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. I recently realized that 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.
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.
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 healthy 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 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 retro workout videos to revisit today.
Sweatin' to the Oldies
If you're not old enough to remember Richard Simmons, you missed out on a huge personality that epitomized fitness in the 90s. The Sweatin' to the Oldies series is his most beloved collection. This particular video is a little over 60 minutes and you will indeed be sweating.
Buns of Steel
Everyone's heard of Buns of Steel! If not, your mother certainly has. Buns of Steel was probably the most well-known workout video of its time. I remember popping this bad boy in the VHS player during lonely nights while babysitting. Still waiting for the steel.
Cindy Crawford's Shape Your Body Workout
This workout is lightweight and flowy with accented voiceovers and mostly makes you jealous of Crawford's "shape" for 45 minutes. This workout is beginner-friendly. This series is artsy and has an aesthetic that was only seen in the 90s. There's nothing like it now. You'll need a high-backed chair for this workout that will feel more like an extended warm-up.
Jane Fonda's Step Aerobic and Abdominal Workout
Remember when step classes were all the rage? Well, Jane Fonda takes us on an adventure with a heart-pumping choreographed step workout that includes abdominal work tacked on at the end. This workout is perfect for a beginner or out-of-practice steppers because the voice-over instructions tell you just how to step and move for each new movement.
Cher Fitness Step Workout
Ever wish you could workout with a badass-looking girl gang? Well, you can now, in all of the 80s gritty glory you could hope for. Cher's fitness step workout demonstrates moves for three fitness levels. The beginner level is low-impact and easy on the joints—you won't even need a step. For the other levels, you can use varying heights of steps and include light weights. Cher is not the instructor but rather the host for this workout. Bonus: Cher's hair is mesmerizing.
Suzanne Somers Toning System
Now, for the Toning System, you'll need to have one of these toning contraptions floating around in your mom's attic or garage. However, because of the sheer pop-culture fame of Suzanne Somer's workouts, we had to include it. Random trivia knowledge: The thigh master netted over $100 million in sales, making it one of the top-selling infomercial products ever! And guess what? You can still buy it!
Step Up with La Toya Jackson
La Toya's soothing voice takes you through this workout with detailed how-to info for beginners. La Toya is your host, not the instructor, for this fun and funky workout video. Weird 90s fashion trend: Working out with belts on.
The Marky Mark Workout
Baby Mark Whalberg, with his thick home-town accent, introduces you to yet another celebrity-hosted workout video. He's surprisingly encouraging, body-positive, and provides tips for progressing your workouts from beginner to more advanced. This is one of the only workouts on this list that provides actual resistance training to build muscle. There are many exercise tips for working out at home using chairs or other household items and dumbbells. Best Marky Mark line: Every body is beautiful, man, go out and get yours.
Denise Austin Hips, Thighs and Buttocks
This workout video's aesthetic is a jazzy sea of pastel that is just so soothing. It is very beginner-friendly with no impact and no step. Many of the movements will remind you of barre class and yoga. As a tip, if you want to progress your workout, you can add a loop band. Something they didn't seem to have in the 80s.
Raquel Welch - Total Beauty and Fitness
If you can get over the cheesy over-acted intro to this workout, it's worth a try. This workout is unique because it focuses mainly on isometric holds, building stamina and tone. Most of the movements are yoga-based and will increase your stability and flexibility. Total Beauty and Fitness is surprisingly challenging!