History of Fitness- The 1990’s was Da Bomb

Our little fitness history lesson today is brought to you by neon tracksuits, spandex, roller blades, and grunge music- that’s right, we are talking about the 1990’s! Many of us fondly remember the 90’s, and rightfully so. The culture was one of a kind- MTV took over our TVs with new and exciting pop and alternative music, Pokemon were everywhere, people went insane for Beanie Babies, and the internet had yet to take over our lives. Fitness culture, too, saw some exciting new trends, even if some of them piggybacked off of the (equally exciting) 1980’s. Let’s take a look at what was popular during the 90’s! 

Aerobics remained popular during the 90’s, but a new fad was taking over- spin classes, which rose in popularity  for the first time! Stationary bikes were a staple in most health clubs by then, and group workouts remained popular from the 1980’s, so it stands to reason that combining those two elements would be a winning combo. Spin classes were (and are) an intense workout led by an even more intense instructor, this fad never really went away, and for good reason- it can be a great way to get a good cardio workout in, it’s low impact, and can be done no matter what the weather. 

TaeBo was made popular in the 1990’s as well, mostly thanks to Billy Blanks, an actor, martial artist, and creator of the TaeBo fitness routine. A cross between Tae Kwon Do and Boxing, TaeBo became an ethos as well as a fitness trend: “Total commitment to whatever you do. Awareness of yourself and the world. Excellence, the truest goal in anything you do. The Body as a force for change. Obedience to your will and your true desire for change”. TaeBo is a great full-body workout, and has stuck around to this day, with Billy Blanks continuing to upload videos to his YouTube channel, so if you are so inclined, you can try TaeBo for yourself from the comfort of your own home. 

Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda were still around, of course. Richard Simmons continued to broadcast his exuberant personality to millions, and remained popular. Jane Fonda reached the peak of her popularity with “Lean Routine”. This routine was a doozy- it featured intricate footwork, intense cardio, and a variety of movements meant to tone the body (and if you have any doubt that it works, just look at Jane Fonda today!). Riding her coattails, a number of other celebrities got in on the VHS/TV workout videos including Cindy Crawford (“Shape Your Body”), La Toya Jackson (“Step Up”), and Paula Abdul (“Get Up and Dance”), among others. They were all meant to be done at home with minimal or no equipment much like the TV workouts we’ve discussed from previous decades. If you can’t make it to the gym today, you can always relieve a slice of the past and search YouTube- a lot of these workouts are still available to view. Just try not to get too nostalgic. 

If dancing wasn’t your thing, Xtreme sports offered an alternative to traditional classes or at home videos (but only for the brave). Young people everywhere became interested in roller blading (not roller skates, those were SO 1980, geez), surfing, rock climbing, and skateboarding. Although most teens didn’t know they were “working out” necessarily, all of these activities offer a fun way to do cardio. Xtreme sports became so ingrained in the culture in the 90’s that there was an entire industry built around it- it was all over TV and it also became a part of the counterculture. With the rise of grunge and the resurgence of punk music, more and more teens and young adults hit the streets and skate parks, unknowingly setting themselves up for a life of better balance, lean muscle, and a healthier relationship with cardio- just don’t forget your boombox!

Of course, like every other decade we’ve seen so far, along with all of the good workout trends, we saw a number of questionable ones. Infomercials were a staple of late night television, and fully took advantage of those who felt guilty about their level of activity. The 1990’s brought us Tony Little, who graced the fitness scene with the Gazelle, for example. The Thighmaster was also heavily marketed at the time. Eight minute abs became popular as well, and although adding an eight minute ab routine is great for total body fitness, commercials would lead you to believe that this is ALL you need to get rock solid abs. 

None of these heavily marketed machines or routines were bad,  but the implication that you needed to buy expensive equipment dedicated to one muscle group made getting fit feel financially unattainable for some. And for those that did buy this stuff- well, most of it was left to collect dust after a few uses. Plus, the idea that you only need to dedicate a few minutes out of your week to achieve your fitness goals was absurd. Instead of promoting a healthy and overall active lifestyle, infomercials pushed an “easy”, albeit expensive, route that wasn’t effective for most people. Fortunately the average consumer has learned a lot since then, and we know a lot more about how to target muscle groups without these space consuming and bank depleting machines. 

So if you want to reach a state of Nirvana today, and maybe do the Jane Fonda, flip-kick yourself over to YouTube, get out your Walkman, and give one of those celebrity workouts a spin!