Evolution of Fitness from the 80s, 90s and 00s: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Slap bracelets. Fanny Packs. Bucket hats. Chokers. Neon windbreakers. Is it safe to say you are feeling the sentimentality yet?

The beginning of the fitness revolution of the 80s brought with it, the good, the bad and the down right ‘what are thosssseeeeeee?’. Before I get into the fitness trends of the 80s onwards, here is a brief history:

Since the beginning of time, humanity has relied upon athletic prowess. From the prehistoric ages to our modern time, athletic ability has been used as a form of survival, but for slightly different purposes.

Fitness, as we know it today, seems to be a relatively modern invention. The industrialization period in the U.S. and Europe was marked by a more sedentary lifestyle. No seriously, like no one worked up a sweat--unless of course they were squeezing into a girdle.

During this period there was an increase in deaths due to the increase of various non-communicable diseases related to the heart, various cancers and Type II diabetes.  This was an important indicator that physical activity was strongly correlated with an increase in disease and illnesses.

With this in mind the fitness revolution of the 80s emerged. So prepare for a trip down memory lane in 3, 2, 1….


From aerobics in Tae bo and Jane Fonda’s workouts to Jazzercise, exercise in this period was mainly concerned with looking cool while burning those cals! 

The arrival of home video players meant everyone, especially women, could break a sweat in their living rooms (finding a woman in a gym was basically rare in those times). Moreover, the popular choreographed aerobic classes of the 80s were filled the outrageously cool (or not so cool) workout fashion trends. Awh man, legwarmers and headbands were literally everywhere in the ‘80s--so much so that it almost seemed like you could not physically do a workout without wearing them.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, we can’t forget about the spandex and leotards--the yoga pants of our times--how could they even workout in those? I mean they were easy to fit, but definitely hard to look at!


This period was marked by new territory: men’s territory. How many reps and sets are you doing per workout? The idea shifted from how many calories am I eating to how many grams of fat in a single serving of chips?


Although dominated by men, this period for women was run by the “Thigh master” device brought out by Suzanne Somers. The same way my generation is obsessed with having a “Thigh-gap”, theirs was obsessed with getting toned and stronger legs--which I would say is a better obsession than ours, don’t you think so?

Wait… wait… before I keep going if you never wore roller blades in the 90s, just stop reading, please and thank you.... … … Just kidding, but they were at the height of their popularity as a way to get fit in the 90s!

Other popular workouts of the 90s included: high-impact aerobics, kick-boxing, 8-minute abs, cardio slide and step aerobics. I mean step aerobics was huge--be it a one riser or five, you just weren’t fit in the 90s unless you were stepping!

And lastly, the use of supplements like creatine and ephedra for example, became a holy-grail for gym rats in the 90s. It’s only sad that Ephedra was an absolute #fail. ‘Fail’ is even an understatement. This energy-boosting, fat-supplement was actually found to be deadly…. So awks.


This period was characterized with renewing our relationship with carbs, only to hate it once again. I… I don’t get it either.

We have gone from strippercise, exegaming, extreme weight loss and extreme in this time period. The Internet and technology has helped us with everything! From counting our steps and macros, to directing our workouts straight from our smartphones.

2010s and beyond

I am certainly proud of the inclusion of more women fitness models in the weight-training sector, as well as the healthier trend towards living a healthy lifestyle. 

We’ve learned how to read food labels -- sadly almost to the point of obsession, but this may not be the worst thing in the world. Moreover, more restaurants are not only providing healthier foods, but also nutritional information on their menus.

This decade has essentially been characterized not so much about exploring new things, but going back to the basics and reinventing them. Here, simple sports, healthy diets, eco-conscious apparel and exercise programs for the young (and old) are the way of the future.

It is actually a proud moment in fitness history where we are realizing that a healthy lifestyle can actually be fun.

Writing about some of these workouts definitely made me nostalgic because it would be great to see a comeback in some of these fitness fads. Not going to lie, I still do my Tae Bo workouts frequently. What other fitness trends would you like to see comeback?

Seyi Ajayi

Customer Service Representative

Catalyst Health


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