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

There have been a number of fitness trends that seem bizarre today.

caption
There have been a number of fitness trends that seem bizarre today.
source
New York Daily News Archive/ Getty

  • 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.

caption
Vibrating belt.
source
Underwood Archives/ Getty

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.

caption
Vibrating belt in 1929.
source
University of Southern California/ Getty

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.

caption
Vibrating belt.
source
Mirrorpix/ Getty

“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.

caption
Slendo Machine in 1940.
source
Alfred Eisenstaedt/ Getty

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.

caption
Leg rollers in 1940s.
source
Alfred Eisenstaedt/ Getty

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.

caption
Slenderizing salons.
source
Vintage Fashions/ YouTube

“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.

caption
Leg tension.
source
Hulton Archive/ Getty

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


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

caption
Spring apparatus.
source
William Davis/ Getty

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.

caption
The Reduc-o-matic in the 1940s.
source
Bettmann/ Getty

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.

caption
Man in sauna tub in 1955.
source
Harold M. Lambert/ Getty

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


Other, more easily movable renditions were created later.

caption
Portable sauna in 1969.
source
Mirrorpix/ Getty

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.

caption
Slimming in 1968.
source
Mirrorpix/ Getty

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.

caption
Electro baths.
source
Getty

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


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

caption
Face mask in 1955.
source
John Sadovy/ Getty

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.

caption
Human hamster wheel in 1936.
source
Reg Speller/ Getty

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.

caption
Human hamster wheel early 1900s.
source
Keystone-France/ Getty

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.

caption
Gyro wheel in 1932.
source
Daily Herald Archive/ Getty

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.

caption
Gyro wheel in 1932.
source
Daily Herald Archive/ Getty

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


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

caption
Nautical treadmill in 1953.
source
University of Southern California/ Getty

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.

caption
Mechanical bull in 1928.
source
Bettmann/ Getty

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.

caption
Rowing machine in 1925.
source
Bettmann/ Getty

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.

caption
Bongo board in 1955.
source
Peter Stackpole/ Getty

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.

caption
Bong board in 1950.
source
WesternWORLDHistory/ YouTube

“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.

caption
Las Picas.
source
Hulton Archive/ Getty

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.

caption
Las Picas.
source
British Pathe/ YouTube

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


The device could take up to 900 pounds in weight.

caption
Las Picas.
source
British Pathe/ YouTube

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.

caption
Exercise device in 1950.
source
Kurt Hutton/ Getty

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.

caption
Nautilus equipment in 1970s.
source
Dove/ Getty

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.

caption
Butterfly machine in 1961.
source
British Pathe/ YouTube

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.

caption
Running machine in 1928.
source
Bettmann/ Getty

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.

caption
Women exercising in 1928.
source
Bettmann/ Getty

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.

caption
Exercise instructions from the 1950s.
source
Picture Post/ Getty

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.

caption
Exercise instructions from the 1950s.
source
Picture Post/ Getty

Many of these exercises were simple stretches.


But sometimes the movements had you upside down.

caption
Shoulder stand.
source
Denver Post/ Getty

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.

caption
Bicycle kicks while doing a shoulder stand.
source
A.E. French/ Getty

Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.