Take a Look at the Fascinating History of Women's Exercise

Woman stretching in workout gear holding a ball
We Are Handsome

Today, we're inundated with a huge selection of group fitness classes: yoga, Pilates, cycling—you name it. We've entered a very fitness-centric era—a "trend" we can certainly get behind. And while the 2010s are surely a time of social media–charged classes, the progression women have made in the workout world is incredibly fascinating (and empowering). We've moved from exercise machines that literally rubbed your body as a way to remove fat to HIIT (high-intensity interval training) sweat sessions. It's safe to say that within the past century, women have morphed into full-blown fitness badasses. Take a look at the progression of women's exercise trends through the ages below!

1900s–1920s: Minimal-Effort Machines

A woman from the 1900s to 1920's in a minimal effort workout machine
Henry Guttman / Getty Images

The early 1900s saw a great deal of stretching as the exercise of choice (a pre-cursor to yoga, we presume), which eventually made its way into machinery. Stationary bikes, rowing machines, and the Vibro-Slim, a vibrating belt that massaged the body, were popular methods of exercise. While a machine that requires no effort but standing in place while it goes to work sounds equal parts amazing and completely nonsensical, what was more alarming was the 1920s woman's idea of activewear: dresses, high heels, and pearls. My, how far we've come. 

1930s–1940s: Glamour Girl Workout

A woman from the 1930s–1940s doing a Glamour Girl Workout
John Kobal Foundation / Getty Images

This era was all about repetitious movement using one's own body. In this video, you'll overhear a *male* voiceover explaining that the twisting movement will get rid of "spare tires around the middle." Le sigh.

1950s–1960s: Get Moving

A woman from the 1950's and 1960;s hula hooping
Jon Brenneis / Getty Images

In the 1950s, workouts were all about calisthenics and even Hula hooping (which is actually a really amazing ab workout).

1970s–1980s: Let's Get Physical

Woman smiling in 80s workout gear
Harry Langdon / Getty Images

"Let's get physical" was the theme of the '80s. Step aerobics, leg warmers, and tights were the name of the game—think Jane Fonda exercise videos, Richard Simmons, etc.

1990s–2000s: Buns and Thighs Susanne Sommers' Thigh Master
Suzanne Somers ThighMaster $40

Women everywhere were all about the ThighMaster in the '90s for toned inner and outer thighs. But women were focused on toning another body part during the '90s and 2000s as well: their bums. "Buns of Steel" was a famous video series that worked the tush right from the comfort of your living room.

Transitioning into the 2000s, Tae Bo, a martial arts-dance fusion class was all the rage. You couldn't turn on the television without seeing Billy Blanks on your screen.

2010s: The ClassPass Era

Woman doing a workout pose in a group fitness class
Link Together, Lead Together

Trendy group classes like Tracey Anderson Method, Y7 Yoga, and SoulCycle are the exercise styles du jour—it's all about getting sweaty with a group to an incredible soundtrack. It's no wonder ClassPass sessions have jumped to a whopping $99 a month.

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