Like many people confined to their homes over these past few weeks, I have found it hard to motivate myself to do some form of exercise. This has proven to be a particular pain in my ar*e because I had worked extremely hard over the past year or so to establish a regular workout routine after years of being what experts define a lazy b*stard. I would go to barre class twice a week, then do a midweek gentle flow yoga session to keep my body moving. As someone who works from home and specializes in being a cynical shut-in, the opportunity to leave the house — and the couch — and sweat it out for an hour a day had become a crucial part of my routine and mental health management. So, of course, the moment we all went into pandemic lockdown, that part of my life went out the window. I’ve been forcing myself to do some YouTube workout videos from my living room, and once I do them, I feel great, but I miss the studio and the instructors and the lack of temptation posed by my couch and the pause button.
One of the great benefits of falling down the YouTube workout rabbit hole has been discovering the weird and wonderful world of classic celebrity workout videos! It seems that just about everyone of note had their own fitness routine available on VHS during the 1980s. Nowadays, we get vodka brands and wellness websites but I think I prefer the eras of lycra-clad groin-thrusting (so much groin thrusting in the ’80s.) So, to share the joys with your all and to give inspiration to anyone seeking some workout ideas, I present to you some of the great gems of the celeb fitness video era.
Jane Fonda’s Workout
Of course, we have to start off with the queen of the celeb workout. The entire industry of at-home fitness videos literally wouldn’t exist without Jane Fonda. Jane Fonda’s Workout became the highest selling home video of all time! She has 23 of these workout videos to her name and they will definitely make you sweat. It’s worth trying them out if only for the retro blast from the past you get from all those haircuts, but one should also pay homage to a Hollywood great through some jumping jacks. It’s what Jane would want.
It only makes sense that, after winning an Oscar and selling millions of records and helping to define multiple eras of music, Cher would release a fitness video. She’s a national treasure who inspires devotion of sparkling levels, so who wouldn’t want to tone up with Cher? The best thing about this video is that she’s doing all those dance steps in her outfit from the ‘Turn Back Time’ music video, just to remind you once and for all that she is, as we say, that b*tch.
Angela Lansbury’s Positive Moves
In-between multiple Tony Awards and solving crimes in the murder capital of Maine, Angela Lansbury released her own workout video and book. This one is actually pretty badass because not only does she offer exercise routines but she shares advice on looking after and being happy with yourself as you get older. Her moisturizing routine alone is inspiring. And yes, this is the video where Lansbury takes a very fancy bath and talks about getting sexy after menopause. Jessica Fletcher has no patience for slut-shaming and we celebrate that.
Debbie Reynolds: Do It Debbie’s Way
What’s not to love about Debbie Reynolds? Her workout is pretty solid too, but the reason to watch this one is for the guest stars. Debbie gets some of her friends over to join in on the fun, including Teri Garr and Dionne Warwick. Shelley Winters steals the show by turning up in a jersey that says ‘I’m only doing this for Debbie’, refusing to do any of the exercises, then shouting out amazing one-liners. The highlight comes when, during some floor exercises, Shelley yells out ‘How many girls here have slept with Howard Hughes?’ They all raise their hands. Rachel Syme wrote a wonderful article on this video for The New Yorker that I heartily recommend you read.
Shirley MacLaine’s Inner Workout
Shirley MacLaine may be Hollywood royalty but don’t let that obscure the fact that she’s also famously bonkers. A deep believer in spirituality and reincarnation, MacLaine claims that she was the brother of a 35,000-year-old spirit named Ramtha in a past life when she lived in Atlantis. Oh, and she also ‘rhetorically’ asked if Holocaust victims were ‘balancing their karma from ages before, when they were Roman soldiers putting Christians to death, the Crusaders who murdered millions in the name of Christianity, soldiers with Hannibal, or those who stormed across the Near East with Alexander.’ Yup. Her workout video is more about one’s inner fitness, as you would expect from a UFO lover. Believe it or not, this video was actually a huge best-seller in its day. I guess a lot of people just really needed to hear Sweet Charity explain chakras to them.
Zsa Zsa Gabor — It’s Simple, Darling
One of the original ‘famous for being famous’ celebrities of Hollywood, Zsa Zsa’s workout routine is some of the most glorious camp I’ve seen in a long time. She leads two hugely muscled dudes who look like they leaped straight from a romance novel cover in some mega-basic steps while offering key advice on issues such as whether or not you have to give back your massive diamond ring when you break off your engagement (spoiler: yes but you can totally keep the stone.) The video ends with one of the men helping Zsa Zsa to stretch out, which I think was the entire reason this video existed. I respect that.
Speaking of romance novel cover guys… Yes, this is where I have to end things. This may be the most 1993 thing I have ever seen. It’s also one of the most awkward viewing experiences I’d have in recent memory. There is a lot of hair flipping in here though, if that’s your thing. It needed more wind machines.