Vintage Fitness Equipment: Weird Workout Machines From the Past

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Working out is a horrid, time consuming, energy draining process, and the moment we began incorporating machines into our lives, to do our labor for us, we seemed to have no choice but to create machines that would supplement our lack of physical exercise. We have the genius of the Europeans to thank for the sweat filled, open 24 hours a day, often- creepy gyms we have today. However, without their ideas and inventions, we would almost certainly be much fatter than we already are, and millions more people would probably be dropping dead from cardiac arrest and other forms of disease that come from sedentary lives, as if there are not enough already!

Modern Exercise Gyms

While many of the machines seen here are absolutely ridiculous looking, not all of them are obsolete. In fact, some of them have been reinvented in different ways, and can be seen on late night television infomercials! Looking at the pictures, one may not be inclined to believe such non-sense still exists, but it does. Look at some of the most bizarre and effortless contraptions that have been used through the ages for exercise. Some of them will have you rolling with laughter, yet still, as you look a bit closer, you may be able to see some familiarity of modern devices you use today. The theories are the same; the machines just look a little different.

1. Gustav Zander’s Exercise Machines in the 1800’s







Gustav Zander was a Swedish orthopaedist and physician. He made it his life’s work to develop a therapeutic form of exercise, which was performed using a particular apparatus. His work started in the 1800’s, and he formed the Zander Institute in the UK. Dr. Zander is well known as one of the founders of a form of exercise called mechanotherapy, which we know today as “therapeutic massage.” It is a form of exercise, which was designed to help rehabilitate people, who have received some sort of orthopaedic or muscular injury. Many of the machines invented by Gustav, and depicted here, are a comical sight to see. Nonetheless, his theory was well grounded and he went on to become a lecturer at Stockholm University in 1880. Later, in 1896 he became a member of the prestigious Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Gustav Zander Was Responsible for “The Gym?”

Those of us who have done our homework know that Gustav is the man who can take all the blame for what we know now as “the gym.” He established 27 machines at his Zander Institute in the 1800’s. These machines were developed for his own use, as well as to assist his well-to-do clientele in achieving a higher level of fitness. The glitch here, and the reason gyms took some time to take-off was because this occurred during a time when the vast majority of people were out there working in the fields, hunting for food, hand washing clothes, and performing a number of other physical tasks that made extracurricular exercise pointless. There were not as many people then who needed help, but it is clear that there were at least some wealthy people who had “hands” to do their labor, thereby, leading to sedentary lifestyles, which needed to be altered through simulated forms of exercise. Some of his contraptions were the predecessors to things like the Stair Master.

2. Kellogg’s Stomach Roller


Actually, truth be told, Kellogg was known for many unorthodox views, and not just about exercising! Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who brought us corn flakes, and bran flakes, along with his brother Keith Kellogg, was quite the character. He lived during the 1800’s and worked as the chief physician at the infamous Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan. Really, this was an extravagant health resort for the wealthy. It actually gained most of it fame in 1994 when the movie “The Road to Wellville” came out. While Kellogg was a genius and introduced a myriad of useful ideas, such as the perils of smoking, the importance of intestinal health, the significance of STDs, as well as the underlying dangers of coffee, he also had some really odd beliefs. He believed in female genital mutilation, celibacy, electric shock therapy, immersion in freezing cold radium laced water as a means of therapy, and racial segregation, among many other strange and hideous things. However, he, like Dr. Zander also advocated the use of massage machines as methods of exercise.

3. Kellogg’s Electric Vibrator chair


While we all know the name Kellogg from the delicious cereals we eat daily, it is possible that Dr. John Harvey Kellogg’s truly lasting legacy was the idea that one could vibrate their way to good health and fitness! Thanks to the brilliant development and use of harnessed electricity, Kellogg created a wooden vibrating chair in the beginning of the 1900’s that he firmly believed would lead to clear intestines, and help eliminate back problems, as well as headaches. In addition, his contention was that this chair would lend to a stronger muscle tone. However, it turns out this chair was unbearably uncomfortable, and even painful, obviously causing no one in their right state of mind to have a desire to use it. There went the idea that one could sit his or her way to a healthier, more slender self!

4. Electric or Magnetic Corset


During the 19th century, we saw yet another scientific phenomenon that appeared to be almost as magical as electricity, and that was magnetism. This is when we first spotted the electric corset, a very odd contraption that was advertised to offer a cure for a number of ailments, including paralysis, indigestion, and rheumatism, all in the process of giving women tiny waists! This neat little gizmo caught the eye of every women of the time, desiring the need to have an unnaturally small waist, but did not have much lasting power.

5. The Molby Revolving Hammock


By the time the roaring 1920’s emerged, corsets were on their way out, and finally collapsed as a general accessory for women. However, inventors and scientists found new and exciting ways to combine painful bondage into passive fitness methods. The Molby Revolving Hammock pledged its ability to stretch your muscles, while straightening your spine, and calming your anxiety. A real treat for the female sector was the promise that it would deliver a tiny waist, a fuller bosom and of course, an hourglass shape.

6. Zander’s Horse-Simulation Machine


Unsurprisingly, people being people, still enjoyed the idea that there was a way to sit in a chair and allow it to do all the work for them. In 1931 Zander’s Horse-Simulation machine made a huge comeback with what was called the Mechanical Wondercycle Exercizulator. It was advertised as a hobbyhorse made for adults and boasted the ability to strengthen the muscles in the abdomen, neck, back and legs through its state-of-the-art trotting motion.

7. Mechanized Magic Chair


The Magic chair made its debut in 1936 and offered a variety of ways to help a woman lose weight and become more pleasant to the eyes, simply by sitting in this nifty chair. The idea was that rigorously twisting the poor woman from side to side would somehow correct her posture, chip away at water retention in her ankles, slim her chin and all kinds of other lovely things! Never mind that not everyone sitting in this chair even had a crooked spine to begin with, perhaps after though!

8. Vibrating Belt




Anyone over the age of 35 remembers the vibrating belt, as just about all of their grandmothers owned one, not to mention Boss Hog from “The Dukes of Hazard” used one regularly on the show! While most of us seem to think these funny belt machines were developed in the 1950’s, they actually first appeared in the 1920’s but somehow managed to remain quite popular all the way through to the 1970’s! The obvious concept was to vibrate away unsightly cellulite and fat. Did it work? We tend to think not! Although it must have had some sort of appeal to last for so many decades, a mystery indeed! These belts were featured on a number of 1950’s shows like “I Love Lucy” and were most popular during the end of World War II when the women wanted to get in shape for their men returning stateside!

9. The Relax-a-Cizor


This contraption should win an award somewhere for being the most ludicrous invention ever introduced to humankind! The poor women who had tried the vibration to no avail somehow became convinced that allowing themselves to be shocked via electricity would help! The Relax-a-Cizor was sold to over 400,000 unsuspecting victims before it was finally taken out of circulation, due to some very nasty side effects, including miscarriage, irregular heart rhythms, and aggravation of a number of underlying medical conditions. What a shock that is! No pun intended of course.

10. Gentlemans Ride-a- Horse Machine


In summary, it might be safe to assume that purchasing home workout machines is more times than not, a mistake. Most of the time these machines wind up doubling as coat racks, clothes driers, or simply magnets for cobwebs. Unfortunately, a huge percentage of the population who buys at home exercise equipment uses it once or twice and then stores it in some inconvenient place, or simply winds up giving it away. However, over the ages, people have sought out these machines, and have been caught, hook, line and sinker every time. It kind of makes you wonder what goes on in people’s minds when they buy such ridiculous garbage.


Research and images for this article were collected from a variety of sources, please see the following sources for more details (Source , Source , Source, and Source).


Nadine Hancock is a health and fitness instructor, the co-founder of