The 1990s were all about extreme. Whether you were talking about hairstyles, fashion, exercise or color, intense was the name of the game. And the decade’s most memorable fitness fads reflect this penchant for boldness.
Fitness trends of the times included perilous sports like motocross, rock climbing, trick skateboarding, surfing, bungee jumping and hang gliding. These wild, risk-taking trends even gave rise to their own television channel, the Extreme Sports channel. (In case you’re wondering, hang gliding strengthens your arms, and skateboarding offers a pretty solid full-body workout.)
Meanwhile, this was the decade where workout gear became every day fashion—minus the sophistication of today’s athleisure wear. Spandex biker shorts replaced the leggings worn in the 1980s, with people wearing them anywhere and everywhere. In bright neons, animal prints and abstracts, Spandex exploded in popularity—giving the appearance that you might be hitting the gym, even if you never did. As one teenager quipped, “Spandex is a privilege, not a right.” Neon colors were fun and happy, but the body-clinging fabric wasn’t necessarily complimentary to every physic. And remember, the 1990s also gave way to rapid rates of obesity across the country.
Neon fashion and extreme sports aside, here are four of the fitness trends that captivated health enthusiasts during the 1990s.
In the 1990s, traditional four-wheeled roller skates were becoming a bit passé. All the cool kids skated with an inline set of wheels. There were still four rollers, just not two sets side-by-side. Inline skates offered the hippest transportation of the day–with a major health benefit.
The fluid movements of practiced inline skaters mimic the motions used by Olympic distance ice skaters, providing an athlete-worthy workout. Rollerblading increases your heart rate, improves your coordination, can firm your lower body and helps you burn major calories. By rollerblading for just 30 minutes, for example, exercisers can expect to raise their heart rate to 148 beats per minute. This delivers a cardio workout akin to cycling or running.
Another big fitness trend of the 1990s was step aerobics. And as such, every gym in town offered step classes.
Step aerobics is a classic cardio workout that builds up muscle mass with every movement. Exercisers spring up and down onto a 4- to 12-inch platform while kicking their legs and pumping their arms. The choreographed routine set to pulsing music works the lower and upper body, as well as the core and cardiovascular system.
Perhaps the best part about step aerobics is that with a simple heightening of your platform or pairing a step with a “power move” like a lunge, a simple workout transforms into a much more challenging full-body routine. Although it’s not the fad that it was in the 90s, step aerobics is still delivering results for many exercisers today.
The “8 Minute” Workout
The 1990s also gave us hope that exercise could be short and sweet. Theoretically, you could tone an area of your body with just eight minutes of exercise a day. The Ab Burner and other 8-minute long videos were used not only by at-home exercisers, but by trainers everywhere.
The claim was that in just eight minutes a day, you could have, for example, a steely six-pack. Although this may sound too good to be true—and not all 8-minute workouts deliver the same level of results—there is science behind quick bursts of intense activity. Today, the 8-minute workout has been transformed by high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which can deliver a total body workout in a series of very intense, very short circuits. It’s a method lauded by scientists just as much as trainers.
Today, everyone knows about Soul Cycle. Kelly Ripa talks about her Soul Cycle classes almost daily on her morning talk show. But Soul Cycle actually began in 1991 as “exercycling” gone wild. Creators developed routines set to music and added that to daily exercise on a stationary bike. They then gave it a new name and—voilà!—spinning was born. The evolution of spinning into Soul Cycle was rapid, and it’s left an undeniable mark on modern fitness culture.
A spin workout offers an intense cardio workout that burns major calories while toning key muscle areas. Cycling relies on HIIT—those quick, intense bursts we mentioned earlier in this article—to burn fat and build muscles.
Although the 1990s have come and gone, some of its biggest fitness trends remain. Spinning has transformed in the now-ubiquitous Soul Cycle. Motocross and extreme sports still captivate millions of Americans. And although those 8-minute workout videos might not have given you a perfect six pack back then, HIIT is now one of the most proven exercise regimens out there.