Are you still FIT enough for Fonda? (leotard optional!)

Eighties workout videos kick-started the home fitness craze, but have they stood the test of time? And have you? Gym devotee ALICE HART-DAVIS jogs down memory lane – Are you still FIT enough for Fonda? (leotard optional!)

  • Jane Fonda’s workout is the highest-selling VHS tape, with 17 million copies sold
  • Alice Hart-Davis put Jane Fonda and other Eighties workout videos to the test 
  • British health and beauty journalist says Jane Fonda is best for super-fit women 
  • The 56-year-old says Cindy Crawford’s workout is only for the young 

As the credits roll at the beginning of the Jane Fonda workout DVD, I shiver in anticipation. I haven’t exercised to this for 35 years, but, in my mind, I can already hear the opening bars of The Jacksons’ Can You Feel It.

Suddenly, I am back at college in 1983, wedging myself in between the sofa and the desk in a tiny room along with half- a-dozen girlfriends for a session with the Jane Fonda tape. We are at a male-dominated, rugby-playing Oxford college, and, in order to try this new exercise thing without being stared at through the large windows of the common room, have commandeered the bemused college president’s room for an hour of privacy.

How we loved that tape. How we giggled and floundered about, trying to work out how we were meant to do these strange exercises, such as ‘pulling weeds’ and lying on our backs and shoving our bottoms skywards, learning to ‘feel the burn’.

Alice Hart-Davis (pictured) who has pursued every exercise fad throughout her four-decade career, gave her verdict on a selection of Eighties workout videos

No, we didn’t want the boys gawping and guffawing, though once, when snow stopped their sports training for days on end, they swallowed their macho pride and asked to join us. They found it so difficult they never teased us again!

It is hard to remember just how bizarre the idea of exercising at home to a video seemed in the early Eighties, now that we can summon up anything from a yoga flow to a high-intensity cardio class on our smartphones or laptops.

Back then, the fitness boom was in its infancy and the craze for aerobics classes had yet to take over Britain. Gyms were for men who boxed or trained for team sport. Jogging was American.

But Jane Fonda’s workout became the highest-selling VHS tape of all time, and it’s still being bought — to date, her workout videos have sold 17 million copies.

Back in 1983, I had no idea I would go on to have a career as a health and beauty journalist. Over a four-decade career, I have pursued every exercise fad — from hydraulic fitness systems and step aerobics, to gym-based weights, Pilates, yoga, barre and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) classes — in order to work out what really works.

Jane Fonda’s (pictured) workout became the highest-selling VHS tape of all time, with sold 17 million copies

We are sold the idea that today’s exercise options are sophisticated, targeted and advanced. But is the Eighties fitness video past its sell-by date? Or have some of the workout routines stood the test of time?

I dug out copies of Jane Fonda and the other originals in this area — Callan Pinckney’s Callanetics, Cindy Crawford’s Shape Your Body and the Lotte Berk workout — got out my leg warmers and leotard and exercised my way through them all, under the critical gaze of London-based expert trainer Zana Morris.

So should you swap your trendy yoga-and-weights routine for a retro option? Read on to find out . . .

STILL FEELING THE BURN

The Jane Fonda Workout (1982) £14.47, amazon.co.uk

WHAT IS IT? The original home workout regime that kick-started the fitness boom of the Eighties.

Jane Fonda, then known as an Oscar-winning actress and political activist, astonished the world by opening a workout studio in LA, donning a leotard and legwarmers and leading us through an hour of choreographed exercises.

MY VERDICT: It’s a trip down memory lane, although not a relaxing one! There’s a warm-up, with a 44-year-old Jane looking sexy as hell. She leads a class of dancers as super-slender and unfeasibly bendy as she is through neck rolls and bouncing stretches — where you lean into a stretch, then bounce a little back and forth to stretch further.

Alice says Jane Fonda’s workout that burns 350 calories, left her backside and sides of her waist aching

Eek! We all stopped doing bounce stretches in the Nineties, when we learned that they were a quick and easy way to tear ligaments.

The waist exercises, bending over to the side, start off easy, then speed up in a way surely only dancers can manage. But the tummy exercises hit the mark. Involving a variation on sit-ups and crunches, they owe a good deal, I now realise, to Pilates, as do several of the leg exercises.

But, by the time we reach the one where you lie on your side and flick-flack one leg at a time up towards your head, I have to admit defeat. My 56-year-old hips are just not up to this.

And I’d forgotten ‘Rover’s Revenge’: down on all fours, you lift one knee to the side, like a dog peeing. Yes, I felt the burn.

Jane Fonda’s workout (pictured) kick-started the fitness boom of the Eighties

The next day, my backside is aching fit to bust, as are the sides of my waist.

EXPERT VERDICT: This is an uplifting, high-intensity workout with great focus on abs, inner thighs and the muscles in your bottom — all the areas most women want to focus on — but you’ll need to be strong and supple, without any core or back weakness to attempt it!

There is little instruction on how to correctly do each movement — and, if you don’t already know which muscles to engage, you will be in trouble. The bouncing movements and rapid twists could result in injury.

BEST FOR: Super-fit women after Killer Abs.

CALORIES BURNT: 350.

Score: 4/5

PULSE YOUR WAY TO A PEACHY BOTTOM

CALLANETICS: 10 Years Younger In 10 Hours (1986), £8.95, amazon.co.uk

WHAT IS IT? A package of exercises that aims to work the deeper muscles of the core and backside with a series of tiny, very precise movements.

Callan Pinckney, the creator of the technique, had trained in ballet during her youth, in order to manage the spinal curvature and turned-in feet with which she was born. She spent time in London in the Seventies, where she trained with Lotte Berk, and, when she returned home to the U.S., she formulated her own system of ballet-derived exercises, to defeat the back, hip and knee pain that had plagued her since childhood.

By 1989, having sold six million copies, she was Jane Fonda’s main rival, and the two did not like each other. Pinckney believed Fonda’s high-impact aerobics caused joint issues, while Fonda thought Callanetics unsafe.

I remember being astonished by Callanetics when it arrived in the UK. Pinckney (aged 50 by the time she did a promotional tour in the UK in 1989) talked earnestly of how to turn your bottom from a floppy pear into a nice firm peach, and would invite incredulous interviewers to pinch hers, to check just how firm it was.

Alice was impressed with CALLANETICS: 10 Years Younger In 10 Hours (pictured), saying the difficult workout left her barely able to climb the stairs

MY VERDICT: This is a really, really difficult workout. But, inspired by Pinckney, who, in the video, is wearing only a shiny pink leotard and sliding her bare legs along a barre in the studio, I keep trying.

Those legs are slim, smooth and strong, without any blemish, bulge or dimple of cellulite. There isn’t a floppy inch on her body. Surely this has to be worth a go.

As I work through the exercises — waist stretches, followed by tummy curls, getting into a position then applying ‘the Pulse’, I start to remember the moves.

This ‘Pulse’ was the secret sauce of Callenetics, and involves moving just half-an-inch backwards and forwards from a position 100 times. In my 20s, I found this incomprehensible.

To me, exercise meant running and jumping and sweating, or making my head spin with step-aerobics. How could these tiny movements, hard as they are, do anything?

But now that I’m older and wiser about the deep structural muscles of the body — and I have more patience — I persevere, attempting plies, pelvic tilts and a peculiar exercise where you sit on the floor with both legs bent to one side, hold on to a barre (or chair) and attempt to lift the back leg a fraction.

For the rest of the day, my legs feel as if they’ve been through a mangle. I can barely climb the stairs. I think I need to do more of this.

On the Callanetics.com website, you can sign up and stream (free for seven days) the entire video library.

EXPERT VERDICT: This offers great clarity and explanation, as well as great precision. The exercises are perfect for building any body, whether it’s weak or strong.

It really is the precursor to barre and Pilates, with a focus on the stabilising muscles of the body and on making smaller, controlled movements — but you will need patience, focus and time to make the most of it, which, unfortunately, many people do not have.

BEST FOR: A peachy bottom.

CALORIES BURNT: 200.

5/5

EVEN BETTER THAN BARRE— LOTTE BERK  

The Lotte Berk Method: Muscle Eats Fat (1987), around £5, amazon.co.uk and lotte-berk.com

Alice (pictured) says The Lotte Berk Method: Muscle Eats Fat has excruciatingly difficult leg exercises, but the workout is great for inner thighs like steel

WHAT IS IT? ‘Surely you know Lotte Berk?’ my older, wiser friends would say.

Before we even had Jane Fonda videos or Pilates, Lotte Berk, a dancer who fled Nazi Germany in 1938, was teaching her special breed of toning exercises to the in-crowd in her basement studio in Marylebone.

But, while others commercialised their regimens and took them global, Lotte has remained one of those best-kept secrets.

MY VERDICT: Hard work! I find the leg exercises excruciatingly difficult. You have to stand holding on to a barre or chair, with one leg held up at 90 degrees, then bend and flex both the standing leg and the one that’s up in the air. Perhaps I’ll just . . . ‘Don’t cheat!’ chimes Lotte. ‘Zat is a vaste of your time! If you cheat, it iz pointless!’

The Lotte Berk Method: Muscle Eats Fat (1987)(pictured) has remained one of the best-kept secrets

As for the exercises where you kneel, then lean back like a limbo dancer and raise your arms — my thighs are screaming. I knew dancers needed to be tough, but this is super-tough.

EXPERT VERDICT: Beautifully explained, so you can learn and really get it right. This is original barre work and gives you a great abs, thighs and hips workout. Lotte is clear about which muscle to focus on and what to avoid so that each exercise really counts.

But go easy with the warm-up — there are a lot of bouncing stretches, which can damage ligaments and tendons around the joints.

BEST FOR: Abs and inner thighs like steel.

CALORIES BURNT: 200.

5/5

POWER HAIR, POWERFUL BODY — CINDY CRAWFORD 

Cindy Crawford Shape Your Body (1992), around £9, amazon.co.uk

WHAT IS IT? By 1992, Cindy Crawford was well established as one of the world’s top supermodels, and this video, made with her celebrity fitness trainer, Radu Teodorescu, went down a storm. ‘I feel I’m not a weak little female, I’m macho,’ says Cindy in the introduction.

Alice (pictured) was left unimpressed by Cindy Crawford Shape Your Body (1992), despite the routine being recognisably modern

MY VERDICT: A more recognisably modern routine, which takes the sort of exercises you might do with a trainer in a gym and brings them into your home. Cindy is even swigging from a bottle of water during the workout — not something any of us in the UK had seen at that time. The warm-up sequence shows the utterly gorgeous Cindy on a beach in a Baywatch-red swimsuit, mobilising her shoulders and legs against a backdrop of crashing waves. 

She looks fabulous, Amazonian and strong. There are squats, sit-ups, lunges and glute squeezes, chest presses and arm exercises using little dumbells. Cindy doesn’t have Jane Fonda’s grace or length of limbs, and so gambols through the exercises like an enthusiastic teenager, but she is very engaging. 

Cindy Crawford Shape Your Body (1992) (pictured) is best for the young and resilient

I complete most of the workout, but at a more sedate, middle- aged pace, and skip the jackknife sit-ups, which I know will really wrench my back.

EXPERT VERDICT: It was once said that, on average, 70 per cent of all workout injuries occur in the warm-up, and, with this video, I can understand why. There is little to no guidance on which muscle to focus on, how to hold your body in alignment, or what muscles to engage to support the body as a whole. With great emphasis on swinging movements, this is an injury waiting to happen. Unless you are a teenager at dance school, I might avoid this one.

BEST FOR: Only the young and resilient.

CALORIES BURNT: 300.

2/5

All workouts available on Amazon. You can also find many of them on YouTube. Zana Morris runs The Clock gym (theclock.com)

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