The 19 Funniest Fitness Fads of All Time

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Fitness fads come and go. Some of them help, and some we’re still not sure what they do. We’re not here to judge. (That’s your job — in the comment section below or on our Facebook page!) We looked back at the weirdest, wildest and most popular fitness, diet and exercise fads of yesteryear and asked, “Where are they now?” Read on to see how many of these fads you remember.

1. ThighMaster

Portrait of man using exercise equipment in gymnasium

The ThighMaster is still squeezing along! Suzanne Somers — who somehow looks younger today than she did 25 years ago — is still on a mission to tone the world’s inner thighs. The ThighMaster Gold is available for $34.99, and for an extra $15, Somers will even throw in the ButtMaster, which is a ThighMaster for butts.

Somers is quite the entrepreneur. She markets health and beauty products, and her company has sold more than 10 million ThighMasters. “I’ve done a lot of things in my career,” she said, “but I think I’m always going to be best-known for the ThighMaster.” This is probably true. ThighMaster sales have surpassed $100 million.

Read more: Will the ThighMaster Actually Help Me Lose Weight?

2. Prancercise

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If you ever see someone prancing through the park like a horse, don’t call the cops. They’re not on LSD. They’re Prancercising. Joanne Rohrback’s Prancercise video has more than 14 million views on YouTube. And yes, to answer your question, Prancercise is real. A book is currently available on Amazon or through her website, where you can also view a photo of Rohrback prancing in a field with what appears to be a Photoshopped horse.

The Prancercise inventor, for some reason, always looks like she’s dressed for lunch at the country club. She describes her prancing workout thusly: “It’s about self-expression. It’s about nonviolence. It’s about conservation.” Actually, it’s about strapping on ankle weights, turning up the volume and exercising like nobody’s watching!

3. Body By Jake

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Jake Steinfeld from Body By Jake has lived quite the life, selling exercise equipment, writing books, founding a pro sports league, training movie stars, appearing in workout videos and acting in television shows and movies. As long as people remember the 1980s, they will remember Body By Jake. “The ’80s were all about Arnold, He-Man and Body By Jake,” says strength and conditioning specialist Tony Gentilcore. “I watched Body By Jake as a kid growing up to learn some new exercise moves. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also watch to see what attractive female Jake would be training with. Best show ever.”

4. Shake Weight

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Thanks to the suggestive Shake Weight motion, videos of the Shake Weight went viral, leading to mentions and spoofs on "Jimmy Kimmel," "Saturday Night Live" and "The Daily Show," among others.

According to inventor Johann Verheem, some of the Shake Weight’s popularity is owed to former First Lady Michelle Obama’s well-toned arms. “I read an article about Michelle Obama’s arms and how more women wanted the right to bare arms,” Verheeom told “I thought that suddenly it was the perfect time to come out with the Shake Weight.” FitnessIQ has sold more than two million Shake Weights. They currently go for $57.99 on Amazon.

5. Tae Bo

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Tae Bo, the brain child of Billy Blanks, is a cardio workout that includes martial arts-style kicking and punching. The name combines tae (the Korean word for foot or leg) with boxing. Blanks and Tae Bo were synonymous and ubiquitous in the late 1990s.

“Those leotards — wow! Those were pretty spectacular,” says personal trainer Carly Pizzani. "Things to be aware of if you’re going to do Tae Bo or any other DVD are that if you have any kind of injury or weakness, you’re on your own when it comes to modifying exercises. Also, there’s no one there to check your form or to see when you’re doing something that’s going to end in injury, which is kind of a big deal when you’re kicking, punching and doing high-impact cardio."

6. Bodyblade

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Bodyblade has been around since 1991, which means it was launched during the golden age of home-shopping networks and late-night infomercials. Bodyblade is a 1.5-pound, 2.5- to 5-foot-long blade. Shake it and it shakes your body back, toning your muscles through vibration and muscle resistance.

The theory is that when the ends move, inertia wants to keep them in motion. It’s up to the exerciser to resist. Much like its cousin, the Shake Weight, Bodyblade owners run the risk of public ridicule because they look like out-of-control insects when they use them. Do they work? The Bodyblade was invented by physical therapist Bruce Hymanson, a man whose recent photos indicate that he looks like a retired superhero.

7. Bowflex

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You’ve probably seen the Bowflex commercial, and you might still be able to hear their voice-of-God announcer in your head. The Bowflex is “an entire gym in one easy-to-use machine.” The Bowflex relied on resistance and tension created by rods instead of weights. When asked if Bowflex was effective, personal trainer Carly Pizzani says, "Kind of. I’m all for anything that promotes strength training. For anyone who is deconditioned or just starting out maybe this would help for a while."

Unfortunately, she also says, “It doesn’t allow you a natural, full range of motion, which regular cables or free weights would do.” She says if you’re going to invest in a home gym, spend your money on free weights, a bench, resistance bands, barbells, plates and kettle bells, all of which should last you a long time.

8. Treadmill Bike

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Like treadmills? Wish they could carry you around slowly in public? Don’t mind people staring at you? Then consider the Treadmill Bike. The Treadmill Bike is a mobile treadmill designed for outdoor use. Walking on the treadmill propels the wheels forward, and the exerciser steers and brakes the vehicle with handlebars.

According to its creator, the Treadmill Bike “protects your feet from dirt and other contaminants commonly found on the Earth’s surface.” This makes it pretty much the perfect exercise machine for reclusive, germ-phobic billionaires. A number of Internet commenters have questioned whether the Treadmill Bike is real. A spokesperson for the company told us that the Treadmill Bike is definitely real and available for purchase at the retail price of $2,286.

9. Sweatin’ to the Oldies

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The great Richard Simmons’ legacy is that he made exercise fun. His two most memorable achievements are Deal-A-Meal (see the next entry on this list) and "Sweatin’ to the Oldies." "Sweatin’ to the Oldies" debuted in 1988 and entered pop-culture lore thanks to a series of commercials that were memorable for Simmons’ over-the-top persona and the choice — rarely made today — to feature his actual overweight customers in the videos.

The concept is simple: A series of aerobic exercises are set to oldies music, and you move to the music. In 2008 Simmons released a 20th-anniversary edition of "Sweatin’ to the Oldies." Today Simmons fans can work out to "Party Off the Pounds," which is similar to "Sweatin.'" The music is still from the 1980s, the decade "Sweatin’ to the Oldies" first started.

10. Deal-A-Meal

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Simmons launched the Deal-A-Meal diet in 1987. Deal-A-Meal divided the food groups into six types of playing cards, each of which represented a portion of meat, dairy, etc. You started the day with a set number of playing cards in your Deal-A-Meal Wallet, which was an actual wallet. When you ate, you “bought” your food by moving the appropriate card to an empty slot in a specific section of the wallet. When you ran out of cards, you were done eating for the day.

It’s easy to look back and laugh, but Deal-A-Meal was basically an analog portion-control/calorie-counting app (like LIVESTRONG's MyPlate) — a tactile representation of the health apps we use on our phones today. Simmons no longer sells Deal-A-Meal, but the book, cards and video are available as collectibles online.

11. Slendertone

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Remember those vibrating-belt weight-loss machines from old-timey TV shows? The ones that promised to jiggle the fat right off your body? They’re not gone, they’ve just gotten smaller. Slendertone is a “toning belt” that uses electronic muscle-stimulating technology to create abdominal contractions that its creator says mimics the body’s natural muscle movements. Some people think the Slendertone is useless. Others swear by it. Whatever the case, Slendertone promises to fulfill mankind’s century-long dream of passive exercise. Slendertone is available online, with the whole kit and kaboodle running you a cool $199.99.

Related: The Slendertone Vs. The FlexBelt

12. Leg Magic X

Leg Magic X

The Leg Magic X is an exercise machine marketed to older folks for building leg-muscle strength and stability so they can remain active and independent. The machine is a lateral glider that its creators say “engages muscles more effectively than walking.” The gliding mechanism is sloped downward, which means the user’s body weight creates resistance.

Sessions are meant to last about 60 seconds several times throughout the day. Basically, it’s a low-impact way to strengthen inner and outer thighs, and if you’re watching TV, it provides a healthier option than just sitting there. But unlike other exercise machines, Leg Magic X only has just one mode of operation, which doesn’t provide much utility for $150 (though their website currently says they're all sold out).

13. 8-Minute Abs

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This is possibly the most (in)famous workout on this list. Not only was it a much-watched infomercial and now a YouTube sensation (25 million views and counting), 8-Minute Abs was name-checked in the comedy classic “There’s Something About Mary.” In one scene, Ted picks up a hitchhiker who plans to get rich selling 7-Minute Abs, which is like 8-Minute Abs, only one minute shorter. Much like Ted, strength-and-conditioning specialist Tony Gentilcore is skeptical about any get-abs-fast scheme. “Sure, the people in the videos were ripped, but the real question wasn’t whether or not these people actually did these routines to look the way they did,” Gentilcore says.

14. Hawaii Chair

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Who else remembers the Hawaii Chair infomercial jingle: “If you can sit, you can get fit — Hawaii Chair.” The Hawaii Chair is so named because anyone who sits on it looks like they’re doing a reluctant hula dance. The Hawaii Chair comes with — we’re not making this up — a “2,800-rpm Hula Motor.”

The dream of passive exercise is alive in the Hawaii Chair, which was designed for home and office, as well as hilarious product-review segments on the talk show “Ellen.” Sadly, it appears the Hawaii Chair is no longer in production, possibly because the company went out of business when its workers were no longer able to perform routine office tasks.

15. Health and Beauty Belt Massager

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Whatever this thing is or is supposed to do, someone still makes them. The Sunpentown Health and Beauty Belt Massager goes for $209.99. According to the manufacturer, “The high-frequency vibrating wave can efficiently target areas with excess fat.” This thing will supposedly shake the fat right off you.

The maker says it can be used by two people at once, so you and a friend, a lover or, better yet, an enemy — can shake together. All you have to do is stand there and think about chocolate doughnuts while the machine does the work for you. Says Donna Nelson in this actual Amazon review: “This product is very quite and I love it audit has met all expectations.” It’s entirely possible she wrote this review while using the massager.

16. Twister Rave Skip-It

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The Skip-It was originally for sale during the 1980s and 1990s. Then it was updated for a new generation of kids who like to hop over things that are tied to their ankles. Where the youngsters of yesteryear were forced to make do with Skip-It 1.0 that did nothing but twirl, the new generation gets to step it 21st-century-style with small, blinking lights.

Actually, it’s kind of cool. The lights mean you have unlocked a new level. There are 20 levels in all. With Skip-It, you attach it to one leg and swing it while you hop over it with your opposing foot. They currently go for $64.95 on Amazon.

Related: Get more info on the Twister Rave Skip It

17. Stop the Insanity

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Stop the Insanity will probably go down as one of the most memorable infomercials of the 1980s. Susan Powter’s weight-loss program wormed its way into the consciousness of millions of Americans, and America ate it up. With her short blonde hair, her shouting and her world-wise ex-wife persona, Powter was instantly recognizable.

Stop the Insanity involved eating high-quality proteins, complex carbohydrates and fruits and vegetables along with eating less unhealthy food, not letting yourself get hungry and exercising regularly. Powter’s diet plan really connected with women, and her products are still available on her website. Apparently, the insanity has not yet been stopped.

18. Ab Roller

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The Ab Roller was a contraption that made sit-ups easier by negating the lifting of one’s head while also giving the exerciser something to hold onto. It’s still available through third-party sellers, still promoting the promise of six-pack abs.

"I’m not anti-abdominal exercises. What I am against is companies selling useless contraptions marketed as 'chiseling abs,'" says personal trainer Carly Pizzani. "The only thing that’s going to give you a six-pack is a great, full-body strength-training program, excellent nutrition and cardio for good measure. Even then, you may not have the genetics to show off your rectus abdominis in all its glory."

19. Horse Riding Fitness Ace Power

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The Horse Riding Fitness Ace Power proves that Americans haven't cornered the market on fitness fads. This particular product is from Korea. It’s designed — and we quote — "for those who like to ride the horse in front of TV and in home comfort of their own space."

The only problem with the Horse Riding Ace Fitness Power is that this product is nothing like riding a horse. Whereas riding a horse requires thigh endurance, hip mobility and strong arms, the Horse Riding Ace Fitness Power is reliant on gravity and repetitive, meaningless (and possibly harmful) resistance. Oh, and don’t you dare try these exact same exercises without the Horse Riding Ace Fitness Power or you will fall over, according to the infomercial.

What Do YOU Think?

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Which of these funny fitness fads do you remember best? Which do you think is the most ridiculous of all? We’ve probably missed a few formerly-popular fitness fads on our list, so leave a comment below and let us know which ones we’ve forgotten. And if any of these diets or fitness systems got you results or worked for you, we’d certainly like to hear about it. Be sure to leave a comment below!

Read more: 30 Discontinued Foods We (Sort of) Miss

Deal-A-Meal Diet Plan

credit: Adobe Stock/FotoAndalucia
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Fitness fads come and go. Some of them help, and some we’re still not sure what they do. We’re not here to judge. (That’s your job — in the comment section below or on our Facebook page!) We looked back at the weirdest, wildest and most popular fitness, diet and exercise fads of yesteryear and asked, “Where are they now?” Read on to see how many of these fads you remember.


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