How Did the Fitness Craze of the 80s Start and Who Were Its Icons?


In the 80s, people started seeing fitness differently. It wasn’t just about losing weight or getting strong; it was about looking good and feeling great. The era after the laid-back 60s and 70s brought a new focus on self-improvement and a healthier lifestyle. It was cool to care about your body, and everyone wanted in on the action. This is what primarily led to the beginning of the Fitness craze in the 80s. But, there’s more to it too! 

How Did the Fitness Craze of the 80s Begin?

Fitness was always a priority, but getting it on a level of obsession began in the 80s! There were several interesting reasons for this.

Tech Meets Fitness

Remember when VHS tapes were a thing? Well, they were a game-changer for fitness in the 80s. Suddenly, you didn’t need to hit the gym to get in a workout. Fitness icons like Jane Fonda were popping up on TV screens at home, making it super easy for everyone to join the fitness wave. And let’s not forget the fitness shows on TV. They made working out seem like the coolest thing to do​​.

Icons and Trends That Defined an Era

The 80s were all about larger-than-life personalities and trends. Take Arnold Schwarzenegger, for instance. The guy was a bodybuilding legend, and he brought muscle and strength training into the mainstream. Jane Fonda, on the other hand, was all about aerobics. Her workout videos weren’t just exercise sessions; they were a cultural phenomenon. And the fashion? Oh, it was something else. Bright neon spandex, leg warmers, headbands – fitness fashion was bold, colorful, and everywhere​​.

Fitness for All

What’s really cool about the 80s fitness scene was how inclusive it became. It wasn’t just for the buff guys at the gym. It was for everyone. Women, especially, were encouraged to jump on the fitness bandwagon. Icons like Olivia Newton-John made sure of that, spreading the message that fitness was for every body and every age. This wasn’t just a passing fad; it was a movement that reshaped how we view health and fitness today​​.

If you need more information, you may also read our article about the defining fitness and exercise trends of the 1980s.

Fitness for All

Celebrity Influence

Celebrities weren’t just hitting the gym; they were turning fitness into a trend. Stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger weren’t just lifting weights; they were turning bodybuilding into a mainstream fascination. And it wasn’t just about muscle. Celebrities were setting trends in fitness fashion, too. If your favorite star was wearing it to the gym, you bet everyone else wanted to as well.

The Running Boom

Before the 80s, running was more of a niche activity. But as the decade progressed, marathons and road races became popular. People were lacing up their sneakers not just for fitness but for the fun and community feel of these events. This running boom made jogging a normal, everyday activity for a lot of people​​.

The Gym Culture

The 80s saw the rise of the gym as a social hub. It wasn’t just a place to work out; it was where you met friends, socialized, and showed off your latest fitness fashion. Gyms became synonymous with a healthy, active lifestyle, and membership was almost a status symbol.

Fitness Magazines

Before the internet, fitness magazines were the go-to for the latest workout trends, health tips, and inspirational stories. These magazines brought fitness into the mainstream and made it accessible to everyone. They also featured workout plans, nutrition advice, and interviews with fitness icons, helping to spread the fitness craze even further.

Home Workout Equipment

The 80s also saw the rise of home workout equipment. Suddenly, you didn’t need a gym membership to stay in shape. With the advent of affordable and compact equipment, turning a part of your home into a mini-gym became the new trend.

The Health Movement

There was a growing awareness about the importance of health and wellness in the 80s. People were becoming more conscious about what they ate, how they lived, and the importance of regular exercise. This health movement went hand-in-hand with the fitness craze, making it about more than just looking good; it was about feeling good and living a longer, healthier life.

As a matter of fact, in the 80s, even corporations began to recognize the benefits of a healthy workforce. Wellness programs started popping up in workplaces, offering employees access to fitness facilities and health education. This not only encouraged a healthier lifestyle but also helped integrate fitness into people’s daily routines.

Beyond traditional gyms, health clubs began to emerge, offering a more holistic approach to fitness. These clubs often included amenities like swimming pools, racquetball courts, and group fitness classes, making fitness a more varied and enjoyable experience.

The Health Movement

Fitness Becomes a Family Affair

Fitness in the 80s wasn’t just for adults. Programs aimed at getting kids and families involved in physical activity began to take off. This not only helped instill healthy habits at a young age but also made fitness a shared family experience.

The Influence of Music

The 80s were also a significant era for music, and this had a major impact on the fitness scene. High-energy tunes and dance beats were the perfect accompaniment to aerobic workouts and gym sessions, making exercise feel more like a party and less like a chore.

Icons of the 80s Fitness Craze

The 80s fitness craze wasn’t just about the trendy workouts and flashy spandex. It was also shaped by a group of charismatic individuals who became the icons of the era. They inspired a generation to jump, dance, and lift their way to better health. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger, often regarded as one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, had a profound impact on fitness in the 80s. His awe-inspiring physique and multiple Mr. Olympia titles brought bodybuilding into the mainstream. Transitioning from muscleman to movie star and eventually to the Governor of California, Schwarzenegger’s influence extended well beyond the gym.

Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda, an established actress, dived into the fitness world at the age of 45 with her debut workout video in 1982. Her series, “Jane Fonda’s Workout,” became the cornerstone of the fitness video industry, selling millions of copies. Beyond her acting prowess, Fonda became synonymous with aerobics and home fitness, bringing a glamorous yet approachable vibe to the fitness industry.

Richard Simmons

Richard Simmons

Before becoming a fitness guru, Richard Simmons had a colorful life, including stints as an aspiring artist and even a brief consideration of priesthood. However, it was his dynamic personality, unique style, and boundless energy that made him an unforgettable icon of 80s fitness. Famous for his workout programs like “Sweatin’ to the Oldies,” Simmons was a pioneer in making exercise fun and accessible to the masses.

Kathy Smith


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A post shared by Kathy Smith (@kathysmithfitness)

Kathy Smith, a renowned personal trainer, made her mark with successful workout videos, selling over 16 million copies since their debut in 1980. Her approach to fitness was holistic, combining workout routines with health and nutritional advice. Smith’s brand extended to books, equipment, and apparel, establishing her as a multi-talented and influential figure in the industry.

Lou Ferrigno

Known for his role as the Hulk, Lou Ferrigno was another bodybuilding legend who made a smooth transition into acting. Ferrigno, much like Schwarzenegger, was an icon in the bodybuilding world before his on-screen fame. Winning titles like IFBB Mr. America and Mr. Universe, Ferrigno’s presence in the fitness world was as commanding as his persona on screen.

Jake Steinfeld


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A post shared by Jake Steinfeld (@officialbodybyjake)

Jake Steinfeld, of “Body by Jake” fame, was not just a fitness instructor but also a visionary entrepreneur. His approach to fitness was more personal, focusing on individual training and creating a brand that resonated with the everyday person looking to improve their health. Steinfeld’s influence extended to creating fitness networks and even founding a professional sports league.

Denise Austin

Denise Austin

Denise Austin was known for her vibrant energy and the ability to make fitness enjoyable. Her workout videos, such as “Denise Austin’s Daily Workout” and “Denise Austin’s Hit the Spot,” gained popularity for their effectiveness and engaging approach. Austin’s contribution to making fitness a fun and integral part of life was significant and memorable.

Suzanne Somers

Suzanne Somers

Suzanne Somers, widely recognized for her role in “Three’s Company,” also left a significant mark on the fitness industry. She promoted the iconic Thighmaster, turning it into a household name and symbol of home fitness. Somers’ transition from acting to fitness showcased the era’s trend of celebrities leveraging their influence to promote health and wellness.

The 80s Were Amazing for Fitness!

In the 80s, fitness wasn’t just a hobby; it became a vibrant part of everyday life. This era gave us more than just toned muscles and aerobic workouts; it sparked a wellness revolution. Gyms turned into social hubs, and fitness became a family affair, with everyone from kids to adults getting involved. The decade’s influence is undeniable, setting the stage for the health-conscious world we live in today. It was a time when fitness became not just something you do but a way to express yourself, connect with others, and most importantly, have fun while getting fit.

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