19 Exercise Equipment Fads from the 90s: Ultimate Nostalgia List

90s exercise equipment: Arnold Schwarzenegger holding a barbell
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Last Updated on December 1, 2022

We are accustomed to health and fitness new “it” magical trends, but being real, exercise fads are nothing new. Before the Keto diet, the organic products frenzy, and the fit inspiration world of Instagram, the fitness world was led by 90s fitness gurus, masters of weight loss and muscle toning (who also managed to look rad while doing it!). 

Be it in fitness centers, infomercials, VHS athletic courses, or new trending fitness equipment that guaranteed a new body, we can positively say that the decade had its fair share of amazing athletic novelties. Chances are you even had a couple of Chuck Norris videos at home… I know I certainly did!

Most likely you didn’t get a good workout from any of these and they ended up in some dark corner of your garage… But with a hand upon my heart, I can say that I truly believed at the moment that these fitness fads would be the answer to thick thighs, untoned abs and so much more. There were quite a few bizarre workout machines to choose from! 

Read on to find out which nostalgic 90s exercise equipment made the list, I can guarantee you will have a good laugh at some of these hilarious inventions. And don’t forget to tell us all about which 1990s exercise equipment you had at home or maybe even used yourself!

#1. Leotards and Leg Warmers

Looking fabulous while cardio exercising was as important as actually doing it. You often spent as much time getting ready, putting on 90s makeup, and dressing in your best activewear as you did doing aerobics. Leotards sat precariously covering your butt chicks and tended to slip towards the center, while you wore fuzzy knit leg warmers over your ankles and worked on your step game. Pastel colors, neon hues, and often animal prints were athletes’ favorites. 

#2. Sauna Suits 

Suspiciously resembling a trash bag, the sauna suit promised quick results with no pain or struggle involved. While not strictly 90s, it was popular enough that this 80s exercise equipment garment made you feel a bit like a Nasa astronaut while you “sweated it off”. The idea behind it is that the more you sweat, the thinner you get, purging your fat as you burn it away. 

Kim Kardashian resorted to using a sauna suit when she wanted to lose weight fast so that the iconic Marilyn Monroe dress fit her and she was allowed to wear it to the Met. She has continued to use the good ol’ sauna suit while doing her routines on her trusty escalator and old elliptical.

Besides the safety issues of people suffering heat stroke, dehydration, muscle cramps, and even fainting, those few pounds you usually burn are quickly regained after drinking or having a bite. But, it would appear that there is some truth to the benefits of the sauna suit. Will you dare give it another go today?

#3. Toning Shoes 

Of all the weird, quirky, and scientifically unproven things the 90s gave us, the toning shoes were amongst the worst. These unstable, curved soles only managed to keep you wobbling, not only making it quite unsafe but downright bad for your knees and ankles. They didn’t help wearers exercise more, they didn’t burn more calories or improve muscle strength. They just… Made you wobble. 

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#4. Toning Apparel 

Speaking of things that did nothing for you: toning clothing. The 90s were filled with deceptive marketing of brands that promised whatever you wanted to hear to boost their sales. In this case, the built-in resistance wear lacked the scientific backing to prove the promised results no matter how many exercises you did wearing them. 

#5. Vibration Belts 

Vibration belts continue to captivate the late-night market and many women swear by these types of machines. The theory behind them is that the electronic muscle stimulation simulates exercise and thus burns the fat away. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now. Despite claims of new technology and advanced results, abdominal fat burning continues to elude unathletic folks looking for an easy fix.  

#6. Big Wheel Skates 

When something became popular during the 90s, clones and crazy variations soon inundated the market. This is precisely what happened when in-line skates became the new fad everyone wanted to be a part of. This gave birth to the monster-wheeled Chariot Skates and the big LandRollers, as well as the 3 and 4-wheeled skates that boasted bigger than usual wheels. Arguably, the only thing they achieved with the bigger wheels was more awkward falls.

#7. Shake Weight 

If you had a Shake Weight in your hands by the time you read this far, you could already be seeing the results! Just kidding the Shake Weight was spoofed by so many shows out there that no doubt was left that it didn’t work. At all. Not even a little. 

Despite that, it sold more than 2 million units in its first year on the market. So, how is it that no one was put off by how suggestive it looked? I wouldn’t be able to take it seriously for a second!

#8. Thigh Master

This strange-looking device promised to be the answer to thick thighs, untoned arms and so much more. I know that Suzanne Summers made all that squeezing look fun and effortless but it was anything but! I never quite managed to use it. I remember trying it out as a kid and it sort of slipped away with every flex I did…

Oh, and do you know who invented the Thigh Master? Joshua Reynolds, who was also behind the creation of the Mood Rings of the 80s!  

#9. Vibrating Platforms 

It seems that during the 90s workouts, the shaking was key to training, toning muscles, and burning fat. The proof lies with how popular vibrating platforms like the Power Plate were. They promised an improved performance after working on the unsteady ground which sounds super sketchy! The jury is still out on whether they managed to do anything beyond making you dizzy. 

#10. Ab Rocket 

Speaking about outlandish promises, the Ab Rocket’s call to fame was that with only 5 minutes a day you could get rock-hard abs. Doubtful? We think so too. There’s no doubt that you might get some ab action while using it, but nothing that singles it out as potentially being the answer to the abs you have always wanted. Personally, I remember it being difficult to use, it didn’t feel like a massage and had terrible support in the back. So, I truly don’t get what the hype was all about…

#11. Ab Lounge 

I don’t remember using this particular gadget, but it looks absolutely unsafe! I mean, I get that the lean back forces you to engage all core muscles to bring back the body to a scrunched-up position, but it looks like it could topple at any moment. But to each its own, if getting your crunch on a beach chair works for you, by all means!

#12. Ab Circle 

They might say it was easy to use on the video, but in my opinion, it was absolute hell to use! I mean, you certainly worked many muscles if the after-burn was any indication, but there was no control involved, so you usually ended up with pain all over and potentially with a back strain. The whipping back and force required quite a lot of strength to be able to get it going. 

#13. The Free Flexor 

Another piece of equipment that looks suspiciously phallic if you ask me. If the Shake Weight was fishy, the Free Flexor is beyond suspicious. It was said to set the forearms ablaze, not really my idea of a good time though. I wouldn’t be caught dead using it at the gym either!

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Lorena Lombardo
Lorena Lombardo is a fashion designer specialized in trend forecasting and fashion journalism. She studied at the UAL (University of London), ORT (Universidad ORT Uruguay), and taken various courses about traditional craftsmanship while living in Tokyo. Some of her favorite memories during the 90s include wearing bucket hats and trying to copy Rachel’s hairstyle. Her absolute favorite show was Buffy: the Vampire Slayer but she was also a huge fan of Clueless because of its amazing fashion choices. Her top track of the decade is currently disputed between How soon is Now? by the Smiths and Here with me by Dido. Both also happen to be the opening songs for two great 90s shows: Charmed and Roswell. Coincidence? I think not!