“Let’s Get Physical!”. Fitness Personalities from the 1980s

Headbands, brightly colored spandex, leg warmers and bodysuits. Donned now by younger generations as Halloween costumes or at 1980s theme parties, these fitness staples were worn by many trailblazing fitness celebrities in decades past. Four 1980s fitness personalities in particular sparked some pretty prolific fitness trends that helped shape the industry. And 30 years later, they’re still living active, healthy lifestyles. Here’s what we think of their contributions today.

Fitness Personalities from the 1980s

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger

As one of the most influential fitness icons of all time, Arnold Schwarzenegger won the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding contest a whopping 7 times, with his last win in 1980. From the 1970s through to today, he’s inspired many generations of bodybuilders and fitness fanatics worldwide to pick up those heavy weights, work hard and stay consistent.

Arnold’s straightforward attitude and no-B.S. approach to fitness is still in great demand today. His dedication to the sport of bodybuilding over the decades has elevated him to near superhero status within the industry. He even has a weightlifting exercise, the Arnold press, named after him.

2. Jane Fonda

If Arnold was the king of the bodybuilding world, Jane Fonda was the queen of home fitness. In 1982, she released her first workout video, which became the highest selling home video of the decade. Jane almost single-handedly started the at-home fitness craze, which is still going strong to this day. She’s also one of the first fitness celebrities to popularize fitness for women.

Back in the ’80s, her workout videos promoted “toning exercises” using light weights as the best way for women to get fit. We now know that’s not necessarily the case: resistance training with heavy weights, for women (and men) of all ages including older adults, will more effectively build strength, muscle, and bone density. Lifting lighter weights is only beneficial if you work to muscle fatigue (usually doing 20 to 25 repetitions for at least 3 sets per muscle group). After a 15-year hiatus, in 2010 Jane Fonda released a new workout DVD aimed at older adults.

3. Suzanne Somers

Best known as the spokesperson for the ThighMaster in the ’80s and ’90s, Suzanne Somers made great contributions to the at-home fitness trend. The idea that you could get a great workout at home with minimal equipment was revolutionary at the time.

Unfortunately, the ThighMaster doesn’t hold up as an effective piece of at-home exercise equipment. Created to target the inner thigh area, Suzanne (now age 70) still promotes it on her website as a tool to “shape and firm your inner thighs with just a few squeezes a day.”

Targeting one small muscle group with an isolated move like this won’t do much for your thighs, I’m sorry to say. You’re much better off performing compound strength movements like squats, lunges, and deadlifts.

4. Richard Simmons

No 1980s workout celebrity list is complete without Richard Simmons. This wacky, larger-than-life personality (with the best outfits of all) used his own story of weight loss to inspire the masses. He fueled the aerobics craze with his well-known Sweatin’ to the Oldies workout videos.

Richard’s good-natured, body-positive approach to fitness is needed more than ever in our industry today, having regularly featured people with many different body types in his videos. His message promotes acceptance, having fun while being active, and, of course, wearing Swarovski crystal-studded tank tops. Richard was still teaching classes at his Beverly Hills studio until 2014. In more recent years he’s stepped out of the public eye.

These 1980s fitness celebrities shaped our fitness industry into what it is today, and all of them are still continuing their healthy lifestyles and their work three decades later. Although many of these stars sparked fitness trends that are now outdated and considered ineffective, all of them are clearly dedicated to active living as a lifelong pursuit. Lycra bodysuits or not, that’s something we should all take to heart.

About the Writer

Karina Inkster

Karina is a Certified Personal Training Specialist with a Master’s degree in Gerontology, and specializes in health and aging. Based in Vancouver, BC, she's the author of Vegan Vitality and Foam Rolling: 50 Exercises for Massage, Injury Prevention and Core Strength.

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