Ahhhhhhhhh the 1980s. The decade that brought us big hair, shoulder pads, Rubix cubes, Care Bears, Ferris Bueller and honestly, just the best music of all time. But a staple I think we can all agree is just as iconic is, of course, the 1980s workouts.
I’m going to come right out and say it: the 1980s was the most iconic and important decade for women’s fitness in modern history.
I mean, it was part of the zeitgeist.
Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons helped women all over the world get fit in their living rooms.
Jazzercise featured in the gorgeous, neon lit glory days of shopping malls.
Female bodybuilders took up space in a formerly male exclusive competition.
A small town girl stood up to her preacher father and embraced the world of dance.
Olivia Newton John got physical.
And Flashdance … just … Flashdance.
You know what I think I love most about the 1980s? Why we idolise it, crave it, yearn to go back?
It wasn’t just a decade full of neon, colour, and legendary pop culture.
When I think of the 80s I think of self empowerment, freedom of expression, creativity and optimism – especially for women.
We believed we could change the world, so we did.
Women were taking up space in the boardroom.
We were redefining our roles in the home and in society on our terms.
And we were taking up space in the gym – a place usually dominated by men.
Female bodybuilding became a legit thing.
Even society’s “ideal aesthetic” began to shift away from the waifish vogues of the 1960s and 1970s toward a strong and healthy physique.
The 1980s was even the decade they invented the sports bra so we could protect our tits from all the workouts we were doing.
But here’s the thing I love most about 1980s-style workouts: they actually REALLY work.
So last year in the quarantines, when all the gyms closed and we had to sit at home, 1980s workouts had a revival moment.
I mean, it’s as simple as finding an old Jane Fonda tape on YouTube, what’s not to love?
Here’s the thing though: I’ve been doing 1980s workouts before they were cool.
Well … cool again.
I’ve also done them since they were cool … the first time.
Yup, your girl is old enough to have done 1980s workouts actually IN the 1980s.
I was THERE.
As a kid, I had a bunch of Disney Channel tapes with Disney-themed Mousercise workouts on them that I would do over and over. I also used to do Jane Fonda videos with mum.
I even had my own tiny wee pair of Reeboks and leg warmers.
Now, as an adult who is on a journey to lose weight and get fit, my exercise of choice is 1980s aerobics workouts. One day (soon, hopefully) I plan on sharing that love with others by instructing my own classes.
But in the meantime, here’s how to leave the 21st century at the door, go back to a time when hair was huge, colours were loud, and Madonna ruled the world, and work out like it’s 1989.
1980s Workouts – How to Work Out Like It’s 1989
In the 1980s, you weren’t fit unless you were aerobically fit. It was seen as the best way to get in shape.
Jane Fonda dominated with her workout videos – but she wasn’t the only one.
Everyone was making workout videos. Big name celebs like Cher, Mary Tyler Moore, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Debbie Reynolds all jumped on the bandwagon.
(Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen Debbie Reynolds’ workout, Do It Like Debbie, you have to go on YouTube and find it right after this. It’s an absolute scream. Your belly will burn, but you won’t know whether it’s from the workout or laughter.)
I even found an Angela Lansbury workout video on YouTube the other day. Didn’t click on it so I can’t vouch for that one, but c’mon, you get to work out with Mrs Potts.
But it wasn’t just home workout tapes that popularised aerobics.
Jazzercise was a staple in every major shopping mall, and Olivia Newton John was singing Let’s Get Physical in one of the most iconic video clips of all time.
Even Disney got in on the action, releasing an aerobics workout series for kids called Mousercise (a personal nostalgic favourite).
Meanwhile, in Australia, Aerobics Oz Style religiously screened on TV every morning.
So, what exactly IS hi/lo aerobics?
Well, if you’ve never tried it before, you’re in for the most fun you’ve ever had working out.
Hi/Lo aerobics is … it’s a little bit like (read: a lot like) a pre-choreographed dance class to music. Except that the moves are usually simple to do, even if you’re rubbish at dancing like me.
And even if you don’t get the moves right, who cares – the main thing is that you get your heart rate up and have fun.
What’s not to love?
The class starts with a stretch and an invigorating warm up, then it builds your heart rate up with steady state cardio, peaking with a high intensity interval series, before bringing the heart rate down, toning the body with bodyweight strength training, and finishing with a cool down and deep stretches.
It’s a cardio, strength training, and yoga workout all rolled into one. It works your cardio endurance, your muscles, your balance, your agility, your coordination and flexibility in one hour long workout.
Hi/Lo aerobics is so called because it’s a mixture of high impact and low impact cardio. The moves rotate constantly, so you’re never just endlessly doing a repetitive movement, which puts strain on your joints (and is boring as hell).
By the time you feel like you can’t do a move anymore, you’re moving on to the next part of the workout.
Hi/Lo aerobics classes are fun, fast paced and, like I said, build on just a variety of fitness aspects.
It’s a total calorie torcher too – I burn about 250 calories in a half hour class.
(Oh, and it is SO much fun.)
The moves are wild (you’ll be in fits of laughter trying to keep up), the music is cheesy, the hair is huge and oh! the outfits are iconic. It’s seriously a whole vibe.
Jane Fonda, Richard Simmons, Kathy Smith & Denise Richards were the pioneers of the hi/lo aerobics fitness trend, making each workout unique with their own personal brand and style.
If you’re ready to give it a go, these are some of my all time favourite titles. Start slow and stick with the modifications for your fitness level.
I promise you – once you start with hi/lo aerobics, you’ll never go back to a treadmill again!
Ready to get started with aerobics? Read these next to find out more
Start Pumping Iron
Even though the stereotypical “aerobics queens” were perhaps more … legendary??? then, the 1980s was also the decade that female bodybuilding really became a thing.
Women were taking up space in a male dominated sport for the first time. In fact, the first Ms Olympia (female bodybuilding competition) took place in 1980.
In the 1980s, having a strong, toned body was incredibly in vogue. Ms Olympia competitors were even posing in Playboy.
(I mean, sure, they got banned for it, but anyhoo, that’s not the point.)
It became so popular for women to compete in bodybuilding that they even made a documentary about it. Pumping Iron II: The Women Unleashed focused on female bodybuilding and followed competitors in preparation for the Caesars Palace World Cup.
If you haven’t seen it, it’s a must watch. So iconic.
I know I keep saying things were iconic. But, who are we kidding? The 80s were probably the most iconic decade of all time, so it totally fits.
Now, bodybuilding and bulking up doesn’t have to be your bag. (It’s incredibly hard for us girls to bulk up anyway.)
BUT strength training and lifting heavy DOES have incredible benefits.
♥ Boosts fat loss: The more lean muscle mass on your body, the more calories you burn just sitting on the couch watching Netflix.
♥ Gives you a toned, hourglass physique: I mean, it’s not all about the aesthetics but if your goal is to look like Jessica Rabbit, resistance training is your ticket.
♥ Strengthens your joints: Which means less joint pain – something us girls in our mid-30s can start to suffer from.
♥ Prevents muscle loss: As we age past 35, our body starts breaking down muscle mass, which reduces our metabolism and puts strain on our bones and joints. Resistance training prevents this.
♥ Protects your bones: Our bones get weaker as we age and this is a big problem – especially for women, because we’re more prone to conditions like osteoporosis, which is basically where our bodies become so weak they just snap like a twig. Strength training improves bone density and keeps them strong.
♥ You just feel like a badass: Listen, the day you can open your own pickle jar is the day the second half of your life begins. Who’s making two trips carrying the groceries from the car? Not you, Miss Muscles. Your arms of steel can carry them all in one fell swoop. Seriously, feeling strong and BEING strong helps you feel confident and empowered in your own body – a feeling only resistance training can provide.
So channel your inner Rachel McLish and hit up the weights room at the gym, or start at home with some resistance bands, dumbbells, or even your own bodyweight and build that lean muscle, 1980s style.
Get Started With My Favourite 1980s Workouts
What to wear for your 1980s workouts
Okay, secretly my obsession with 1980s workouts may be the outfits because (and I’m going to use that word again, so brace yourself) ……………. ICONIC!
We wore leotards over leggings and had leg warmers and … for the first time ever the large chested among us could bounce around without punching ourselves in the face with our own boobs because they invented sports bras.
Seriously, though, I recently started dressing like the 1980s for my 1980s workouts and … GAME CHANGER!
How did we ever stop working out in leotards? It’s so much more COMFORTABLE that way.
Everything’s held in, you have so much more room to move and you feel freakin’ FABULOUS!
I promise I’ll calm down now.
My point is, if you’re going to work out like it’s the 1980s, and you’re a Type A like me, you’ll want to dress the part.
I believe that dressing the part is 90% of the game, because life is a runway and you, darling, are FASHUUNNN.
So if you want to work out 1980s style, clothes and all, here’s the gist.
(I may do a whole blog post on this.)
The EASIEST way to put a 1980s workout together is to find two critical components:
Leotards are hard to find these days, but swimwear is everywhere.
I found a shiny-fabric one piece at the thrift store, paired it with some shiny tights I bought on Amazon for under $10 and et voila, you’ve got the basics down.
From there, it’s all about layering.
You can wear leg warmers, sweatbands, and a crop slouch tee.
If it’s really cold, or you’re taking it outside, throw a fluoro windbreaker over top.
In terms of footwear, Reebok Freestyles are the way to go – but if you’re on a budget, any all white kicks will do just fine. Don’t forget to pair them with some scrunch socks (over top of your leggings, under your leg warmers) for extra authenticity.
Here are my favourite 80s-style activewear picks.
What to listen to:
I’ve compiled an entire retro workout playlist, so make sure to check that out (although it’s got some bangers from lots of decades, not just the 1980s).
However, if you’re here for some 1980s cheesy goodness, I’ve got you covered. Listen to these next time you’re cranking out a sweaty weights sesh, or practicing your aerobics moves.
♥ Any Way You Want It – Journey
♥ Wake Me Up Before You Go Go – Wham
♥ Never Gonna Give You Up – Rick Astley
♥ Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper
♥ Hit Me With Your Best Shot – Pat Benatar
♥ Don’t You Want Me – The Human League
♥ Hungry Like the Wolf – Duran Duran
♥ I Ran (So Far Away) – A Flock of Seagulls
♥ You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) – Dead or Alive
♥ What a Feeling – Irene Cara
♥ Maniac – Michael Sembello
♥ Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins
♥ Together In Electric Dreams – Phil Oakey & Giorgio Moroder
♥ Dress You Up – Madonna
♥ We Built This City – Starship
♥ Working For the Weekend – Loverboy
♥ Everybody Have Fun Tonight – Wang Chung
♥ Footloose – Kenny Loggins
The 1980s was an iconic (there it is again) decade for so many reasons: the hair, the music, the fashion. But working out in the 1980s was iconic in its own right.
1980s workouts captured the essence of the decade: big hair, outrageous fashion, self empowerment and optimism.
I think that’s why 1980s experienced a revival recently in a time where people are looking for a taste of that optimism and self empowerment.
Fortunately, you don’t need a DeLorean with a flux capacitor to go back in time and experience the 1980s again.
All you need is a good workout tape, a bold and bright outfit and some killer music and you can work out like it’s 1989.
Do you remember working out in the 80s? If you remember doing 1980s workouts in the 1980s, I’d LOVE to reminisce with you – comment below and say hi.
* This post was brought to you today by the letter W, and the number 80, and by the word ‘iconic’.
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