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Faded Fitness Fads That Boomers Loved and Left

No simple calisthenics for flab fighters on the prowl for the latest gadgets, gear and games

  • Richard Gere, American Gigolo, Gravity boots, Boomer Fitness Fads
    Paramount Pictures/Everett Collection

    Gravity Boots

    En español l After Richard Gere demonstrated the boots in the 1980 film American Gigolo, a lot of boomers gave hanging upside down a try. For some of us, the appeal of getting six-pack abs like the young Gere’s might have been trumped by the fear of smashing our skulls on the floor. The boots are still around, though.

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  • Georgeanne Kerwin, 1970s Nautilus exercize gear, Boomer Fitness Fads
    Roger Ressmeyer/Corbis

    Old-School Nautilus Equipment

    Though original 1970s Nautilus weight machines looked like something out of a medieval torture chamber, inventor Arthur Jones claimed you’d quickly get a hunky physique by regularly completing a single set of exercises per body part. Nautilus eventually morphed into a successful maker of a diverse range of less exotic exercise gear.

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  • Man in gym, Universal equipment machines, Boomer Fitness Fads
    Getty Images

    The Universal Gym

    Every YMCA and school gym at one time seemed to have these big metal frames with weight plates and pulleys attached. California’s Muscle Beach habitué Harold Zinkin began mass-producing the “weight machines” in the ’60s. The regimentation and lack of variety eventually contributed to its falling out of favor, but the brand name survives on a line of dumbbells and benches.

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  • Trim-Jeans, Exercise clothing, magazine advertising, Boomer Fitness Fads


    The “Amazing Space Age Slenderizer,” as 1970s magazine ads touted it, was a pair of inflatable shorts that users were supposed to wear while performing a set of “Magic Torso” exercises. What’s more amazing: That we believed it would work or that we were willing to look like the Michelin tire mascot while working out?

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  • Charles Atlas, office worker workout, Boomer Fitness Fads
    Lee Lockwood//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

    Muscle-Building Correspondence Courses

    Avid comic-book readers of the 1950s-60s remember the Charles Atlas and Joe Weider ads. If you clipped the coupon and mailed it with the contents of your piggy bank, the experts would show you the way to muscledom in just a few minutes a day. Today we pay personal trainers a lot more money.

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  • 1960s woman smiles at camera, Vibrating belt fitness machine, Boomer Fitness Fads

    Vibrating Belt Machines

    You’d be forgiven for thinking these contraptions were invented for Three Stooges gags, but they actually were designed in the mid-1800s to replace a human masseur or masseuse. During their resurgence in the 1950s-60s, an ad promised that the machine’s 3,200 jiggles per minute would “trim down the size of your measurements wherever it embarrasses you most!"

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  • Racquetball, Diving hit, Boomer Fitness Fads
    William R. Sallaz/Getty Images


    In the 1980s, racquetball clubs seemed to sprout on every corner. The game was noisy, frenetic and demanded less athleticism than tennis or squash — ideal for aspiring corporate raiders who saw Gordon Gekko taking whacks in Wall Street. By decade’s end, though, clubs were tearing out their courts to install climbing walls and cycling studios.

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  • Trim Twist platform, 1960s fitness, Boomer Fitness Fads
    David Rogowski

    Trim Twist

    For $4.95 in the early ’60s, you could send away for a little platform mounted on ball bearings to stand on and emulate Chubby Checker. “In just spare minutes you can have a trimmer figure, better posture [and] new poise,” a magazine ad read. It does sound like more fun than Pilates.

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  • Woman in leg warmers, fitness accessories, Boomer Fitness Fads

    Leg Warmers

    Ballet dancers had long worn them to keep their calf muscles loose, but the 1983 movie Flashdance made them a fashion accessory. After slipping on a pair, you looked ready to work out — even if standing in line at Baskin-Robbins. That was before neon spandex bicycle shorts and ankle socks.

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  • Woman uses a NordicTrack, Exercise equipment, Boomer Fitness Fads


    Indoor cross-country ski machines were huge in the ’80s, and the company that originally made them had more than 300 retail stores before stumbling financially. The brand remains on the market, but as Men’s Fitness magazine recently noted, many of the old contraptions ended up as clothes racks.

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  • Health endslide
    Getty Images
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Also of Interest

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