What Gyms Looked Like in the 1960s

For decades many people relied on calisthenics exercises to achieve their fitness goals, though ideas on fitness have varied greatly over the years. Early 20th century fitness instructors like Charles Altas touted their techniques to turn young men from scrawny weaklings to beefy hunks, all by doing a few simple exercises each day. But, beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, a new fitness movement began to emerge: that one might exercise simply to stay at peak health, not to become some kind of strongman.

At the time, innovative research on cholesterol, heat attacks, and other genetic barriers to health were gaining traction, redefining what might or might not be considered healthy. For the first time, the goal of losing weight to stay healthy became more widely adopted and a select few rushed to new-fangled gyms to burn fat and gain muscle.

But, some of the gym equipment in use at the time was quite a bit different to what we use today. Their stationary bikes certainly weren’t electronic and there were no heart rate monitors. And, there were some pieces of equipment that would be puzzling to most folks today.

Vibration machines were once thought to burn fat, allowing the user to simply sit, stand, or lie down and be vibrated to health and thinness. Research backing up these claims still has never been completed. However, new evidence suggests these machines can help with balance in older people. In the 1960s these machines were thought of as magic bullets, giving people the chance to get something for nothing.

On the other end of the spectrum were those who did weightlifting regularly as a means to gain muscle and become more fit, though we wouldn’t suggest doing this activity in flip flops like some men were doing in the 1960s. That seems like a nasty accident waiting to happen.

We also get a glimpse of what clothing people were working out in back then. It looks like a lot of men at the gym were exercising in their swimming trunks and their undershirts. This makes sense as the fitness market was still novel and many people didn’t yet own workout clothes, sweats, or even sneakers.

See fascinating footage of how folks worked out at men’s gym in the film clip below from the 1960s.

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