17 Exercise Fads From the '80s and '90s You'll Want to Try Again (PHOTOS)

Rona Gindin | Aug 25, 2015 Healthy Living
17 Exercise Fads From the '80s and '90s You'll Want to Try Again (PHOTOS)

SoulCycle, CrossFit, Orange Theory -- we've got myriad exercise fads in the mix right now, but in the '80s and '90s, it was an entirely different mash-up of trendy exercise routines. We held our hair back with scrunchies and squatted along with celebrity fitness videos. We strapped on inline skates and took over city sidewalks. We even agreed to try the Thighmaster. 

Check out how we were sweatin' it off back in the '80s and '90s, and see if any of these exercise fads bring back memories. 


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  • Step Class


    Image via Syda Productions/shutterstock

    Using no more than a plastic bench, pounding music, and an energetic instructor, step aerobics had '90s fitness freaks whipping themselves into shape. The fast-moving choreography spiked heart rates and was at times hard to follow, leaving scant time for anyone to notice how hard they were working. 

  • Boot Camp


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    With images of an ultra-fit Demi Moore in G.I. Jane in mind, the late 1990s ushered in a wave of boot camp–style fitness classes designed for civilians. Inspired by drill sergeants, instructors would lead sprints, push-ups, squats, and more military-style exercises throughout parks and other outdoor recreation areas, leaving wannabe cadets huffing and puffing. 

  • Tae Bo


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    Take a little boxing, add a little tae kwon do, and you have the 1990s fad known as Tae Bo. The fitness routine began in 1982 as a class inside martial arts fan Billy Blanks's garage. It quickly became an infomercial and video sensation, and ultimately spawned the fitness club fave, kick-boxing.

  • Jazzercise


    Image © iStock.com/Christopher Futcher 

    These hour-long classes taught by certified Jazzercise instructors featured moves and music so infectious, it made exercise seem more fun than work. Today the Jazzercise franchise has updated its routines in an effort to appeal to the next generation of women.

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  • Indoor Cycling


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    The exercise bike has long been a gym staple, but in 1991 two entrepreneurs developed a new breed of indoor cycles, created routines with them, and set those to music. The result was Spinning. Within a short time, the exercise was a total fad, with devoted followers all over the country (SoulCycle can thank these guys for the inspiration). Rolling Stone crowned Spinning the hottest exercise of 1994.

  • Inline Skating


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    Given the roller-skating craze of the 1970s, Rollerblades were an instant hit in the '90s, but the vertical alignment of the wheels made helmets and pads necessary. It was a lot harder than traditional roller skating, but nonetheless the sport became a huge hit. Suddenly gliding along was smoother, faster, and way more fun.

  • Personal Trainers


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    For those who could afford the splurge, having a personal trainer started to become a thing in the 1980s, and the industry has exploded since. The benefit? A personalized exercise routine and the honor of having someone stand by your side insisting, "You can do it!" 

  • Extreme Sports


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    The 1990s gave us the X Games and the Extreme Sports channel. Suddenly daring stunts while skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, mountain-biking, and more became family entertainment, delighting youngsters and frightening mothers. A new kind of weekend warrior was born.

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  • Buns of Steel


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    Flabby derriere? The horror! Once exercise instructor Greg Smithey and costar Tamilee Webb came out with the first Buns of Steel videotape, we never accepted soft butts again. Before long, Buns of Steel was a series of tapes targeting not just tushies but abs, thighs, arms, and more. 

  • Stability Ball


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    Physical therapists began using stability balls (aka Swiss balls) in the U.S. in the '80s, and by the '90s, the fitness community had stocked up, too. These firm, oversized balls of air were used in Pilates, but eventually they became their own thing. They're used for everything from crunches to planks to simply taking the place of a chair to improve balance and posture, and it's hard to walk into a gym or an office these days without spotting one. 

  • Celebrity Fitness Videos


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    Jane Fonda, a longtime fitness lover with an impossibly flexible physique, released her first exercise video in 1982, and it became a bona fide sensation. More videos followed, as did a slew of other celebrities eager to churn out their personal workouts for profit, too. Cindy Crawford, Olivia Newton-John, Elle McPherson, Paula Abdul, and even Cher joined the mix.

  • ThighMaster


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    America was smitten with Suzanne Somers's Chrissy Snow character on Three's Company, which ended in 1981. A decade later, she got a leg up on a second career path by hawking the Thighmaster. As the portable equipment's official spokeswoman, Somers appeared on infomercials, and for a while, those little thigh machines were pretty popular.

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  • Pilates


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    The next time your exercise instructor sends the class into planks, thank (or curse) Pilates. Sort of a hybrid between calisthenics and yoga, Pilates focuses on what's commonly called "the core." Strengthening these ab muscles is key, but concentration, breathing, and control matter, too. German asthmatic Joseph Pilates started Pilates back in the '30s and '40s, but the mind-body workout's popularity didn't spike until the 1980s.

  • Sweatin' to the Oldies


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    Former fatty Richard Simmons took an old-fashioned approach to aerobics, but rather than crank up the disco tunes, the overly upbeat Beverly Hills instructor led his calorie-burning classes to boppy tunes of yore. "Dancing in the Street" and "My Boyfriend's Back" were hits in his videos, which featured overweight participants, not the muscular pros more typical of the exercise-tape genre. Simmons made four Sweatin' videos before expanding into show tunes and, later, diet helpers, such as the Deal-A-Meal program.

  • High-Impact Aerobics


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    America's love affair with aerobics -- high-energy exercises where both feet leave the floor -- began in the late 1960s, but by the mid-1980s, the number of us bouncing around to burn mega-calories had tripled. We'd line up in rows trying to follow the footsteps of instructors who had us moving in myriad directions -- fast. Our heart rates went up and sweat poured down. 

  • Calisthenics


    Image via hightowernrw/shutterstock

    For those who wanted to firm up without all the jumping involved with aerobics, calisthenics fit the bill. Leagues of ladies donned their leg warmers and flocked to group classes at their local gyms, lunging and squatting along with their peers. 

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  • Body by Jake


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    Fitness fanatic Jake Steinfeld started out as a trainer to the stars, and by the 1980s, he'd starred in the Fitness Break by Jake and Body by Jake TV shows, as well as a later sitcom called Big Brother Jake. Videotapes, books, and, by 1993, a round-the-clock fitness TV station, brought him more fame and fortune. Everyone, it seemed, wanted a body by Jake.

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