Personal Fitness: Jane Fonda's Workout Launched a Revolution

1982: Jane Fonda’s Workout comes out on VHS.
Photograph by Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images

1982 Jane Fonda’s Workout comes out on VHS.

I was looking to generate money for a statewide organization, the California Campaign for Economic Democracy, started by my then-husband and me in the late ’70s. Around the same time, some wise person told me never to start a business I didn’t understand. If there’s one thing I knew well in my 40s, it was working out. I’d been doing aerobics with Leni Cazden, so we opened a studio together on Los Angeles’s Robinson Boulevard. It was an immediate success. Barbara Walters and Merv Griffin asked to come shoot a segment there. Celebrities gave us free publicity. Then I wrote Jane Fonda’s Workout Book, and it was on the New York Times bestseller list for two years. (That’s why they created separate categories—so a workout book could never again top Philip Roth.)

Afterward, Stuart Karl, who had been making home-improvement videos, approached me about doing a VHS of the workout that had previously only been a series of photos in the book. I said no! No one I knew even owned a VCR. The hardware was too expensive, and the industry didn’t exist. Eventually I agreed, and it was that video that launched the home video industry. It sold 17 million copies; altogether, I released 23 videos.

Women, and some men, would do them with friends. You didn’t have to join a gym—which, back then, were pretty much only for male bodybuilders. At the time, ladies weren’t supposed to sweat, so hundreds of fans began writing me letters. A woman was doing it in a mud hut in Guatemala. Another woman said she was brushing her teeth one morning, saw a new bicep muscle, then went into work and told her boss to go f-‍-‍- himself.

I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said revolutions begin in the muscle. Now there are all these classes—spinning, yoga, CrossFit, and so on. But I had no competition back then. —As told to Kurt Soller

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