Iron Boots: The Slimming, Trimming, Shaping Equipment that the Fitness Industry Forgot About

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The fitness industry, it’s fair to say, is a fairly fickle business.

Every number of years we encounter the next great training innovation or revolution be it Crossfit, PX90 or TRX. So often our quest for the new and unknown results in the abandonment of what worked in the first place.

Today we’ll be looking at Iron Boots, a versatile piece of equipment used from 1900 to 1970. Once the staple of many’s training regimes, the iron boots were used by old school trainers from Sig Klein to Frank Zane with great success in developing their quads, hamstrings and abs.

What the boots lacked in aesthetics, they made up for in results but sadly they have now become the equipment that fitness forgot.

So what were the boots and how did they work?

Iron Boots were heavy metal boots that you strapped to your feet. Simple right?

Well not really. Although typically weighing only 20lb. each, the boots packed a punch. They were the original leg extension and leg curls of their time. Anyone lucky enough to have used the boots will testify that leg curls with the Boots were much more difficult than our modern day machines.

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Leg Curls with the Boots

Aside from the obvious leg extensions and leg curls, the boots were also used for leg presses, reverse hyperextensions and a series of abdominal exercises. In later years as more and more people began to use the Iron Boots, manufacturers fashioned it so the boots could be attached to dumbbells or plates, thus increasing the amount of weight that people could use.

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Leg Presses with the Iron Boots

A huge proponent of the boots was Bob Hoffman, the owner of York Barbell. ‘How to Build Super Strength, Health and Development with the York Leg Developing Course’, published by Hoffman in 1943, waxed lyrical about the boots. Hoffman also had famous York athletes such as John Grimek advertise the Boots as well with claims that they helped build their impressive legs.

Hoffman wasn’t alone in his love for the boots either. Joe Weider, the muscle mag mogul of the 20th century, made continuous reference to the boots and their usefulness during the ’50s and ’60s.

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A Young Frank Zane Advertising the Boots

Sadly with the advent of modern day leg extensions and leg curls, the Iron Boots have been largely confined to the scrap heap of the fitness world. They do however still retain a cult following amongst some fitness fanatics, with some trainers still using boots made in the 1970s!

And who knows, maybe Iron Boots will make a comeback in the near future? Stranger things have happened.

43 comments

  1. I’d love to buy a pair but they are hard to find….. There are a few remaining (new) IVANKO boots on Amazon.com but they refuse to ship them to Europe. The only other option is 2nd hand, and these are mainly found on Ebay USA, so shipping can cost three times the price of the boots!

    1. Similar to myself – have looked high up and low down for a new pair. I’m Irish based so face the same shipping issue to Europe.

      I’m still toying with the idea of buying a second hand pair but I’m worried about there stability. Someone tried to sell me some from the early 1970s. They were covered in rust and falling apart – I don’t think I’d trust them!

      If you do find a way around the shipping costs to Europe let me know as I’d love a pair

  2. I finally went and ordered a pair similar to these, but in better condition (I hope)!

    https://www.ebay.fr/itm/Iron-Health-Boots-Billard-BFCO-Exercise-Shoes-Vintage-New-Billard-Barbell/142709133421?_trkparms=aid%3D111001%26algo%3DREC.SEED%26ao%3D1%26asc%3D20140513073955%26meid%3D6f7b312d69f74b49a1f1249bde2800bc%26pid%3D100037%26rk%3D1%26rkt%3D12%26sd%3D142709133421%26itm%3D142709133421&_trksid=p2047675.c100037.m2107

    This is the first time I’ve ordered something from the USA on Ebay, so I’m slightly nervous……

    Cost : €40.45 for the boots, €28.23 for delivery to France and ‘Import charges’ €12.10 TOTAL : €81.43.

    The ‘import charges’ are supposed to mean no hassle with the customs charging duty. Well I will find out between the 2nd to 7th of April, when delivery is supposed to take place.

    Once I get them, I will cut up some old hollow ‘YORK’ barbell tube I have, and find a way of fixing it onto them + devise a way of not having the weight plates slip off. I will probably also add leather straps.

    There were several of these boots on offer from various people on Ebay USA, and prices are all over the place including for delivery!

    1. Wow you’ve done much better than me on the research front Nick. Will you let me know how you find them? Would love to use them for ab and thigh work – provided they’re good quality!

  3. I received the iron boots some time ago, and there was no problem with shipping / Customs or extra charges. The boots and their flimsy straps seem unused and were delivered in their original box (early 1970’s possibly).

    As for inserting a bar into the boots so as to add extra weight, I happened to have an old 1996 YORK barbell which I never use anymore with it’s threaded ends. Now this barbell is thinner then more modern variants and fits through the holes of the boot, (a newer bigger diameter would not fit……)

    Yesterday I cut up the barbell with a grinder. Today I inserted the bars into the boots and loaded 10kg on each. I couldn’t even get my legs off the ground…….

    Tomorrow or the day after I’ll try them out with 4kg loaded on each and try and take some photos.

    Ultimately I’ll have to replace the horrible vinyl straps with some good quality leather ! And as for the sizing of the boots my feet are a wide EUR 45 size (verging on 46). I can only fit into these boots barefooted ,which doesn’t bother me at all as I train without shoes.

    1. Brilliant thanks so much for getting back in contact with us Nick, I was only thinking about how you were getting on the other day!

      In the interim I trialled a friend’s pair of Iron Boots and can share your experiences with the 10kg weights. You’ve tempted me with these I can’t lie.

      What exercises will you be using them for? I’m thinking abdominal work, leg curls/extensions and reverse hyperextensions can be done profitably with the Boots.

  4. During a leg workout I finally tried the iron boots but not for long! Thought I’d be sensible and put 4kg of plate on each one. I wanted to to do the ‘bicycle’ movement, did I manage it ? No. I dropped to 2kg on each shoe and did a few random repetitions of some sort…….. I’d really like to try the bicycle movement but next time will remove all weights and bars from the shoe and just use the weight of the shoe until I can manage it………

    But the shoes are amazing, it’s not like being attached to a cable, or using a machine, it’s literally like each foot is holding a ‘free weight’ dumbbell . Quite different stresses and co-ordination of movement needed !

    My only critizism of these are the lousy thin nylon straps, they need to be replaced by thicker leather which I eventually will do.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/30261128@N04/28017603818/in/photostream/

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/30261128@N04/41170007744/in/photostream

    1. They look absolutely fantastic Nick. Having used a similar one before I can attest to the difficulty of the exercise.

      You’ve had them about a month now right? How have you found them??

  5. I’ve not used them much yet, partly because of these flimsy straps which are beyond a joke. I need to go down to the cobbler or ask a leather working friend whether they can make me something more substantial ! With better straps I can’t wait to use them.

  6. A nice tooth removal session or nose breaker if one of those falls on your face ! (Even with the lightest of weights attached.)

  7. I finally went down to the cobbler to get some proper leather straps run up for the ‘iron shoes’ (€30 for 4 straps but the quality and strength should be good). Should be ready at the end of Friday. Can’t wait to try the iron boots ‘feeling safe’!

  8. That home gym has been built up over many years, some of the weight plates date from 1997! A lucky 2nd hand find in 2013 being the WEIDER leg extension/curl machine for €50, and I could only get it because we had a Renault Kangoo with side opening door in the back into which it would fit ! I look forward to using the iron shoes more.

    1. Haha lucky you! I’ve struggled to fit dumbbells and kettlebells in our small wagon so I do appreciate the struggle. Have you ever used a commercial gym out of interest or has it always been at home? Fingers crossed you can put the shoes to good use now!

  9. Hi , yes I’ve also used commercial gyms and from 2008 to (?) 2013 was ‘half and half’…… Then I found the leg extension machine , a reasonable leg press and decent cable crossover machine, and trained at home. This also saved a 25 minute drive each way!

  10. This morning I used the boots a bit at the end of a calf workout for ankle rotation. They feel safe now ! It is amazing how different (and difficult) it is to have a ‘free’ weight strapped to one’s foot. Quite unlike your feet (or ankle) attached to a cable machine, or pressing the ‘guided’ plate of a leg press………

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/30261128@N04/29508064347/in/photostream

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/30261128@N04/43536826865/in/photostream/

    1. Very cool. They look far sturdier than before! I’m thinking they’re going to be great for calf and ab work in particular. How have leg extensions felt? I’ve found them a completely different beast when using the boots!

  11. They are much more ‘usable’ as in one is not terrified the whole lot might hit one in the face……….

    I have never tried leg extensions with them, I’m still too besotted with my chain Weider €50 leg ext/curl machine. I also do a type of cable leg extension on the cable cross over machine (with strong leather ankle attachments) which seems to really hit hard. (There was a video of it on Youtube but it has been deleted along with the account.)

    Personally for ab work I’d never use the boots, there are ankle straps which I attach to the cable

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/30261128@N04/43895060192/

    or the plates with a chain. I also hold a dumbbell between my feet for another exercise.

    One last thing ,I havn’t squatted in 7 years (I’m not against it but it didn’t suit long backed tall me……) WIthout the squat, but with the leg press and other ‘odd’ exercises my legs are starting to change shape (a bit) at last!

    1. Haha yes I suspect the confidence in knowing that a weight isn’t about to fall on your face is a welcome one! Those cable exercises sound very interesting indeed.

      Similarly with the Squat, its great to hear you’re finding growth using other exercises. I’m in a similar position to you in that the traditional back squat doesn’t really work for me re – quad growth. It’s all about finding what suits your body. Sissy and hack squats have been a god send for me!

  12. I tried the ‘bicycle movement’ today with the iron boots at the end of a leg workout and could not get into the position suggested in the instructions! . I obviously need to try this without even any boots on at all and then work up ! But the effort on the legs doing that movement with free weights was amazing!

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/30261128@N04/43559953155/in/photostream

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/30261128@N04/30603015958/in/photostream

  13. And quite honestly, at the age of 52 I wonder if I could get into the position shown in those instructions in my last reply! Even with nothing strapped to my feet….. Oh well, I’ll give it a try!

  14. Which is why I bench press pretty ‘low’ weights too, on one’s own being caught under the bar isn’t an enlightening experience! 😉

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