7 Highly Questionable Vintage Exercise Devices


Society’s knowledge of exercise and fitness has grown exponentially since the early 20th century, when strongmen boasted of eating 24 eggs and three pounds of bacon for breakfast. Then again, the enduring popularity of infomercial abdominal devices indicates we’re still prone to using dubious pieces of equipment if installment payments are offered. Here are a few contraptions that, while well-intentioned, may have been more hazardous than helpful to one’s health.     

1. The Relax-A-cizor

The best fitness machine imaginable would involve seeing results while putting in absolutely no effort whatsoever. That was the primary selling point of the Relax-A-cizor [sic], an electrical stimulation device fitted around the stomach that promised to melt away belly fat. “It’s effortless!” promised print ads. “You REST!” (And for the easily confused: “Not a bicycle or chair.”)

While reducing adipose tissue in the absence of exertion was tempting, the U.S. government was less enthused: after being on the market for decades, Relaxacizor, Inc. suffered a permanent injunction in federal court from selling any more of the units. In the 1970 finding, Judge William Gray admonished that the device’s unpredictable currents (delivered via damp electrodes) were unsafe and could conceivably cause “headache, hernia…loss of consciousness…diarrhea…” and that it “may be capable of causing a miscarriage.” More than 400,000 units were sold before Gray halted sales.   

2. The Molby Hammock

Less an exercise device than a human rotisserie, the Molby Hammock assured users it would “make your spine young!” Hung by the feet and neck, purchasers would enjoy relaxed spinal nerves with no nervous system “tension.” Sold throughout the 1920s, the Molby seemingly pre-dated the concept of tort lawsuits and mass litigation—though it may have fueled a rise in chiropractors.  

3. Velcro Home Jogger  

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A gift from clever Japanese minds circa 1995, the Velcro Home Jogger was a stepper-style platform made of Velcro that “caught” the soles of its matching sneakers, creating resistance as the user tried to extricate their feet from the adhesion of the two surfaces.

4. Twist ‘N Tone

Orange County Register

Perched atop this giant, adult-supporting turntable, 1970s fitness enthusiasts could contort their core to stimulate—well, something. Dynamic Classics, the company that produced this and other equipment, was unclear on what exactly the Twist ‘N Tone could accomplish. Reporter Landon Hall, who purchased one on eBay for an Orange County Register article, described it as “two pieces of plastic, with one rotating on top of the other. It looks like a TV dinner tray without legs.” A personal trainer that Hall consulted asserted that anything the device purported to do could be done standing on a floor—for free.

5. Leather ‘N Lead Bracelets

Bodybuilding icon Joe Weider of Muscle and Fitness fame was in a perfect position to monetize the popularity of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1970s.  As Weider had helped with Arnold’s training and gotten him a role in his first movie (by claiming that Arnold was a German Shakespearean actor), perhaps Arnold felt a debt of gratitude when agreeing to endorse his lead-stuffed bracelets. Promising to turn “every arm movement into an instant arm builder,” the gaudy fashion accessory sold as a pair for $14.95. If your biceps didn’t “ooze 100% more power…and look ferocious,” the ad copy promised, you could return them for a full refund. 

6. The Gymno Frame

A kind of stopgap for aspiring gymnasts who were wary of breaking their necks, the ‘30s-era Gymno Frame looks like something you’d find in the traction ward of a hospital—where users might conceivably end up. The Frame assisted in cartwheels, somersaults, and other head-over-heels maneuvers. Photographed in British football clubs, the contraption never appeared to make it stateside.  

7. The Health Jolting Chair

Sold in the 1880s and free of any pesky laws governing medical claims, the spring-equipped Jolting Chair assured prospective buyers that it “preserves health, cures diseases, and prolongs life.” Curative effects include relief from “constipation…melancholia...” and anything resulting from “lack of nerve force.” A lever on the chair would seem to indicate some kind of gyration or movement, suitable even for those “crippled from paralysis.” 

Sadly, these claims could not be substantiated. The Jolting Chair was one of the many devices that led to the Federal Trade Commission finding their own nerve force and forcing advertisers to back up their claims beginning in 1938.