Spandex, scrunchies, and fluro: the adrenaline-fuelled relevance of the home workout

Spandex, scrunchies, and fluro: the adrenaline-fuelled relevance of the home workout

The home workout first emerged in the 1950s, flexed its biceps on videotapes in the ’80s and, in the age of global lockdown, still appears on TV today.

Take a neon trip through history and find out exactly when television stopped being just for couch potatoes.

Home workout endures
Image: Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Napoleon Dynamite owes his moves to aerobics videos. The Grinch does Jazzercise. Here’s why the home workout has stood the test of time.

The TV workout craze dates back to 1954, with the release of Jack LaLanne’s self-titled US fitness show. The San-Franciscan fitness buff also made television appearances until his death in 2011, featuring in The Simpsons and the Addams Family, among others. LaLanne was crowned the ‘Godfather of Fitness’ in a 2015 documentary.

The 1980s saw an eruption of home aerobics, from Jane Fonda’s bestselling workout videos to Olivia Newton John’s sacred 1981 tune Physical. The trends unfurled into the realm of fashion and music, and fluro leotards, scrunchies, and leg-warmers were unknowingly fixed as the uniform of the decade.

Shortly afterwards, a passionate fusion of jazz music and aerobics called Jazzercise roared its colourful head. Adopted by The Grinch and seen in Futurama, the catchy name and unique energy gained mass interest and classes still run today. The clip below is a particularly thrilling exhibition of scat-singing and deep squats.

In the 90s came a pumping swarm of energetic instructors with a lifestyle TV edge. Instructors like Richard Simmons, who lunged into the scene with Sweatin’ to the Oldies and Mr. Motivator, who ran matinee fitness lessons before Power Rangers in the UK, gained global attention.

Simmons and Mr. Motivator made “coronavirus comebacks” earlier this year with a series of follow-along videos. At 67, the latter is still sporting eye-watering neon spandex and hip-thrusting on the BBC.

Home workouts have seen their fair share of glory on programs for younger audiences. In the early 2000s, Sesame Street broadcasted an exercise video led by Grover, fusing techno-samba beats with synchronized puppet aerobics. Icelandic series LazyTown’s stars Sportacus, an action-health hero played by the athlete Magnús Scheving. That show boasts some serious backbends.

Recent times have seen online broadcasts of Zumba, yoga, and circuit classes rise in popularity with isolation laws keeping the public home-bound.

So how have home workouts held up for so long? If you’re still asking, you probably haven’t tried Jazzercise.

Here’s what everyone else has been getting up to in isolation (in-between aerobics classes, of course).