The 25 Biggest Fitness Fads of All Time

Fitness fad_rotator

If you’ve ever owned a television, chances are good you’ve seen your fair share of late-night infomercials hawking the latest and greatest fitness trend that will magically make you fit, healthy and happy (with the six-pack abs you’ve always wanted!). The products themselves may come and go, but fitness fads are here to stay, whether we like it or not. We here at Men’s Fitness decided it was time to gather up a definitive list of the 25 Biggest Fitness Fads of All Time. Now, that’s not to say all fads are bad things. There are a few things on this list that are truly helpful ways to keep your body in tip-top shape. Most fads, however, are just a way to get you to empty your wallet in the hopes of bulging biceps and shredded abs. So hike up your legwarmers, pop your ThighMaster between your legs, enjoy the list, and be sure to tell us in the comments which of these fads are currently collecting dust in your basement. START: Remember these? >>

1. Bowflex Home Gym

If there’s any piece of fitness equipment that gives the NordicTrack a run for its money in terms of becoming a very expensive clothes hanger, it’s the legendary Bowflex Home Gym. Rising to popularity in the early 1990s the Bowflex Home Gym ditched the idea of a machine that used weights or pulleys in lieu of a complex combination of polymer rods that helped to deliver constant resistance and tension as you pulled them. They were touted for their space-saving ability and their versatility as an exercise apparatus, and they became insanely popular in the 90s and 2000s before a series of recalls (and an unfortunate deadly incident) impacted their popularity. But no amount of recalls in the world could possibly take away the memories of seeing that same Bowflex Home Gym infomercial every night. The machine looked sleek, had great marketing, and did provide a somewhat substantial workout without the use of conventional weights. The company behind the Bowflex (now called Nautilus, Inc.) also created the popular TreadClimber that, while it may have led the way for the popular elliptical machines we see in so many gyms now, had to live in the shadow of the Bowflex Home Gym.

2. Tae Bo

Every single one of us has been there and we’ve all fallen to the charismatic allure of Mr. Billy Blanks. Created by Blanks, Tae Bo (the word is a combination of tae kwon do and boxing) is an aerobic exercise routine that soared to mass popularity in the 1990s and didn’t stop until just a few years ago. In fact, we’d be willing to bet that Tae Bo videos still sell incredibly well. By 1999, Blanks had sold over a million copies through the use of a memorable infomercial. And the influence of Tae Bo didn’t just extent to the group of people buying the videos. No, no. It was much larger than that. Soon the “cardio-boxing” trend became a huge part of fitness routines throughout the country. Gyms began offering cardio kickboxing classes and Blanks even went on to create his own series of Boot Camp videos. The best part, however, is that Tae Bo actually works. Sure, it’s gimmicky and silly and you’re certainly not going to beat anyone up with it, but it’s a great aerobic workout that will definitely help you burn calories. Now, go ahead and break out those Tae Bo tapes you’ve been hiding under your bed. We know they’re there. Just embrace it and feel the burn.

3. Vibrating Belt

If you watch enough episodes of American Pickers, chances are you’ll see them come across one of the classic 1960s vibrating belts that became the fitness fad of the decade. A huge machine with a big, bulky strap that was to be worn around the waist was designed to jiggle the living crap out of you until all your belly fat melted away. The gritty black-and-white pictures from the decade of women lined up in day spas and health clubs are absolutely adorable, but they don’t erase the fact that these vibrating belts didn’t work. They were great if you wanted to get a good shake going in your body, but they did zero to help you with fitness or weight loss. The scary thing is that vibrating belts (albeit more high-tech versions) have made a bit of a comeback in recent years with products like the Vibro-Belt and TheFlexBelt popping up on late night infomercials. Sigh. NEXT: A body by someone else means you don’t do the work! >>

4. Body by Jake

You might not immediately recognize the name Jake Steinfeld, but we can guarantee you’d recognize the guy if you saw him on television or in person. Yup, Jake Steinfeld is the creator of Body by Jake—one of the most ubiquitous fitness fads and TV infomercials of all time. We can’t even remember what Body by Jake is at this point, but that name is burned into our consciousness forever. The guy was always on late night television yelling about one thing or another and his products became a huge hit (by the way, he’s still selling fitness equipment). Steinfeld also reportedly helped Harrison Ford get fit for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, lent his voice to a character in Ratatouille, and is the uncle of actress Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit). Amazing!

5. ThighMaster

While we’re on the subject of fitness beauties, how could we possibly forget the seemingly ageless Suzanne Somers and her favorite fitness product: The ThighMaster! Developed by Joshua Reynolds (the same guy who made a ton of money with the Mood Ring), the ThighMaster simply sits between your thighs and you just squeeze, squeeze, and squeeze until you have the sexiest thighs this side of, well, Suzanne Somers. Or until it pops out, flies across the room, and knocks your dog unconscious. It may not have been a very successful product in terms of actually helping anyone get in shape (come on, the infomercials show people using it while sitting and watching TV), but the ThighMaster is easily one of the most memorable fitness fads of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Sadly, most of them are probably piling up in landfills or sitting in your basement right now.

6. Aerobics/Jane Fonda Videos

Developed in 1968 by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, Aerobics is still a great way to burn calories and help get in shape, even today. You don’t have to wear some ridiculous colorful leotard or spandex (though we’re told that does increase the caloric burn by at least 50%), but you do have to move your body until you’re out of breath and wheezing your way to the refrigerator for a nice cold glass of water. The aerobics fad didn’t really start in earnest until Jane Fonda came along in the 1980s with her long hair, glowing smile, and leggings-plus-leotard style and made everyone in the country swoon. She may have been a great actress, but we assure you that nearly everyone remembers Fonda for one thing: those amazing workout videos she created. Don’t believe us? Her 23 original videos have sold over 17 million copies and she even returned in 2010 to pump out two new fitness DVDs aimed at the older crowd. NEXT: 8 minutes to glory >>

7. 8-Minute Abs

Got 8 minutes? Want six-pack abs? You too can have that washboard stomach you’ve always dreamed about with 8-Minute Abs! Well, at least that’s what the makers of these 1980s fitness fad videos claimed. Here’s a little secret for you, though: Following some cheesy VHS tape of abdominal exercises for eight minutes a day will not give you abs like The Situation. Especially if that’s all you do before plopping back down on the couch for another episode of Jerry Springer. The 8-Minute Abs craze lasted about 15 minutes longer than it should have, but at least it gave us some great spinoff videos (8-Minute Buns anyone?) and a whole lot of awesome spandex-filled YouTube videos to watch when we were bored.

8. Roller Skating/Roller Blading

Roller skating was the thing to do in the 1970s (if you weren’t smoking pot or having sex, that is) and easily made the leap from fun family activity to great way to burn some calories. Rather than head down to the roller rink to kick back and couples skate to a few Journey songs, people were skating hard to keep their legs toned and their muscles strong. The 1990s equivalent of the Roller skating fad took off when Roller blades (or inline skates) were introduced. They were great for playing street hockey, whipping up and down the street with your friends, or doing tricks at the local high school. It appears now that Roller blades are out and the retro skates are back in. Either way, they’re both good workouts and excellent ways to get your body moving. Just remember, it’s always a little more fun when “Don’t Stop Believin’” is playing.

9. The Shake Weight

We don’t think there has ever been a fitness fad that’s gotten the viral attention that The Shake Weight has enjoyed. This hilarious little piece of exercise equipment looks like a dumbbell, but instead of lifting it over and over to tone your muscles, you actually shake it until it starts to vibrate. The oddly phallic and sexually suggestive motion that you must use with The Shake Weight made its infomercial an instant viral hit on YouTube as well as a great target for parody on shows like Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show and South Park. Does it work? Who knows? It almost doesn’t even matter at this point. The Shake Weight’s popularity as a pop culture phenomenon and the butt of everyone’s jokes has helped it to sell over two million units. That’s $40 million in sales, people. Who’s laughing now? NEXT: Rolling your way to a six-pack >>

10. Diet Pills

Diet pills (or at least some form of weight-loss supplements) have been around since the dawn of man. In ancient Greece, physicians would often prescribe laxatives and other “medicine” to aid in weight loss. Diet pills, however, haven’t exactly had the best reputation over the past few decades. Fen-phen became the most commonly prescribed weight-loss drug before it was discovered that it had the potential to cause fatal pulmonary hypertension and valvular heart disease. Ephedra (and weight-loss drugs containing Ephedrine such as the popular Ripped Fuel) then ruled the marketplace until 2004 when the death of Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Belcher raised a few eyebrows and it was removed from the US Market because of fears that it raised blood pressure and could possibly cause strokes and death. Meanwhile, Diet Pills are still going strong as we see everyone from The Biggest Loser trainer Jillian Michaels to Jersey Shore star Snooki selling their magic weight-loss beans.

11. Ab Roller

Back in the day, people used to do these things call sit-ups and crunches to work their abdominal muscles. They didn’t require anything other than your own body weight and a flat surface to lie on. They seemed to do the trick for a couple hundred years. Then someone went ahead and invented something called the Ab Roller. It was basically just a cumbersome machine that helped you do the same damn crunches you were already doing, but it claimed to be more effective. It became a huge hit, everyone seemed to have one sitting in their living rooms, and a whole rash of abdominal workout tools came along. Here are a few of the most memorable ones: Ab Wheel, Ab Lounge, Ab Rocket, Ab Glider, Ab Circle and Ab Coaster. And that’s just the beginning; there are tons more where those came from. The fad, however, has faded in recent years. Most of the Ab Rollers we see nowadays are either sitting on lawns during garage sales or disassembled in the basement. Turns out those regular old crunches work just fine.

12. Wii Fit & Assorted Fitness Video Games

We definitely have to give credit to Nintendo’s Wii Fit for getting a whole new generation of lazy kids off the couch and moving their bodies around at least a little bit. The game’s yoga, strength training, aerobics, and balance games might not be the most effective way for people to lose weight, but they do provide some form of exercise to the people that probably wouldn’t have done any exercise otherwise. So just how popular did Wii Fit become in the late 2000s? By May 2010, the game had sold over twenty million copies worldwide. That’s a whole lot of people swiveling their hips with a virtual hula-hoop and jogging in place with a controller in their pocket. The fitness video game craze only grew with Microsoft’s unveiling of the Xbox Kinect and Sony’s Playstation Move and, although it doesn’t get nearly as much media hype as it once did, the getting-fit-through-video-games fad is still going strong. Hey, if it helps people get off their butts and get moving, that’s fine with us.

13. Boot Camps

The 1990s gave us so many awesome things: Reebok Pumps, Fanny Packs and the Spice Girls. Oh, and they introduced the get-fit-in-just-four-to-six-weeks-while-this-ex-military-guy-screams-at-you fitness fad of Boot Camps. Based very loosely on military aspects of training, Boot Camps often involved ex-military instructors, group exercises strung together with very little rest in between, and the idea of pulling together as a team to get the job done. Popularity may have dipped a bit in the 2000s, but Boot Camps have come roaring back in the past few years as a way to drop some pounds with your friends while getting berated. The exercises are fun and worthy additions to any fitness routine, but we’re not so sure about the whole theatrical aspect of this fad. What we are sure about, however, is that ex-military guy that Maury Povich always brought on to put the unruly teenagers through a fitness Boot Camp. You remember him? Yeah, he was awesome. NEXT: Feel the power >>

14. Power Plate

One of the more recent additions to the fitness fads list is the Power Plate. Essentially a large, expensive, vibrating platform used as an exercise machine, the Power Plate has a vibrating base upon which you’re supposed to do more traditional exercises like push-ups and squats. The makers claim that the vibrations from the machine cause an involuntary reflex muscle contraction twenty-five to fifty more times per second than by doing these exercises without the Power Plate. The makers claim that only ten minutes of exercise on the Power Plate can provide increased strength, power, and definition. Oh, and they promise that you’ll be able to shoot rainbows out of your fingertips. Ok, maybe they don’t, but they do have celebrities like Clint Eastwood, Madonna, Sting, and Hilary Swank singing their machine’s praises. If that’s not enough to get us vibrating the day away, we don’t know what is.

15. Pilates

Developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates of Germany, Pilates is a physical fitness system that was designed to strengthen both the mind and body. Somewhat similar in concept to Yoga, but requiring a range of different apparatuses to guide and train the body, Pilates requires a strong core to perform specific controlled movements. Contemporary Pilates even incorporates weighted balls, foam rollers, and resistance bands. This fad has been one that’s had the power to stick around throughout the years and now boasts more than eleven million people practicing the art which many have claimed has both meditative and rejuvenating qualities. Personally, we could never keep ourselves on the apparatus long enough to find out.

16. NordicTrack

Raise your hand if you know somebody who has a NordicTrack machine in their basement currently being used as a neat place to hang clothes? Wait, is that everyone? Oh, ok. So basically everyone that’s breathing. Founded in 1975 by Edward Pauls and acquired by CML Corporation in 1986, NordicTrack is best known for their Cross-Country Skier machine that quickly became the fitness machine to have back in the late 80s and early 90s. Like most bulky fitness equipment, however, the NordicTrack became synonymous with people buying it, using it for a few weeks, and then turning it into a clothes hanger. By 1995, NordicTrack began losing money and soon found their way into bankruptcy. They closed all 300 of their retail stores in 1998, but continue to make more traditional exercise machines (like treadmills and exercise bikes) to this day. Oh, and they still have that one Pro Skier model available for anyone who wants to take a trip back to the 1980s.

17. Couch to 5K

The Couch to 5K fad has become so popular recently that even celebrity talk show host and comedian Jimmy Fallon has decided to get on the plan. One of the newest fads on our list, Couch to 5K is a program designed to get even the starchiest of couch potatoes off their butt and running five kilometers (or thirty straight minutes) in a set amount of time (often around nine weeks). The program itself is common sense approach to starting small and gradually working your way up to five kilometers by alternating walking and running as well as adding time and distance. It’s exactly what anyone with a brain would do when starting an exercise routine (if we weren’t all so eager to get that quick fix right away, that is). While Couch to 5K is fairly common sense, it’s not harming anyone and it is (along with the many smartphone apps dedicated to the program) getting a whole new generation of lazy folks off the couch and onto the road. And for that, we dig it. NEXT: Drinking the Kool-Aid >>

18. Cleansing/Juicing

Everyone needs a good cleanse once in a while, right? Well, if you’re talking about showering then, sure, we recommend that. Once a day is preferable. If you’re talking about the latest fitness fad that consists of a mostly liquid diet consumed over several days (or weeks) in hopes to rid the body of “unwanted toxins,” then we have a different opinion altogether. (FYI—Colon Cleansing is a whole other ballgame). Most scientists, dieticians, and doctors don’t necessarily think these Cleansing Diets are going to hurt you, but they often disagree with the fact that they might actually help you. Your body does a pretty good job of cleansing itself of unwanted toxins, which usually makes these fad diets unnecessary. Then again, if you dig drinking every meal, go right ahead. Currently in our blender is a slab of beef, a pork chop, a raw onion, and a baked potato. Try putting that through your straw!

19. Medicine Balls

One of the oldest forms of strength and conditioning training in all of fitness, Medicine Balls are an extremely simple way to do some plyometric weight training with very little equipment. The weighted balls have been used to increase athletes’ explosive power as well as in rehabilitation scenarios and have truly stood the test of time. There was a brief period when everyone was using Medicine Ball training in their fitness regimens, but it’s now often used for more specialized training and rehab projects. Used correctly, however, the Medicine Ball can be a very effective fitness tool and one that should likely never go out of style.

20. Sweatin’ to the Oldies/Richard Simmons

The extremely flamboyant fitness personality Richard Simmons has certainly brought hope and comfort to an entire generation of men and women struggling with their weight, but what he may end up being most remembered for is his Sweatin’ to the Oldies line of aerobics videos. Simmons and his pals would get you up off the couch and sweating the weight off all while backed by the melodious sounds of oldies music. We can’t think of a more glorious way to lose weight. Well, ok, we can, but this was an ingenious way to get people (especially the more advanced in age) moving and on their way to being healthier. Say what you will about Simmons, but he’s done a whole lot of good for the fitness community throughout his life. Unfortunately, we still have trouble getting the images of our moms Sweatin’ to the Oldies out of our brains.

21. Spinning/Soul Cycling

There was a time a few years back when you couldn’t even get into a Spinning class because the fad was so popular. While it’s died down a bit recently, Spinning is still intensely popular, and for good reason: It’s a hell of a workout. If you’re looking for a great aerobic workout with a lot of motivation from the instructor and a way to get thoroughly drenched in sweat, Spinning should take care of that for you. And if you’re looking for something a little more full-body, high-intensity, check out the latest form of Spinning called Soul Cycling. Think of as Spinning Plus with some weights and blasting music thrown in. Fun times. NEXT: Flop your way to fit >>

22. Toning Shoes/FitFlop

If there’s one thing that’s for sure, it’s that people will forego nearly any consideration of their pride to get fit. And that definitely includes the fad that is still, sadly, going pretty strong. Toning Shoes, FitFlops, and many other varieties of the odd-looking shoes designed to help you tone your body while you walk (remember those Jumpsoles we all wanted as kids?) have become a hit nationwide with major shoe companies like Reebok and Skechers all making pairs and pseudo-celebs like Kim Kardashian shilling for them. Do they actually work for anything other than to make you look just a little bit silly though? Outlook not so good. This is one fad we’re ready to put back in the shoebox.

23. Pole Dancing Classes/Stripper Aerobics

We have celebrity trainer Jeff Costa to thank for starting this fad. Way back in 2001, he created Cardio Striptease and it wasn’t long before celebrity Carmen Electra jumped on the bandwagon with her own line of DVDs called Aerobic Striptease. Then came the pole dancing classes you’d see popping up at your local gym. Before you knew it, nearly every able-bodied woman in this fine US of A was learning to shed her clothes not to excite her man, but instead to help shed the pounds. Now, don’t get us wrong, there’s nothing wrong with aerobics—anything that gets the body moving is good for fitness—and there’s certainly nothing wrong with stripping, but somehow the combination of the two just never really worked for us. Feel free to shake your booty all you want to get that slim figure, but we prefer our strippers a little less refined and a lot more willing to take our dollar bills. Just sayin…

24. Sauna Suits

Unless you’re a MMA fighter, boxer, or wrestler and you’re cutting weight for a match or fight, there’s absolutely no reason you should be using a Sauna Suit in any type of regular fitness routine. Not only are these trash-bag-look-a-like suits dangerous (think heatstroke, cramping and dehydration), but they’re also actually not going to give you any long-term benefits. Designed to simply make you sweat your buns off, the moment you take a swig of water after your workout all that water weight you lost will immediately come back. If this fad had been going strong during the Internet era, we would have heard a lot more stories of people suffering the ill effects of the dangers of sauna suits. Stay far away from this fad.

25. Power Balance Bracelets

Remember those colored bracelets everybody was wearing a few years ago? No, no. Not the yellow Livestrong bracelets that support Cancer research. We’re talking about the silly bracelets with the hologram dot in the center. That’s right. Power Balance bracelets. Created by Power Balance, the manufacturers claimed to use “holographic technology” to “resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body,” to increase athletic performance, flexibility, balance, and strength. The problem, however, was that they were pretty much just flat out lying. In December 2010, the makers of the wristbands were required to issue a statement apologizing for misleading consumers because they had zero credible scientific evidence to back up their claims. They also offered a full refund to anyone who actually took the time to apply for one. In 2011, Power Balance was sued for fraud, settled out of court, and then promptly filed for bankruptcy. We guess they forgot to harness the power of their body’s natural energy.

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