Old Ways of Working Out to Inspire New Fitness Routines

It’s that time of year when many of us refresh our fitness goals for the next 12 months and plan how best to achieve them. January is the perfect time to establish a routine, and reap the physical and psychological benefits of healthy exercise.

While we want to move our fitness forward in 2018, it’s sometimes helpful to look back first. Of course we love trying the latest exercise trends (did you read our favorites?), but we also appreciate the old-school, iconic and fun workouts of the 1980s and 90s.

You may have moved on from leg warmers and VHS workout tapes, but you can still learn from these throwback fitness routines.

None of the below fitness icons, routines or equipment are affiliated with Special K, so we can’t verify some of the methods used — we just love supporting healthy exercise.


THEN: The ThighMaster

American actress Suzanne Somers, who starred in ABC’s Emmy-winning comedy Three’s Company, made the ThighMaster a household name when she demonstrated how to use one in a series of fitness infomercials. The ThighMaster was designed to tone your inner thighs when you squeezed it together, enabling you to workout and watch TV at the same time.

NOW: Lunges

Perform them correctly, and lunges not only work your inner thighs, but also your quads, glutes, hamstrings and core. Take a large step forward, while keeping your chest lifted and back straight, and lower into a lunge until your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Push off, return to standing position and repeat using your other leg.

THEN: Step

Step classes were huge in the 1990s. The choreographed routines were performed stepping on and off a hard, low platform and were aimed at improving cardiovascular fitness and coordination, as well as strengthening the lower body.

NOW: Soft Plyo Box

No gym today would be without a set of soft plyo boxes. Available in various sizes, and made from high-density foam covered in vinyl, they’re firm enough to enable you to perform plyometric exercises on them, which increases muscle power and performance, yet soft enough to reduce stress on your joints when landing. Plus, you won’t scrape your shins if you miss a jump.

THEN: Cindy Crawford’s Shape Your Body Workout

The American supermodel’s video featured two strength-based sessions of about 40 minutes showing Cindy working out with her trainer, Radu. She exercised on the beach, in a studio and on top of a building with the help of a chair and a pair of light weights. It also included a 10-minute mini workout.

NOW: Booya Fitness

Sweat at home with Booya Fitness, one of the biggest streaming programs. Booya partners with fitness studios and instructors to offer almost every type of fitness class you can imagine – and some you can’t – including ‘burlesque & strength,’ ‘Bollywood blast’ and ‘girls just wanna have guns.’

THEN: Indoor Cycling

Like blue hair mascara and Tamagotchis, going hard on a gym bike was a key tenant of that nineties life. Leaderboards and 60 minute long sessions were big news: until fears around the exercise being ‘incomplete’ and only focusing on a few muscle groups emerged.


NOW: Funky Spin Classes

Taking a 7am spin class at a gym with flamingo pink, neon motivational signs is the new black. From London’s Psycle to New York’s SoulCycle and Sydney’s Pelotone, to the little luxe studios popping up in Mexico City, they’re the place to be seen while you sweat.

THEN: Pilates

German-born Joseph Pilates was a sickly child, who devoted himself to mixing Western and Eastern ways of conditioning the body to see what worked the best. After heading to Britain, where he became a professional boxer, he cultivated the first inklings of his eponymous method.

After WW1, he headed to the USA and opened up his first studio in New York. Zip forward a few decades and his way of toning the body and preventing injury is popular all over the globe. 

NOW: Reformer Pilates

The classic method is still popular, sure. But the incorporation of the ‘reformer machine’ – a long, almost bed-style piece of equipment, with moving platforms to allow for extra deep stretching – took off with celebrities like Elle Macpherson and Kate Hudson last year. Now coming into more studios, head to your nearest class and work your core in a thoroughly modern way.