1. Vibrating Fat Belt
Our understanding of how the body works is much, much more advanced than it used to be. And our exercise equipment has gotten more sophisticated and effective. At least the pieces of equipment that aren’t total quackery.
The machine pictured above was called a “vibrating fat belt.” It would shimmy your body around the gut, allegedly with the aim of shaking away the fat. It was also supposed to help your joints.
Obviously, it didn’t work. Though that didn’t stop president Coolidge from trying one.
2. Olden Treadmills
Treadmills used to be far more crude than their modern versions. The first treadmills were composed of wooden slats that rotated over two cylinders. Not exactly ergonomic.
And workout clothes were nowhere near as advanced as they are now. Notice these women’s shoes. And their outfits.
Believe it or not, this was probably pretty racy for the time. Their exercise costumes are made of wool. Not the most comfortable fabric.
3. Bucking Bronco
Look familiar? This “bucking bronco” fitness machine closely resembles the mechanical bulls that are employed in modern bars. And like now, it appeared to be mostly the province of women.
The device was surely more effective than the fat vibrating belt and particle board twister. But there are much better exercises you can do. Nobody ever got fit by riding a mechanical bull.
The only thing missing is jello shots.
4. Fat Vibrator
This is a more advanced-looking version of the fat vibrating belt. It worked on the same principle. Or at least it claimed to work.
The user stepped into this strange harness, put a vibrating coil around their middle, and let the machine go to work. It shook them back and forth. Why anybody really thought it would eliminate fat is a mystery.
It must at least have been amusing to watch. And maybe it felt good to use. A vintage gym was a terrible place to be.
Have you ever used a stationary bike in a gym that had a monitor attached to it? That made it look like you were riding on a road? Or displayed stats to you?
Well, the first stationary exercise bikes actually weren’t that different. They were attached to huge dials that displayed how much energy you were producing through your locomotion.
Get a load of her footwear. It can’t have been that comfortable.
While these contraptions may look more like medieval torture devices than workout equipment, look more closely. A lot of them serve very similar functions to modern gym machines.
While exercise machines are often maligned by weight lifters, and portrayed as a modern contrivance meant to appeal to the unwashed masses, they’ve actually been around for a long time. Their effectiveness is up for debate though.
Thankfully we no longer have to work out in fitness frocks and coattails. Though it would certainly catch people’s attention.
7. The Zander Ab Roller
Exercise machines were popularized by a Swedish physician named Gustav Zander. He founded the Zander Institute in the late 1800s, a facility that was a precursor to the modern gym.
Members of the Institute could use 27 exercise machines designed by Zander himself. One of them was this ab roller, meant to stimulate the abs by rolling wheels back and forth across them.
If only working out were so easy.
8. The Zander ???
Another Zander contraption that’s meant to improve your health and fitness. Although it’s anybody’s guess how, exactly, it’s supposed to work.
It looks like it’s designed to make you better at leaning backwards from the hips. A useful skill in anyone’s life.
We must take another moment to thank the fitness gods that we don’t have to wear full-length dresses when we exercise anymore. No vintage gym was complete without one of whatever these were.
9. Kellogg Vibrating Chair
Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the cereal’s namesake, was a health nut and religious fanatic who was obsessed with the evils of masturbation. He was the originator of the idea of vibration helping with fitness.
He designed this vibrating wooden chair around the turn of the 20th century. He claimed it could improve muscle tone, eliminate muscle and headaches and improve intestinal health.
The chair was reportedly excruciating to sit in.
10. Magnetic Corsets
During the 1800s, magnetism was still not popularly understood. It had an air of the magical about it. An air that was exploited by health quacks.
One of the magnet-based health products put on the market was the magnetic corset. They were meant to not only slim you down, but also cure any number of ailments, from indigestion to paralysis.
Of course it was complete snake oil. Health magnets are still popular, mostly in the form of anti-nausea bracelets.
11. Revolving Hammocks
This is probably the least-comfortable-looking device in this list. The revolving hammock was a hammock that could, well, revolve. While you were strapped into it.
The hammock was supposed to improve your spine health and improve your nervous system. It does not exactly sound relaxing.
12. The Mehanical Wondercycle Exercisulator
This is the Mechanical Wondercycle Exercisulator. And yes, that’s actually what it was called.
It was debuted in 1931 as “a hobbyhorse for adults.” It produced a trotting motion that was supposed to improve your leg, back and neck strength.
It looks completely miserable. And it probably felt completely miserable too.
13. The Magic Chair
This device was released in 1936. It was called the Magic Chair and was meant to be a means for ladies to slim down. It twisted from side to side and held her head in a strap.
14. Vintage Gym Equipment: The Relax-a-Cizor
If you think the machines at your gym are bizarre, they’ve got nothing on what workout equipment used to look like. Bygone eras were full of all variety of pseudoscientific devices meant to optimize your health. Well, it’s not that much better today. But the quackery of yore was totally bizarre.
Like this device, called the Relax-a-Cizor. It was introduced in 1949 as a means to burn fat through electrocution. Sound familiar?
The Relax-a-Cizor caused heart arrhythmias, hernias, miscarriages, epilepsy and ulcers. But it wasn’t taken off the market until 1970. It’s not terribly dissimilar from muscle-contraction devices that are sold on infomercials. Though those are markedly less fatal.
15. Gyro Slim ‘n’ Trim
Music was different during the 1960s. For a time, the airwaves were dominated by Chubby Checkers and his signature dance, “The Twist.” Some health and fitness companies tried to cash in on the dance craze by marketing Twist-based products.
They were extremely simple devices, designed to aid their users to twist back and forth. Most of them were just pieces of particle board that could rotate. Got to hand it to them, the simplicity of the ruse was impressive.
The fact that it actually took less effort to Twist on one of the machines than to actually do the dance didn’t occur to them as a possible hiccup. Not sure anybody actually got fit using these.