aerobics and retro sweat back in fashion

Grab your spandex, unearth the scrunchies and dust off your mum’s copy of Buns Of Steel.

Ah, the ’80s – a simpler time of walkmans, The Breakfast Club, shoulder pads and… aerobics.

Synonymous with leg warmers and high, high, high-cut leotards, aerobics classes catapulted on to the mainstream fitness scene when actor Jane Fonda released her eponymous workout video in 1982.

It was a tangible shift in the exercise world, says RAD Fitness director Alessandra Izzo, who believes Fonda was also responsible in part for sparking a cultural revolution.

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It was one that saw “getting fit and having muscles becoming an acceptable goal for women, who had previously been encouraged to stay diminutive, waif-like and non-threatening”.

By the ’90s, more and more celebrities were jumping on the bandwagon – with icons such as Cher and Cindy Crawford also making their own aerobic fitness videos.

Australian aerobics royalty Marissa Rancan, of the popular ’80s morning-television fitness crew the Rancan Sisters, tells Body+Soul that people became so obsessed with the classes that they’d “come before work in the morning, and then back at night to do another class or two. Everyone wanted to be as fit as the instructors.”

Somewhere along the way, though, we swapped side bends and grapevines for HIIT, Pilates and barre classes.

But now, nearly four decades later, it’s back.

When Shannon Dooley founded Retrosweat in Sydney in 2011 – an ’80s workout studio where participants are encouraged to don their favourite leg warmers and step-clap to a selection of classic hits – she admits to Body+Soul that initially, “everyone was laughing at me in my high-cut swimwear. And now it’s all over Instagram. Things take a good 30 years to become cool again, and now fashion, music and workouts are the ‘happy place’ of people who were kids in the ’80s.”

Izzo adds that she thinks a large part of the appeal comes from the high- intensity, pump-up tunes that accompany these workouts, plus a good ol’ dose of nostalgia.

“Retro music really hits a nostalgic nerve, and people use the experience to connect to simpler times – when phones were connected to walls and everyone’s aunty had a really bad perm.”

While it all sounds like a lot of fun, you may be wondering if an aerobics class can really compare to a solid hour at the gym.

Izzo assures that the health and fitness benefits are considerable. “Aerobics is a true all-over body workout,” she says.

“It can be both a cardio and a strength- building session. It’s a weight-bearing activity, so can help prevent osteoporosis, as well as build lean muscle – rather than the more bulky muscle that pumping iron encourages.”

Dooley says that for her, aerobics is all about cashing in on those feel-good vibes. That’s because, she says, “When I work out I want to smile. I don’t want to take it too seriously.”

Which other retro fitness trends should we revive?

Rockwear Pilates instructor Sophie Ferguson recommends some more ’80s classics to get your heart rate up


“Squash doesn’t feel like a workout, but it’s great for your forearms and shoulders as well as your core – and it’s also a great way to get out any pent-up aggression.”

“Tennis is big again, too, with everyone hiring out courts as a fun lockdown activity.”


“Rollerskating was always super social – the local roller rink was the place to be.”

“It’s such a good workout because it really gets into those leg muscles and booty, and tones while you have fun. It’s starting to make a comeback and I’m here for it.”

Ready for a retro sweat? Music writer Cameron Adams says these are the tunes to pump up the jam

  • Push it, Salt-n-Pepa: Did these rappers invent interval training? There’s enough stops and starts in ‘Push It’ to maximise effort – slow down for the verses, push it real good for the chorus.
  • Holiday, Madonna: Dig out your fluoro leg warmers to channel 1983-era Madonna with this mood-lifter perfect for a wind-down or warm-up.
  • Venus, Bananarama: Watch the video of this ’80s classic for choreography tips if you need a refresher.
  • You spin me round (like a record), Dead or Alive: They didn’t call this genre Hi-NRG for nothing. Try to keep up with it.
  • Hit me with your best shot, Pat Benatar: Pat’s ballsy anthem is best played loud; an instant energy boost.
  • The only way is up, Yazz: Motivational lyrics and an absolute banger of a tune makes for the perfect workout track.
  • Maniac, Michael Sembello: Whack on this hectic hit from the Flashdance soundtrack and practice your running on the spot.
  • Controversy, Prince: The man knew how to fire up a funky groove that you have to move to once it kicks in. ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ would also work if you truly want to break a sweat.
  • Physical, Olivia Newton-John: The song that started the music/workout crossover. Get literal and get physical.
  • Relax, Frankie Goes To Hollywood: If the bass in this song doesn’t pump you up, you need to check your pulse.

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