The 1980s was a decade of big hair, neon spandex, and massive boomboxes. It was also a pivotal time for fitness culture, giving rise to exercise trends that are still popular today. These 10 bitchin’ 1980s fitness trends will get your old heart pumping again:
High-energy choreographed workout routines set to pop music defined the aerobics craze of the ’80s. Classes like Jazzercise featured complex dance moves and routines packed with jumping jacks, hip swivels, and arm movements. Leg warmers and headbands were necessities in packed aerobics classes at gyms and community centers across America. TV shows, movies, and music videos featured aerobics heavily. By 1984, an estimated 24 million Americans were taking aerobics classes.
Jazzercise transformed fitness into a dance party. Founded in 1969 by professional jazz dancer Judi Sheppard Missett, Jazzercise blended eclectic dance styles, resistance training, and kickboxing into one-hour cardio dance classes. Backed by chart-topping hits, instructors led routines packed with hip swivels, grapevine steps, and arm movements inspired by jazz, ballet, and Latin dance.
Leotards, leggings, legwarmers, and Reebok high tops were the signature Jazzercise look. By the 1980s, over 32,000 instructors taught classes across all 50 states and 25 countries. Jazzercise established group fitness as a social workout experience. Its choreography showed that burning calories could be fun by fusing dance and fitness into an exhilarating blend of sweating and self-expression. Jazzercise paved the way for the dance cardio revolution.
Home Video Workouts
Before streaming workouts or fitness apps, VHS tapes brought sweat-inducing workouts right into family rooms. Jane Fonda sparked the home video fitness revolution when she donned a leotard and legwarmers for her 1982 release Jane Fonda’s Workout. The exercise tape sold over 17 million copies, making it the best-selling VHS in history. Its success inspired a wave of celebrity-led home workouts, like Simmons Sweatin’ to the Oldies, The 20 Minute Workout with Steve Jordan, and Buns of Steel with Greg Smithey.
These energetic tapes covered aerobics, strength training, yoga, and more. No weights or equipment needed – just pop in a tape and get moving. With VHS players becoming common household items in the 1980s, these classic tapes made fitness accessible and affordable for millions of Americans without gym memberships. Workout videos were a cultural staple that kicked off the era of home fitness.
Led by the groundbreaking Lifecycle exercise bike launched in 1981, spinning on a stationary bike became a revolutionary new cardio training method. The Lifecycle featured adjustable resistance and allowed users to pedal in a smooth, low-impact manner while monitoring RPMs and heart rate – capabilities that set it apart from previous exercise bikes. Cycling studios like Spinning eventually paved the way for today’s popular SoulCycle and Flywheel studios.
The 1970s running boom exploded into a full-fledged trend in the ’80s. Bestselling books like Jim Fixx’s 1977 The Complete Book of Running fueled running’s popularity. Gym treadmills gained popularity, road races like marathons saw participation numbers skyrocket, and running clubs popped up across America. Major cities began hosting races like the New York Marathon.
Gaining muscles with free weights and weight machines moved from gym dungeons into the mainstream. Inspired by bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, the pumping iron fitness craze took off. Gyms added racks of barbells and weight machines. Working out with weights became a primary training method for both men and women.
While not yet as widespread as today, yoga began gaining popularity in the West in the 1980s as an athletic and spiritual practice focused on strength, flexibility, and breathing. Hatha yoga and power yoga brought faster-paced yoga styles to athletic clubs. Books and videos made yoga accessible for home practice. Though still a niche activity, Western interest in Eastern yoga took root in the ’80s.
Using a simple elevated platform, step aerobics introduced both cardio and strength training to aerobics workouts. Created by Gin Miller in 1989, step aerobics’ stair-climbing moves provided an intense, low-impact cardio workout. Step aerobics classes popped up in gyms and set the stage for innovations like step mills. The simple step platform revolutionized aerobics training.
Gentler joint-friendly aerobic workouts emerged in the mid-1980s as a kinder alternative to the high-impact jumping and jogging routines popular in choreographed aerobics classes. Low-impact classes emphasized movements like marching, side steps, and small hops to raise heart rate while reducing joint strain. This helped pave the way for lower intensity cardio options like walking and elliptical training.
Skin-tight leotards worn by dancers and athletes became a signature fashion statement in ’80s fitness culture. Bright colors, wild prints, and high-cut leg designs topped off the eye-catching activewear trend. Both spandex workout tights and loose sweatpants also gained popularity as workout staples. Fitness fashion cemented its status in popular culture.