This '90s Fitness Video Kicked My Butt, and Now I'm Obsessed
I have the utmost respect for fitness buffs, but I personally lack whatever gene makes 99% of Los Angeles wake up early to head to Equinox. When I recently realized that summer was quickly approaching, and I had been low-key hibernating since fall, I knew it was time to upgrade my casual-strolls-and-yoga routine into something a little more cardio-forward. Scrolling through fitness tutorials on YouTube, I stumbled across an unexpected gold mine: ’80s and ’90s workout videos.
Possibly the only good thing to come out of every planet being in retrograde this spring, Lycra-clad aerobics gurus have motivated me more than even the most buzzed-about new fitness trend ever could. (Bonus: They’re free!) Maybe it’s my everlasting love for American Apparel (RIP) or the conclusion of the utterly addictive Missing Richard Simmons podcast; maybe, as Mother’s Day approaches, I can’t help but reverently reflect on my mom’s ability in the ’90s to work full time, raise three children, and look better than I do in white denim. Whatever the reason, I found myself hooked. This isn’t a new sensation for my friends who religiously hit the gym, but for me, exercising had never felt joyful before. Vintage workout videos changed that.
To find out whether my newfound hobby was even actually good for me—after all, the early ’90s was a time when pasta was considered health food—I sought advice from fitness expert Holly Clapham, trainer and director of the ladies-only program at Santa Monica’s Body Inspired Fitness. “I think there are a few workouts of the ’80s and ’90s that can stand the test of time,” says Clapham. “But just like anything, you need to research and try a bunch.”
As for what’s trending now, Clapham noted that unique fitness classes are having a moment: “One trend I notice is creativity: aerial workouts, drumming workouts. I think I just saw something on social media about beer yoga?! I love it. Making workouts more about play is probably bringing people in who normally wouldn’t be interested in a workout class. I don’t know if they stick around, but hell, I would try a beer yoga class.” I certainly relate to the desire to shake things up; if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have found myself in my oldies rabbit hole.
Clapham warns, however, that there’s a difference between discovering something fun and new, and following an ineffective—or even dangerous— trend. “If a workout seems too good to be true—like if it promises crazy-fast results—I might be a little wary of it. Nothing will ever take the place of working hard, eating clean, and staying consistent. I don’t know how long some of these trends will last, but if it seems fun and you’re healthy enough to work out, go try them!” With those words in mind, I delved into the internet’s archives to find my favorite new-old workout.
Keep scrolling for the best workouts from my foray into flashback fitness videos.
Sweatin' to the Oldies
Allow me to introduce you to my personal Zoloft. There is no way to watch this video and refrain from bouncing around your living room, singing along with Richard and friends. The hourlong routine—dubbed an “aerobic concert”—is actually a delightful series of choreographed dances performed in a bedazzled diner with a live band. It doesn’t really make sense, but it will make you sweat.
Admittedly, I occasionally found myself lost in the choreography (Simmons is more about shouting song lyrics than actual instructions), but it didn’t really matter—I was still burning calories with every fist pump and booty shake. By the time we got to the mat portion of the workout, I was exhausted, but Simmons’s signature infectious energy worked its magic.
It turns out Clapham is also a fan: “I actually have also done the Sweatin’ to the Oldies, and if you are a true beginner or have a lot of modifications, I think that’s probably still a good one. And come on … Richard Simmons.”
Buns of Steel
I realize that glutes are the headliners here, but I have to say: Buns of Steel may be the best thigh workout I have ever tried. I was still sore days after I performed what was basically 40 minutes of fast-paced prancing and power-posing. Plus, I found buns instructor extraordinaire Greg Smithey bizarrely fun to watch. (What can I say? I love validation and mustaches.) Buns of Steel also incorporates leg lifts, hip bridges, and fire hydrants—if I were to follow this regularly, I could absolutely envision myself with a more lifted and firm derriere.
That being said, Clapham suggests that at-home exercisers opt for a more holistic workout: “Some of the fitness trends I would stay away from are ones that just focus on one area,” she says. “These would be good if you incorporated them with other workouts, but spot-training isn’t the way to go. Like, I might go for a run and follow it up with an ab or buns workout, but on its own, it’s not going to be very effective.”
Cindy Crawford's Shape Your Body Workout
If watching Cindy Crawford stretch and strut by the ocean doesn’t inspire you to hit the mat, nothing will. Crawford’s impeccable beach bod seemed nearly attainable to me too after I did approximately one million lunge kicks. The session is voiced by New York trainer Radu (who doesn’t trust a one-named ’90s celebrity trainer?), but Cindy occasionally chimes in with tips and to let you know that she, too, hates crunches.
As a non-exerciser, I loved that this video had room for water breaks and required nothing more than a yoga mat, hand weights, and a chair. As for the efficacy of the workout, Shape Your Body won Clapham’s approval: “These workouts incorporated intervals of cardio with strength training, which is proven to yield the best results.”
Tip: This YouTube video, like the original VHS, is actually two separate workouts back-to-back. For the sake of my sore thighs and sanity, I opted not to double up on aerobics, but I’ll definitely be back for round two.
Jane Fonda's Light Aerobics and Stress Reduction Program
My brain wouldn’t normally associate ’90s aerobics with “soothing,” so I was especially intrigued by this Jane Fonda gem, which incorporates meditation into a gentle fitness routine. If you feel too stressed to even leave the house for yoga, I highly suggest you let this bevy of pros—clad in covetable pastel one-pieces—help you sashay your worries away.
Clapham notes that “duration is a big trend these days, or rather, lack of. We’ve realized how busy we are and not many people have the luxury of being able to take an hour for themselves every day. These days, it’s all about How many muscle groups can I work? and How many calories can I burn in 20 minutes?”
As a busy millennial, I was skeptical of my ability to make time for a workout that may not burn calories as quickly as some other videos; however, after a few sessions, I found myself craving Fonda’s smooth, restful voice in moments of anxiety throughout the day. The best part of the video is definitely the closer, a 10-minute guided body scan. I released tension in muscles that I didn’t even know were tight—apparently I have been holding stress in my eyelids for who knows how long.