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Then & Now: 7 Retro Workouts That Still Get Results

Blast From the Past

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What's old is new again! While Zumba, barre classes, and CrossFit are some of the workouts du jour, they aren't exactly new to the fitness scene. In fact, many of your favorite workouts are probably older than you may even realize. Find out why these workouts are still going strong, and still getting results, even after all these years.

VIDEO: At-Home CrossFit Workout

THEN: Lotte Berk Method NOW: Barre Workouts

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Originally developed by the once famous European dancer Lotte Berk in the late 40s, the Lotte Berk Method is a unique fusion of ballet, Pilates, and sculpting. The technique made its way to the US in 1971, when an American named Lydia Bach opened the first studio in Manhattan's upper east side. After studying with Berk in London for a year, Bach was so taken by the method's unique results that she purchased the rights to Lotte Berk's name and technique. Now the class described as "an all round fitness program that will yield muscular strength, beautiful sculpted bodies, flexibility, and caloric burn" is at the root of popular workouts like Core Fusion, Pure Barre, and other barre-inspired trends.

Why is it still a hit? Because it works, says Suzanne Bowen, a certified Lotte Berk instructor and creator of BarreAmped. With a heavy focus on the abs, hips, thighs, and glutes, this high-repetition, small-pulse method of movement achieves the timeless goals of burning calories, building lean muscle, and improving balance, coordination, and flexibility.

THEN: Hi/Lo Aerobics NOW: Dance Cardio

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Made popular back in the 70s and 80s, hi/lo (which stands for high- and low-impact) aerobics classes taught choreographed, dance-like routines with moves like grapevines, step touches, and knee lifts. "When high-impact aerobics hit the scene, it fulfilled the primary goal of fitness in those decades: to be aerobically fit," says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University.

Fast forward a few decades, and we're now seeing a re-emergence of a new style of hi/lo in the form of dance cardio routines from celeb trainers like Tracy Anderson (who trains Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Hudson, and Nicole Ritchie), Simone De La Rue (Sandra Bullock and Anne Hathaway dance with her), and Madonna's current trainer Nicole Winhoffer.

Why is it still a hit? It's a super fun, very effective way to torch calories while building agility and coordination. Basically, it's a legitimate way to improve cardio fitness while partying your way through an hour of sweat, Olson says.

THEN: Calisthenics NOW: Bodyweight Training (Boot Camp)

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One of the hottest trends in fitness right now is actually very old school! Calisthenics, which describes equipment-free moves such as jumping jacks, pushups, and sit-ups, were first made popular back in the 60s by exercise guru Jack Lalanne. They're still whipping people into shape, but today they're billed as "bootcamp-style" workouts or simply "bodyweight training."

"These exercises are a legitimate way to develop strength and muscular endurance," Olson says. The only difference is that today we have even more variety of these types of bodyweight moves (like spiderman pushups, dragon pushups, plyo jacks, etc.) which add more variety to your routine and help work the core muscles at numerous angles, she adds.

Why is it still a hit? Whether you call it calisthenics or bodyweight training, the results are the same: improved strength, endurance, and overall fitness without the need for any equipment at all.

THEN: Jazzercise NOW: Zumba

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Most traditional dance classes, with their stop-and-start choreography and necessary skill mastery, are just too complicated for the average exerciser to follow along and get a good workout. But that changed in 1969, when Jazzercise founder Judi Sheppard Missett introduced her easy-to-follow fusion of aerobics and dance moves. With more than 7,800 instructors teaching more than 32,000 weekly Jazzercise classes in 32 countries, it's still a very popular way to get in shape, but the same party-like atmosphere is what attracts hoards of women to Zumba Fitness classes today.

Created by fitness instructor Beto Perez, Zumba combines various Latin-inspired dance styles (like the merengue, salsa, and cumbia) with more popular trends (such as Reggaeton and hip hop) in an easy-to-follow class format.

Why is it still a hit? Zumba is an extremely fun and entertaining way to work up a sweat, while offering some serious benefits, says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. "There is plenty of research that demonstrates dance is effective for developing cardio respiratory fitness and providing numerous benefits such as calorie burning, lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of onset diabetes, and strengthening the lower-body muscles," he says.

THEN: No-Frills Weightlifting NOW: CrossFit

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Back in the day, even before Arnold was the Terminator and Lou Ferrigno was the original Hulk, gyms looked very different from what you see today. The bodybuilders of the 70s are very much the grandparents of today's CrossFit workout.

"Low-tech weight lifting has been a main-stay in fitness," Olson says. "It was originally used by bodybuilders and power lifters, lifting heavy iron in basements, warehouses, or garages—which goes to show that truly amazing feats of fitness are not about bells and whistles," Olson says.

Today's most popular "no frills workout," CrossFit, has participants complete a WOD [Workout of the Day] which often includes doing as many reps as possible (AMRAP) of moves like squats, pull-ups, and box jumps in a very bare-bones gym setting (many don't even offer incidentals like air conditioning).

Why is it still a hit? "While this workout may not be for everybody in every age group, lifting iron of any kind, from dumbbells to bars to iron chains, will produce strength and muscularity," Olson says.

THEN: Mini Trampolines NOW: Urban Rebounding

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Mini trampolines initially gained popularity back in the 80s when a NASA-commissioned study found that bouncing on a trampoline offered an effective alternative to the treadmill. Today programs like Urban Rebounding and JumpSport offer group classes and at-home DVDs that turn the fun of jumping into a seriously effective, low-impact workout. Some routines stick with strictly cardio moves like jumping jacks, high knees, kickboxing, or running adapted for the trampoline, while others combine both strength and cardio moves by adding hand weights or Pilates exercises.

Why is it still a hit? It's the perfect workout for people with lower-body issues, such as ankle, knee, hip, or low-back pain," McCall says. "The elasticity of the trampoline allows the body to move without the additional stress of ground reaction force." So walking or jogging in place on a mini-trampoline can provide the benefits of the movement without the stress of the impact.

THEN: Kettlebells NOW: Kettlebells

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The most old school workout of all, kettlebells were first introduced in the 1700s—but not for the body-shaping benefits they're used for today. Russian kettlebells were originally used as weights in simple pulley systems that moved produce to the marketplace, Olson says. Since there were no dumbbells available, people began swinging and lifting kettlebells to help develop strength and stamina, and eventually kettlebell competitions became Russia's national sport.

Just a couple of centuries later, kettlebell training gained esteem in the US. "Serious weight lifters began using them because of the variety they offer," Olson says. Today you'll find kettlebells in weight rooms and on Target store shelves across the nation, proving that this "old" fitness tool is in high demand.

Why is it still a hit? A kettlebell is one of the most efficient, effective fitness tools. Because the weight isn't evenly distributed, your whole body has to work in harmony to stabilize and control the changing center of gravity. Research has also shown that kettlebell exercises are an excellent cardio workout, zapping about 20 calories per minute when you do multiple reps and sets.


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