How Jane Fonda’s workout videos & exercise empire got us fit in the 80s

Jane Fonda's vintage workout videos

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Though she was born famous (as the daughter of actor Henry Fonda), then grew her own fame as an award-winning actress, one of Jane Fonda’s greatest successes was also the most surprising.

The vibrant, super-fit actress created her own exercise classes, then shared the workouts on home video. America loved it — sales skyrocketed, the videocassettes broke records, and the name of this 40-something married mother of two became synonymous with fitness.

In the process, she created an entire home workout video industry — one that thrives even today. Here’s how it all began!

Excerpted from material in a special promotional section/advertorial in Billboard, August 31, 1985

Jane Fonda’s workout videos: Anatomy of a knockout (1985)

For the week of May 22, 1982, Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder’sEbony And Ivory” was the No. 1 single in the US, the debut album by Asia was the No. 1 LP, and “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” was the No. 1 videocassette.

But the most significant chart action of the week occurred further down on the video chart, where an exercise video by a two-time Oscar-winning Best Actress debuted at number 23.

Jane Fonda's original workout video from the 80s
Jane Fonda’s first workout video – Watch it online now!

The following week, “Jane Fonda’s Workout” rocketed all the way to number 21. Not a terribly auspicious start. But then, over the course of the next three weeks, the title really did pick up steam, surging to number 16, then five, then four.

Incredibly, from that week — June 19, 1982 — to this [August 31, 1985], “Jane Fonda’s Workout” has never dipped below number four on Billboard’s Top Videocassettes sales chart. That’s more than three solid years in the top four.

Along the way, “Workout” has logged 41 weeks at No. 1, more than twice as many as any other title since the video chart was introduced in Billboard in November 1979.

Anatomy of a knockout - Fonda workout videos from the eighties

The nearest runnerup, the feature film “Alien,” had 20 weeks at No. 1 in 1980. And “Workout” has logged many more weeks just outside the No 1 spot. At last count, in early August, it had spent 75 weeks at number two.

But “Workout” was hardly Fonda’s first video success. The video to her comedy smash “Nine To Five” was Billboard’s No. 1 seller for 13 weeks in 1981, and the video to “On Golden Pond,” which featured Fonda in an Oscar-nominated performance, was No. 1 for 15 weeks in 1982.

One week after “Jane Fonda’s Workout” hit the video chart, “Jane Fonda’s Workout Record” (Columbia) entered Billboard’s Top Pop Albums chart.

Video promo collection (1988)

Here’s a look back at several of Jane Fonda’s workout videos, in all their ’80s-style glory!

YouTube video

Jane Fonda: A more personal view (1985)

“Workout” wonder woman tries to work out the balancing act of the ’80s — wife, mother, actress

Excerpted from an article by Michele Willens

There are two things Jane Fonda really dreads: losing her day’s schedule… and suddenly finding an hour of that day unfilled.

“During the week, if I have a free hour, I freak out,” she laughs, though she’s not kidding. “I’ll spend most the hour deciding, ‘Oh God, what am I going to do? There are five movies I want to see, a book I want to read.’ It’s just too much choice!

“But even worse is losing my schedule. I’m talking about days that are back-to-back meetings. But to me, that’s not a drag. It’s very creative, and I’m real good at plunging myself into a whole new reality.

“I don’t get involved with projects I don’t enjoy, so there’s no such thing as a bad meeting unless it’s with my accountant.”

Jane Fonda - Interview from 1985

What can you say about this human whirlwind who has not only won Oscars and Emmys, and filled her off-screen life with political activities, but is also the first performer installed in the video hall of fame?

First, that the Jane Fonda of today, at a fit and handsome 47, seems more at peace and self-assured than ever. That she truly seems to be enjoying this “prime time” is the subject of her latest video and book.

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“With Jane, you can always see the tension right on her face,” says one close friend. “It becomes a tighter, harder face. She is really comfortable with herself right now, and it shows.”

Fonda herself admits the pieces seem to be coming together, except for the difficulty of making film projects happen.

Yet it’s never easy, and the Workout Wonder constantly tries to work out the balancing act of the ’80s.

“A perfect day for me,” she says, “begins with getting up at 6:30, so I read the paper before the kids are up. If my schedule permits, make Troy’s (age 12) lunch and drop him off at school on my way to the Workout.

Jane Fonda workouts

“I work out for an hour and a half. Then I either go to the office or I work at home. I read scripts, talk with writers. There may be some political activity in the day, that adds to the balance, like gearing up for going to Washington to testify about farm wives, or speaking at an event for CEO.

“Of course, then you throw in things like going up to Sacramento once a week to be with Tom (husband, Assemblyman Hayden). And it’s baseball season, now so I try to go to Troy’s Little League games twice a week.

“My daughter Vanessa ( 17) is in a play at school, and I’m doing her make-up, so that’s taken several evenings. So there is no such thing as a typical day.”

The Jane Fonda studio workout - 1985

This is the first time in a long while that Fonda has not been consumed with pectorals, abdominals and aerobics.

“For four years, the Workout took about two-thirds of my time, either the writing of the hooks, the building of the studio business or the developing of the videos.

“Now, quite deliberately, I’ve turned the business over to a staff. I’ve also done my books and videos, and don’t expect to do any more in the foreseeable future.”

Jane Fonda working out in her leotard & leg warmers

A number of new videos have been shot and are in the can, however — set to come to your local video vault when the marketers say the time is right. One is a stretch workout, in the other Jane goes reggae, exercise-dancing to Caribbean music. (“I’m trying to build a library of different kinds of programs for different kinds of moods and needs.” )

Though her concentration now is on acting, Fonda says the impact of the videos has been personally satisfying.

“It’s very rewarding to know you’ve created something that has made a difference to so many people.

“When we began, the biggest selling video was 25,000 [units sold], and we said, ‘that’s something to shoot for.’ Well, we’ve sold over 850,000! We not only developed an exercise program, we created an industry.”

Jane Fonda exercise class 1985

“And though Joan Rivers’ joking about developing muscles by carrying bags of money to the bank sounds great on TV, I only profited marginally from the first ones, so money has never been the motivation or reward.

“It’s walking into an office and having five secretaries say ‘I do you every morning and I feel great! Or husbands saying, ‘I’m so sick of waking up to your voice.’ Nowadays, more people comment more about my exercise program than about my movies.”

In fact, that worried the actress at first — that people would begin to set her more as Richard Simmons in drag than a gifted performer.

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“In the beginning, I was real worried, especially because in those four years, I wasn’t working in films. But then I did ‘The Dollmaker,” and it won the ratings, and I won an Emmy, and I was an actress again.

“I think people are just used to seeing Jane Fonda in different facets. But I’m careful to keep the two separate. I’d never play an exercise instructor in a movie, and I never go on TV in a leotard.”

Life in the Fonda-Hayden household in Santa Monica is always hustling, though the lady of the house also enjoys her time with her husband in the state capital.

“I love being the ‘wife.’ I’m real proud of Tom, and I like to watch him work. Mostly, I like that my only responsibility there is being a wife.”

Barbarella movie poster
Young Jane Fonda as Barbarella

A wife — a mother — an actress (her next film, “Agnes Of God,” opens in September) — an industry creator. Fonda admits she can’t do it all exactly as well, or as often, as she’d like.

“I always think I’m shortchanging something. I don’t know if it’s because women my age were brought up feeling we were meant to stay home and take care of the kids. It’s not that I think I’m a bad mother, I’m just not that kind of mother. If I tried to be, I’d be frustrated, bored and unhappy.

“That I can come home at the end of the day, having done all I’ve done, and had all the outlets to express myself, makes me a more fulfilled, interesting parent.

“And while I think my daughter, in particular, has been shortchanged, she’s gotten some stuff out of it, too! She’s also bright and rebellious and interesting. And it’s no accident our son is particularly good in social studies. In his blood, he knows about those things.”

Jane Fonda's workout video - 1985

It’s that vulnerable side she’s allowing to show through more these days. And it is making Jane Fonda someone those 850,000 sweaty viewers not only idolize, but can actually relate to. To know she also thinks she looks flabby, or old, at times. To know she worried unnecessarily, they wouldn’t buy Jane Fonda as just Jane Fonda.

And it is no wonder she likes herself as well, admitting she never tires of the long hikes she takes solo at the Santa Barbara ranch her family uses on weekends.

“I love being alone. I don’t know what it feels like to be bored. I can be alone for weeks, reading, writing, thinking. I begin to think, man, I could live like this all my life!”

Don’t bet on it.

Jane Fonda's vintage workout videos & exercise empire

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Jane Fonda vintage Workout program: Home video from the ’80s

Jane Fonda vintage Workout program - home video from the 80s

The Jane Fonda Workout tapes (1985)

The Jane Fonda Workout tapes can be considered a label of product with an evolutionary nature. Each title is distinct from the others, and had its own set of parameters and goals.

For the uninitiated, here is a brief rundown of the Workout titles, and a brief overview of what’s on the tapes, and what Jane Fonda’s workout videos attempt to accomplish.

Vintage Jane Fonda workout videos on VHS


The original best-seller runs 90-minutes and offers an aerobic exercise program with warmups, aerobics and stretching. The workout features a 30-minute advanced program designed for both the beginning and intermediate exerciser. The goal is to get users in shape both mentally and physically. (See it here)


Running 90 minutes, this program has been designed to build strength, develop flexibility and increase endurance for the experienced exerciser. dancer and athlete.

It’s not meant to be a replacement for the original tape. Rather, it’s a graduate course for those able for a more difficult program. One highlight of the tape is a 20-minute specially choreographed aerobic section to improve heart and lung capacity.

Jane Fonda on the cover of Billboard magazine (1985)


Running 50 minutes, this program is designed for beginners of all ages. It’s still a comprehensive exercise program for those who need a more gentle program than the other tapes.

It’s meant to markedly improve the user’s muscle tone, circulation, flexibility and overall fitness with special emphasis on protecting and strengthening the neck and lower back.


Featuring Jane Fonda and designed by Femmy DeLyser, this program is designed to maintain and improve overall fitness during the rapid physical changes of pregnancy and to ensure a quick recovery after birth. Running time: 90 minutes.


The newest addition to the Workout label features new exercises and updated aerobics as well as a more contemporary hi-fi soundtrack. For this tape, Jane Fonda has enlisted the aid of Dr James G Garrick, Director at San Francisco’s Center For Sports Medicine. (See it here)

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1980s Jane Fonda workout videocassettes

1980s Jane Fonda workout videocassettes

Vintage Jane Fonda Beginner’s workout (video)

YouTube video

Vintage 80s Jane Fonda video workouts

Jane Fonda Workouts – Fitness fashion (1984)


Building confidence, changing your attitude. Now Jane Fonda Workouts… pieces geared to your kinetic day…from exercise to street chic.

This summer’s color palette of black, white and high-energy brilliants: turquoise, pink, yellow.

Leotards, $35 to $48, tights and legwarmers, $8 to $13; streetwear, $20 to $58. The Jane Fonda Workouts’ Shop, Downtown and mall stores.

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Cincinnati Magazine Jun 1984 Jane Fonda workout clothing - Fashion

Old Jane Fonda workout videos from 1988

Old Jane Fonda workout videos from 1988 (2)

Old Jane Fonda workout videos from 1988 (1)

Jane Fonda’s favorite fat burners (1993)

When it comes to fitness, one name says it all

Jane Fonda Fat Burners video - 1993

Audrey Hepburn demonstrates her favorite animal-inspired yoga poses (1959)

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. Jane Fonda didn’t invent the workout video, but she launched an entire industry with her success. During the 80’s and 90’s, virtually every female celebrity (as well as plenty of male celebrities) had a workout video and/or diet plan. No matter what your age or medical condition, there was a workout tape for you. I had a lot of friends whose moms got VCRs just so they could do their workouts. Workout videos had a lot of advantages: They were cost-effective, since they didn’t require expensive memberships or elaborate equipment; once you had the tape, you were good to go. In foul weather, you didn’t have to go outside to the gym or an outdoor run. And as an at-home activity, they gave you judgement-free privacy; titillating stories of women working out at home in the nude were common.

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