Last Updated on August 6, 2020

The 3 Biggest Fitness Fads of the 1980s

Every decade brings new fads to the fitness scene. Some, like Prancercise or “It Figures” with Charlene Prickett, were quickly forgotten. Others have been forever burned into our memories and have evolved to live on today.

The 1980s gave rise to TV workouts and at-home machines galore, and here are some of the biggest fitness fads of the 1980s that we’ll never forget.

Television Phenoms

  • Richard Simmons

Obese by the end of high school, Richard Simmons eventually came to a crisis point that slapped him with the importance of “balance, moderate eating and exercise.” When Richard Simmons opened a Beverly Hills gym called The Anatomy Asylum, his goal was to create an inviting workout spot for all shapes and sizes of people. At the time, gyms were basically places where already healthy people worked out, making Anatomy Asylum very unique. It remained in operation for more than 40 years.

Simmons also created the memorable video exercise series, “Sweatin’ to the Oldies.” Adorned in his iconic short-short striped shorts he hosted his own exercise TV show for many years and made appearances on national talk shows and at malls all over the country. People’s perception of fitness began to change as Simmons showed respect and compassion and offered hope to overweight people. He was an originator of today’s philosophy of self-love whatever your size.

  • Jane Fonda

In the 1980s, Jane Fonda, already a well-known actress and Hollywood royalty (her dad was Henry Fonda), became arguably the most popular exercise guru in America. Introducing the leotard over leggings fashion trend, her healthy beauty magnetically drew exercisers and viewers alike, and her aerobic workout videos became a full-on phenomenon.

Though aerobics began in 1968, it didn’t really start in earnest until Fonda created her workout videos. Today, aerobics maintains its position in the workout world as a top method for burning calories.

To date over 17 million copies of Fonda’s original workout videos have been sold. In 2018, Fonda (who is in her 80s) released two new fitness DVDs targeting aging Baby Boomers.

At-Home Exercise Equipment

  • NordicTrack

The NordicTrack machine was so popular that nearly every family in America seemed to own one. Many of those now reside tucked away in the basement used as quasi-clothing wardrobes or donated to the local thrift shop.  NordicTrack was founded in 1975 by Edward Pauls, and in 1986 was purchased by the CML Corporation. In the 1980s, the NordicTrack Cross-Country ski machine was considered the must-have equipment to own.

Requiring a significant amount of floor space and tough to hide away, NordicTracks often ended up deposited in the basement or garage for storage.

In the mid-1990s, the company lost enough money to go into bankruptcy, eventually closing all 300 of its retail stores. Today, the company makes more traditional exercise machines like treadmills and exercise bikes—and still offer one Pro Skier model.

  • The ThighMaster

“The best way to tone your thighs. It’s ultra-portable, easy to use – you can be well on your way to rock hard inner thighs while watching TV! Use your ThighMaster to tighten and tone your inner thighs.” The ThighMaster was a little fitness product hawked by television star Suzanne Sommers on many a late night infomercial.

An oddly shaped apparatus that you position between your legs, you simply squeeze its sides together and get shapely, beautiful, sexy legs–reportedly. Unfortunately for users, it could pop out from between your legs and fly across the room, which just wasn’t super helpful.

Sommers also marketed a ButtMaster for you “to tighten and tone your hips, buns and outer thighs.” It was purportedly great for sculpting arms, shoulders, chest and back too.

  • Mini Trampoline Workouts

Mini trampolines were all the rage in the 1980s. When a study commissioned by NASA found that bouncing on a trampoline could actually serve as a fun and effective substitute for the dreaded treadmill. As an added bonus, kids could use them as a toy when mom and dad weren’t working out.

Today, gym quality mini trampolines like the Urban Rebounder allow targeted training for legs, arms, abs and backside, while protecting joints from jarring. Touted as the perfect workout for people with lower-body issues such as ankle, knee, hip, or low-back pain, the elasticity of the trampoline allows movement without stressful impact on your joints.

NASA even recommends it, noting that trampolining develops upper and lower body strength better than weight lifting and performs better than swimming as anall-aroundd exercise. Benefits include improved balance and coordination, muscular strength and endurance, lung and cardio capacity, bilateral motor skills, rhythm, lymphatic circulation and more.

With the penchant for everything Retro today, it’s no surprise that people are returning to take a second look at 1980s exercise fads. While the ThighMaster may never find its way between your legs, there’s a real chance that a mini trampoline could make an appearance at your home. Because, hey, NASA says it works.

Cory is a veteran health industry writer and content creator. His work has been featured in major publications such as MyFitnessPal, Healthy Living, and Low Carb Fanatics. His health industry writing career spans over nearly two decades.

In his free time, Cory enjoys snowboarding, fictional writing, and online chess.