Into this cauldron of inactivity, the arrival of the first commercial Health Clubs passed almost unnoticed. The year was 1961. Universal Health Clubs were an American company, based on the famous Vic Tanny Gyms that had been operating coast to coast in the U.S.A. Universal opened their first British club in Portsmouth and expanded rapidly into twenty-nine Cities in the U.K. over the next few years.
Health clubs were aimed directly at the sedentary market. ‘Guaranteed weight loss’ and a ‘perfect body’ was their claim and the public grabbed this opportunity like ducks to water. These clubs differed from most of today’s Gyms in that the ‘beautiful people’ were noticeable by their absence. The perfect bodies that the deconditioned public find so intimidating today were not exercising in the early 60’s, although that was soon to change. For a few years however, these exciting new exercise emporiums caught the imagination of the population at large and did a great job of introducing non-exercisers into a more active lifestyle. No one felt excluded, regardless of age, physical condition or weight. Everyone was welcome.
During the 60’s, Health Club gymnasiums had been successful in attracting deconditioned and overweight Clients in spite of their exercise equipment, rather than because of it. Initially, they had little to offer other than shiny chrome barbells and dumbbells, but resistance machines of all kinds were quickly introduced during the mid to late 60’s. These machines had weight stacks to provide resistance and would have looked intimidating to non-exercisers. There were little or no cardio vascular machines at first, just the occasional exercise Bike and ‘step up’ box. Indeed no one gave much thought to c/v work, so all the emphasis was on body shape.
The 1960s were revolutionary in more ways than one! Hair and makeup became bigger, brighter and bolder to match kaleidoscopic clothes with rising hemlines. Exercise, too, stepped up a gear, with the opening of women’s fitness centres. They were called ‘figure salons’ and, rather than concentrating on working up a sweat, were focused on weight loss through much more passive forms of exercise…
Ladies simply stood on, sat on or leaned against an array of bizarre-looking machines designed to eliminate fat. Rolling machines
covered in small bumps were marketed as being able to roll away problem areas, while vibrating belts that wrapped around the thighs were supposed to jiggle away any excess. One popular way to stay trim during the Swinging Sixties, however, was the humble ‘Trim Twist’.
Made from a square of pressed board mounted on top of a metal turning mechanism, this portable piece of kit was marketed as ‘the executive exerciser’ and became a hit with housewives and office workers alike. Designed to firm up the stomach, bottom, arms and legs, with no need to change out of your everyday clothes, the Trim Twist could be used anywhere, anytime.