Leotards, bright colors, and leg warmers galore — there’s nothing quite like ’80s workouts. But don’t let the sassy outfits and perky music fool you: If you’ve ever exercised with an ’80s fitness tape, you know they pack a serious punch. Now, four decades later, ’80s workouts are making a comeback; millennials found them online during the pandemic, and Jane Fonda shared a TikTok homage to her classic workout to raise awareness about environmental causes. YouTube also helped bring ’80s workouts back by featuring an extensive collection of videos you can follow whenever, wherever (without having to pay for an exercise class).
Below are five of my personal favorites. (Each video starts at the highlighted exercise, but you can “rewind” to watch the full workout, as well.) You might remember these moves from back in the day, and they definitely hold up. So dig out your leotard and leg warmers, and let’s get physical!
Tone your biceps with The Firm.
The Firm was one of the most enduring fitness franchises of the ’80s, a series of workouts taught by charismatic instructors in an artfully decorated studio (think ancient Greece by way of Miami Vice). Check out this 1986 “Body Sculpting Basics” video, led by instructor Susan Harris and featuring a bevy of toned men and women clad in all manner of glorious pastels. The bicep curls are simple, yet sure to firm you up. Just grab a set of weights (something between 5 and 12 pounds will work for most), and perform 10 reps on each side. Working out with weights may sound intimidating, but it has real benefits: not only does it help to sculpt muscles, but it also increases bone density (which is particularly important since women lose bone density as they age). The below video provides guidance on proper execution of the classic bicep curl.
Get shapely legs with Buns of Steel.
Buns of Steel was ubiquitous in the late ’80s. In the 1987 home video classic, instructor Greg Smithey leads a smiling entourage through a series of “Intense Target Toning” exercises that are sure to make you “feel the burn.” One of its best lower-body exercises is the side-lying leg lift: For this one, you’ll lay on your side with hips straight and pelvis forward, one hand on your hip and the other supporting your head. Keeping your top leg as straight as possible, raise it up and down (without touching your other leg) at an easy, even pace. Try doing 10 repetitions, then switch sides. This exercise works your hip abductor muscles, which help you stand, walk, and rotate your legs. Hip abduction exercises help to tone your “buns,” and can also ease pain in the hips and knees. This move is particularly beneficial to women struggling with tightness in their hips due to stress or trauma. Watch the complete program below.
Get energized with Jane Fonda’s jumping jacks.
In 1982, Jane Fonda released her first exercise video, reinventing herself as a fitness guru and ushering in the age of aerobics. Jane Fonda’s Workout was one of the best-selling home videos of all time. The actress was helped by her dance background, and her videos made aerobics wildly accessible; in a recent segment filmed for the reissue of the original workout (cited in this Vogue appreciation), Fonda explained that she created the tapes so women could enjoy working out in the comfort of their homes, noting that “gyms were predominately for men” back then. Clocking in at one hour and 26 minutes, this aerobics routine is a high-energy affair that’s guaranteed to make you sweat. Here’s an essential set of moves to get you started: Jog in place for 3 sets of 8 counts each, then do 3 sets of 8 jumping jacks. (This is one cardio set of many in the video, as Fonda’s class includes aerobic routines for the whole body.) Most importantly, remember to follow Fonda’s advice: “Don’t forget to breathe.” Watch the workout in full below — but be warned, you might be compelled to buy leg warmers afterwards.
Twist away with Denise Austin.
We love Denise Austin for her decades-long commitment to fun and approachable fitness. In recent years, she’s presented workouts for mature women that are simple, effective, and judgement-free. Austin rose to fame thanks to her ’80s workouts, and in the 1986 video 15 Minutes To Rock Hard Tummies, she dons a sexy leotard and showcases her signature enthusiasm on a set that looks straight out of a music video. Try this torso-trimming move from her routine on for size: Standing with your feet wide, hold out your arms, bent at the elbow towards your chest, and twist back and forth as energetically as you can, while keeping your abs as firm as possible. (“Let the waistline do your work!” as Austin says.) Do 10 repetitions to start. The best part? This workout is only 15 minutes long — so you can do it on your lunch break.
Get into the swing with Kathy Smith.
Kathy Smith was yet another strong woman who rose to stardom in the ’80s thanks to her workout videos. Smith became a fitness teacher in the ’70s — before home workout videos were a thing — and even released a workout record (a half-hour album of her guiding the listener through a set of routines paired with sound-alike pop songs), before becoming an exercise fixture. Her hour-long Fat Burning Workout video from 1988 includes training for every body part. “If you want that backside to be toned, this is the exercise,” Kathy promises, as she introduces this tush-centered move: Standing with your legs apart and your hands on your hips, start swinging each leg up behind you from the knee. Try doing this 10 times — it doesn’t sound fancy, but it will really get your pulse going. Watch the routine in full below.
These are just a handful of retro ’80s workouts available on YouTube. If there’s a specific routine you remember, just try searching — there’s a good chance it’ll pop up, and you’ll be cutting up your sweatshirts all weekend. Turns out the exercises on those dusty old VHS tapes aren’t lost to time after all; and they’ll still kick your butt.