The Golden Age of at-home workouts, the 80s, gave us scrunchies, leg warmers, and Richard Simmons. I tried an hour-long routine to see if it held up today and I was pleasantly surprised.
There was a time when home workouts were all the rage, not because of a deadly virus that made going to the gym impossible, but because they were accessible ways to get moving, and logistically, you didn’t have to go anywhere.
I’m going to argue this was the Golden Age of fitness. It wasn’t about losing weight or shedding fat, although those were often welcome side-effects, it was about having fun and being good to your heart.
For quite a while there, aerobics was the most popular form of exercise in the Western world. But does it hold up by today’s standards? I decided to investigate, particularly if it was going to give me a body like Jamie Lee Curtis in that movie Perfect, where she stars opposite a free-balling John Travolta (look it up on YouTube).
Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this.
For some people, the idol of 80s fitness is Jane Fonda, but for me, it’s Richard Simmons. I just can’t resist that energy, the flamboyance, those teeeeeny little shorts. His classes are mostly comprised of very simple dance steps (which is great considering how uncoordinated I am) so I jumped into the Sweatin’ to the Oldies class for a little over an hour.
It starts out with a warmup of walking on the spot, arm waves, and hip-swinging to ‘Do the Locomotion’ by Kylie Minogue. It doesn’t look like much just watching the video but you’d be surprised at how quickly you warm up. We then move into some breathing, shoulder rolls, and stretches using a chair (but I just used the handrail at the gym).
The low-impact cardio of the class begins at around the 16-minute mark with clapping and a prompt from Richard: “Get ready for 25 minutes of LOW. IMPACT. CARDIO.” And away we go. The moves are easy enough, though I’m glad I’m doing this in my apartment and not in the gym downstairs because I imagine it would look pretty camp.
I’ve always preferred HIIT or spin classes to endurance-style cardio, so there’s no real rest time throughout the next 25 minutes, which is fine. What you do notice is just how much fun everyone is having as Richard takes you through the moves, and you feel supported by him, too.
“I’m so proud of you,” he says as he points at the camera. And when Richard Simmons says he’s proud of you, you believe him.
When it’s time to take out our gym mats, it’s also time to take out heart rate. Being that it’s at a time before FitBits, this is done marching in place with a 10-second countdown timer on the screen and two fingers pressed to the artery in your neck.
“Is everyone in their target heart rate range?” he asks, to which everyone, myself included at about 140bpms, responds “Yes”. I’m pleasantly surprised.
“Hallelujah!” he exclaims, and now it’s time to hit the floor for crunches, pelvic thrusts (it wouldn’t be an 80s workout without pelvic thrusts, would it?), and Pilates-style leg lifts to the tune of ‘Rescue Me’. I have to admit this was the most challenging part of the workout.
And then we’re done. Cat stretches, more breathing, and getting that heart rate down slowly with gentle movements.
The biggest thing when it comes to overcoming that mental hurdle of regular exercise is doing something you enjoy so that it doesn’t feel like work.
While I probably won’t rush in to do another Sweatin’ to the Oldies, I can definitely see why Richard Simmons was so beloved. He preached a fun, relaxed, and inclusive environment where people, himself included, could be their best selves.