Like every kid in high school, I was forced to fulfill a gym requirement. At George Washington High School, we had the option of taking aerobics -- which I secretly loved, because I dreamed of one day making my own instructional workout videos. Each day our weird instructor -- who had been at the school so long he also taught my mom in the '70s -- would pull a television bolted to a rolling cart to the front of the room and pop in a video cassette. Sometimes it was a Kathy Ireland abs segment; other times it was a square-dancing tutorial. And then our teacher would sit at the back of the room and read a magazine -- which was also what he did when we ran the track behind the school, so engulfed in his copy of Outside that he never saw me smoking cigarettes instead of running. To this day, I hate running.
But I still love to work out, and a piece I wrote recently about my experience with the increasingly popular 20th Street Gym's boxing fitness classes got me thinking about health-related trends in the modern age. It's silly to think that exercises go in and out of style, considering that they all should operate with the universal and timeless goal of getting you healthy. But still, there have been plenty of fitness fads.
In honor of these, I've compiled a list of some of my favorite videos, machines and people who have been a part of the modern workout industry -- and as a bonus, it includes ten activities you can do at home, alone, without anyone seeing you. You may also find great joy in scouring thrift stores in search of these sorta-ancient, health-minded cultural artifacts -- or just cruise YouTube and eBay, and they can be yours.
10) Thighmaster This twenty-plus-year-old product pimped by none other than Suzanne Somers is a real beast. I mean, you can do it almost anywhere! Though the Thighmaster's whole deal involves squeezing your legs in a rather sexy position and makes public workouts pretty inappropriate, I still love doing it. I save my Thighmaster workouts for when I'm home alone and watching 30 Rock in my room with the door closed. Which makes it sound even more inappropriate.
9) Anything involving Jack LaLanne I swear by this guy's juicer, but long before he showed us the benefits of drinking kale in liquid form, he was teaching us about health at home. The godfather of the modern workout center, Lalanne opened his own gym in the '30s, which became the prototype for places like 24Hour Fitness, Planet Fitness, Bally's and the like. Before being healthy was cool, there was Jack LaLanne.
8) The Ab Rocker Basically, anything I can do while watching TV is guaranteed to be a good workout. Though this ab "machine" of sorts has had many different incarnations, they all do the same thing: hurt your neck while sort of making your spare tire stretch a little bit. I recommend pairing it with the Thighmaster, so you can save time and hopefully not get caught by your roommate while tangled up in your own torture machine.
7) Jane Fonda workouts Before yoga took the Western world by storm and made it acceptable for women to never wear pants with pockets again, there was Jane. An actress, political activist and all-around badass feminist, Fonda also had a strong presence in the '80s exercise VHS market. YouTube is full of her throwback routines, and if you're like me and just want to wear spandex all day, these videos are full of outfit inspirations.
6) Tony Little's Gazelle Words cannot express how badly I wanted one of these for my own personal use when I was a teenager. A machine of this insane caliber doesn't even exist at the gym -- and the fact that you can put two people on it at the same time is great (though it would have been nice if Tony had desired to make the duo workout look like more of a consensual activity). This exercise contraption appears to be more like an amusement-park ride than a piece of fitness equipment -- but what makes working out more fun than pretending you're on the Sea Dragon?
5) All Billy Blanks videos As an amateur, amateur boxer myself, Billy Blanks is my shit. He teaches you sick moves while doing a cardio routine, and that is not an easy task. I love this guy because his home workouts expect you to work hard, but they are not difficult to follow. And, as with Jane Fonda, his outfits rule.
4) Exercise Belts This thing is like the holy grail of pre-infomercial home workout machines. Though a new and improved portable version of the vibrating fat-shaking belt exists today and all kinds of not-very-famous people swear by it, nothing compares to the old full-body convulsion workout. I don't even know if these things do anything but make you nauseous, but I am still dying to try one.
3) The Richard Simmons Empire I can't talk about fitness trends without mentioning Richard Simmons. I love this guy because he is all about inclusion -- anyone can do his workouts. With dozens of exercise videos, DVDs and books to his credit, Simmons has shown that aerobics isn't a fad -- it is a way of life. Which is why my bucket list includes taking a class from Simmons himself at his Hollywood "Slimmons Studio," where he still teaches how to sweat it out.
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2) The Shake Weight Though a relatively new invention, this piece of exercise equipment has already secured a place in the infomercial Hall of Fame. Saturday Night Live, of course, made a good crack at it, but that was long after this hand-job simulation dumbbell had made its rounds across the Internet. I still want one, if only to hold it in my hands and know that it actually exists. 1) Body Slide Like a Slip N' Slide just for your feet, the Body Slide is more fun than exercise. I mean, who wouldn't want to put slicker-than-regular-socks booties on their feet and move side-to-side dangerously and call it a workout? Another good thing to do while watching a marathon of Law & Order: SVU, this weird workout was made for one-on-one time with your television, away from where anyone else might see you.