Why Not Work Out To Some Vintage Jane Fonda?

As we’re exploring the world of home workouts, I keep thinking about the routines of the VHS era. Back in the day, buying a Jane Fonda tape was far more of a commitment than watching one of the countless free videos now littering the social feeds of online influencers. (Jane herself is on TikTok, by the way.) In fuzzy video and less-than-living colour, Jane became your cheerleader, educator and coach. And one tape might’ve been your only workout routine for months on end.

In the one I sampled, a 1988 gem available on YouTube, Fonda starts by explaining the workout, then leading a five-minute warmup. After that, the video is broken into three segments:

  • 10 minutes of upper-body strength training

  • 30 minutes of aerobics

  • 10 minutes of lower-body strength training

There’s some talking and transition between the different sections, so these times are approximate. Fonda suggests you either do the whole video every other day, and just the aerobics segments on your off days; or do upper body plus aerobics one day, and aerobics plus lower body the next.

Besides just running the workout, Fonda explains how you’ll progress over time—using heavier weights, for example—and the purpose of each exercise. She doesn’t spend any time teaching you the aerobics moves; she just says “you’ll get it next time” and, you know what? You will. You’re going to watch this tape every day for months. You’ll do fine.

I did the whole tape, except that I fast-forwarded part of the aerobics section because my daughter was underfoot, and I was also getting a little bit bored and irritated. Hey, that’s probably part of the authentic experience, too. With heavy enough weights, this is probably a reasonable workout for most people.

Fonda suggests 500 gram and 1.5 kilogram dumbbells for beginners, and optional 500-gram ankle weights. If you’re strong, maybe your dumbbells will go up to 4.5 kilograms and your ankle weights to two kilograms. You generally do each exercise for two sets of 8 to 12 reps, as Fonda reassures you that you won’t get bulky; rather, this exercise builds a nice “contour” on this or that body part. As a workout, it’s fine. And as a showcase of ’80’s fitness fashion, it’s excellent.


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