, because, well, wearing plastic inflatable shorts is going to make you much sweatier.
No. 21 - Ab Roller
Peak Year: 2004
The only piece of workout equipment that was in every house during the last decade was the AbRoller. We aren't sure if this was a Christmas present thing or if everyone was just up late watching the same infomercial, but we feel like we slip on a discarded Ab Roller in one out of three homes that we enter. Though the Ab Roller seems simple enough, like any piece of equipment, they require proper technique for maximum effectiveness. If you come across one of these are a yard sale and aren't sure of the proper instructions, might we recommend this video?
No. 20 - Bartitsu
Peak Year: 1900
There are a number of martial arts that we wish were more popular today, but one of the most interesting among them is Bartitsu. At the tail end of the 19th century, William Barton-Wright, a British railroad man invented what was ultimately the first mixed martial art. Barton combined jujitsu with boxing and kick boxing to create his own version of martial arts in Great Britain. Bartitsu had perhaps the shortest reign of any martial art in the Western world, as Barton's dojo was shut down by 1903, after only opening four years earlier in 1899.
No. 19 - Jai Alai
Peak Year: 1955
If most of you have any familiarity with Jai Alai, it probably from a season 3 episode of Mad Men. Jai Alai has actually been popular in Spain since the 19th century, but only briefly saw any American popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. Jai Alai's claim to fame is that it is the fastest sport in the world. Jai Alai balls have been clocked at almost 200 miles per hour, zipping out of the basket-like cesta that competitors wear on their hands. The athletically strenuous game has aspects of handball and racket ball, but is ultimately a bit tougher than both. There is some overhead to take up the game, however, as a low-end cesta will run you $100.
No. 18 - Jazzercise
Peak Year: 1980
Though Jazzercise remains somewhat popular, it will likely never again reach the insane levels of popularity it reached in the 80s. Though today we remember Jazzercise for the crazy outfits Jazzercisers wore, there is actually some merit to the oft mocked workout. While there is dancing involved with the hour-long routines, the workout also involves resistance training, pilates, yoga, and kick-boxing. Any of you out there who are fans of those training methods know that any of one of them is tough, let alone combining them and setting them to music. While making fun of Jazzercise has become a parody badge of honor, as the workout has taken hits from Futurama, Flight of the Conchords, and The Daily Show, it might not hurt you to give it a shot. Just don't let your friends see you.
No. 17 - Ruff Ryders Thug Workout
Peak Year: 2002
Though the principles of the workout amount to little more than a half-assed version of parkour, we love the style of the Ruff Ryders' Thug Workout. When DMX and company were at the height of their fame, they did what hip-hop super stars do best: leverage the brand into new spaces. Hip-hop moguls usually stop at hawking sweaters, sneakers, and liquors, but the Ruff Ryders took it to a whole new level with their home workout video series. The idea here is that you don't need a gym at home or a Bowflex in your basement; all your need are the tools of the street. Why not do pull-ups on scaffolding or tricep dips on a picnic table? As long as you have access to the streets, you have a world-class gym at your finger tips. Get a taste of the Thug Workout here.
No. 16 - Flexibility Machines
Peak Year: 1998
In the twenty-first century, flexibility has been synonymous with yoga, but not so long ago, there were other ways to stretch your stretching ability. The late 90s saw an influx of flexibility machines, as increasing the stretch became all the rage. While Precor's Stretch Trainer (picture above) remains the best remembered flexibility machine, the Universal Gym Equipment's ProFlex (1996), Keiser's Stretch Zone (1996) and the MedX Stretch (1998) were all available to help you stretch yourself in the late 90s.
No. 15 - Hula-Hooping
Peak Year: 1959
Hula-Hooping swept the nation and the world in the late 1950s, becoming one of the most popular toys and fitness tools of all time. The hoop's popularity was so widespread that several countries ultimately decided to ban them. The Japanese banned the hoops for their potential for inciting immorality and the Russians felt they were just another example of "the emptiness of American culture." Americans didn't seem to mind, as twenty million hoops were sold in the first six months of production. We might be behind the times in calling for a Hula-Hoop comeback. Christabel Zamor has written a book entitled Hooping: A Revolutionary Fitness Program and founded Hoop Girl Inc. in hopes of spreading the good word about the toy turned workout aide to a new generation of hoopers. We personally prefer the pogo stick, but respect everyone's individual right to their own choices.
No. 14 - Roller Derby
Peak Year: 1940
Though the film Whip It! and a couple short-lived cable programs have celebrated roller derby's return to prominence in some niche circles, roller derby's popularity today is nothing compared to it's 1940 peak. By 1940, 5 million people were watching roller derby in 50 different US cities. Though the late 40s saw the creation of roller derby television shows courtesy of the six-team National Roller Derby League, the 50s and 60s saw a precipitous drop in popularity from which it never fully recovered. That being said, it might be time to call it a comeback, as the 123rd International Olympic Committee session in South Africa in February 2012 announced that roller derby was under consideration to become a part of the 2020 Olympic Games.
No. 13 - Bowflex
Peak Year: 1998
Though Bowflex has released a number of useful fitness contraptions over the years, when you think of a Bowflex, you likely think of the Bowflex Power Pro, a.k.a. that machine in your dad's basement. It seems like every suburban family picked one of these up in 90s, as parents foolishly though that they could pull themselves away from the rigors of family and get a workout in. The cable-based weight system allowed for a versatile series of workouts to be performed in a relatively small space. The strange shape also allowed for untold numbers of children to have minor accidents on them when left unattended. Though Bowflex has produced a number of other great pieces of workout equipment, when we think of a Bowflex, this machine will be the first thing that comes to mind.
No. 12 - Fitness Leotards
Peak Year: 1985
Okay, so maybe a leotard isn't a workout or a piece of equipment, but it is a vital part of our work out history. Fitness leotards were amazing because they were one of the only outfits in history that have allowed women to look ridiculous and ridiculously hot at the same time. At one end of the spectrum, you have the leading ladies of 80s fitness like Olivia Newton John and Suzanne Sommers who looked amazing in their neon and leg warmers, and at the other end, you have these women who might have taken the trend just a step too far.
No. 11 - Crazy Fitness Contraptions
Peak year: 1850
Judging by these pictures, people got a little carried away after the industrial revolution. The dangerous combination of a hunger for increased ingenuity in engineering and a lack of knowledge about physiology resulted in the creation of some fitness machines that would put Rube Goldberg to shame. Just like people sold elixirs on the roadside with little oversight from any legitimate institution, early exercise machine makers were free to make whatever their zany hearts desired. We don't wish that these would come back for our health, but we wouldn't mind seeing crazy machines like this in our local gyms as a conversation piece, as long as we had other workout options.
No. 10 - Ring and Strap Exercises
Peak Year: 1924
While you probably know the rings as the domain of teenage female Olympians, they have been championed in the past by men who are serious about bodyweight training. Ring training was developed in Germany in the 1800s and spread quickly in popularity, which culminated in its inclusion in the Olympics in 1924. Not only are the rings a great strength training tool, but using them will help you improve your stability and control over your body. While many workouts with similar benefits can only be found in the gym, a set of rings can be hung off of a tree or a pipe and immediately help you improve your strength with no extra weights. If we have you getting curious, check this video of over twenty ring exercises.
No. 9 - Rope Training
Peak Year: 1950
We don't know if you have caught dudes climbing ropes outside of gym class, but we certainly can't remember the last time we saw grown men shuffling up ropes not wearing army fatigues. One of best aspects of rope exercises is that they engage your hands and forearms, two body parts we don't often think of in our bench and bicep focused workout routines. This is great for athletes of all ages, but particularly valuable for younger jocks among us, which is why you probably remember climbing rope in high school gym class. This is another one of those exercise tools that has seen a minor resurgence in the last few years. We encourage you to join in the retro rope love and enjoy this easy way to step up your fitness game.
No. 8 - Speed Bag Training
Peak Year: 1976
Though boxing remains quite popular as a spectator sport and UFC has added more punching to professional athletics, you rarely see speed bags in local gyms, garages, and basements like you used to. Though speed bags look awesome, one reason they may have fallen off is the difficulty of getting used to using one. To get the best use from a speed bag, you will need to position the bag at eye height and keep your elbows up when you hit. After you get the basics down, you can move on to "machine gunning" the bag and maybe even hitting it like Rocky.
No. 7 - Chopping Wood
Peak Year: 1700
You might think we are joking but there is a reason that our forefathers were barrel-chested and had beastly forearms: just staying alive was a workout. Chopping wood with a stout axe is probably one of the best marriages of a strength and cardio workout you can attempt. You will work your arms, back, and core while you get that lumber you need to keep warm at night. We recommend you pay attention to form when you start to get down with the woodsman workout, as you might find yourself a few toes short if you aren't careful. For instructions on chopping wood like a Bunyan and other wood-based workouts, check out this guide to the "Woodsman's Workout."
No. 6 - The Drinking Man's Diet
Peak Year: 1965
It turns out that the crew on Mad Men weren't just drinking to forget their empty, callous lives. They might have been trying to get fit. Though low-carb diets are well known today, The Drinking Man's Diet was one of the first diet fitness fads to boast a low-carb approach. The diet advised a combination of "man-type food", you know like steak and lobster, combined with booze. While it may seem like the powerful men of the world willed this book to be written just to justify their gluttony, the book had its strict adherents who swore they lost weight on the "diet." The diet had millions of adherents by the late '60s. Then again, alot of people out there probably follow this diet today; they just know that it is a diet that is going to make them feel better mentally and not physically.
No. 5 - Club Training
Peak Year: 1850
When a training method is created by Persian wrestlers, we recommend you consider it. In preparation for fights, the Pehlwans would swing huge war clubs. The training was effective as was the Pehlwani style of grappling, and thus the club training spread like wildfire through the Middle East. By the mid-19th century, British soldiers picked up the workout and it spread across the Empire. Though the clubs got smaller (which is kind of a bummer), the training technique lived on. The benefits of training with these clubs extended beyond merely being a badass. Club training helped shoulder strength and flexibility, grip, forearm strength, core strengthening and coordination among other things. But, again, we feel the greatest benefit was being able to literally walk softly and carry a big stick.
No. 4 - Tae Bo
Peak Year: 1999
For a brief shining moment in the 90s, aerobics were cool for men. Never has this happened before or since, and it was all thanks to the vision of everyone's favorite 90s fitness icon, Billy Banks. Like most brilliant ideas, the concept behind Tae Bo is simple. If aerobics isn't considered the most masculine pursuit, why not add in elements of the most badass training in the world, martial arts? Though dance moves are essential to building up the balance and cardio component of Banks's workout, you forget you are doing a two-step if you are kicking and punching as you go. Tae Bo had distinct appeal to both men and women because it had the most important feature of all: it worked. Unlike many workouts out there, Tae Bo lovers saw consistent calorie burning results.
No. 3 - Strong Man Workout
Peak Year: 1935
Before there were body builders with greased pecs and dozens of rippling mini-abs, there were strong men. We've all seen the iconic pictures of handlebar mustached men in striped one-piece bathing suits hoisting huge barbells above their heads. Apparently, there is a movement to return to the principles of these barrel chested tough guys. Head over to www.oldtimestrongman.com where you can train just like your grandfather (okay, let's be honest, your grandfather's more buff buddies). Take a look at some of the vintage manuals on their site and you might just turn yourself into a rope climbing, sandbag hurling, phonebook tearing sideshow attraction in no time. We can't help you with the mustache though. You are on your own there.
No. 2 - Jousting
Peak Year: 1520
Though most films documenting the period might make you think otherwise, jousts were primarily a form of training. Deaths by jousting were not common. In fact, jousting was brought to an end in France in 1559 when Henry II died in an accident. By the time of jousting's heyday, it wasn't even used in preparation for war, as heavy calvary became obsolete in warfare after the High Middle Ages. In fact, jousters would go out of their way to remove any competitive advantage they may have, as a level playing field was considered more honorable. Much like modern sports, jousting was taken out of context and regulated for maximum audience enjoyment. As early as the 1320s, the object of the joust was not to kill, but simply to compel one's opponent to yield without serious injury.
No. 1 - Gladiator Training
Peak Year: 50 B.C.
While we often complain about our problems with training, from not having enough time to workout to the cramped gym spaces that plague us throughout January and February, a rebellion was never one of our concerns, so ultimately, we had it pretty easy. Gladiators were so badass, they were only given a wooden sword, or rudus, to train for their fights to the death. Once you landed in the Coliseum, you would be assigned a Doctores, who would train you in one of two styles, Retiarius or Secutores. As if the training wasn't grueling enough, you also had to be trained in gladiatorial etiquette. In short, you had to learn how to die. As a gladiator, you were expected to die bravely, showing no fear. In fact, you were expected to offer yourself up freely to murder once you had been bested in the pit.