and three more

I had a doctor’s appointment earlier this week, and on the fifteen-minute drive to the clinic I passed three yoga studios. THREE.

It got me thinking about how workout styles go through cycles and trends, just like fashion. Right now it’s yoga. Not too many years ago it was Pilates; before that was spinning; and the 80s was all about aerobicizing.

Aerobics were so popular in the 80s that here in Canada we had a daily show that aired on City TV / CTV, after all the morning kids’ programming but before the afternoon soaps. Anyone remember The 20-Minute Workout? Because I’d had it all forgotten until Allison reminded me of it today, and now I can’t stop thinking about how bloody damn weird it was.

In case you don’t remember 20-Minute, here’s a full episode. Watch the first couple of minutes at least, just to get the idea:

This is probably the most 80s film clip on the internet. The spiral perms! The leg warmers! The synthesizer music!


I remember trying to do all twenty minutes. Even as a bouncy energetic kid, it was tough. The choreography was tricky. There is a warning at the beginning of every episode, warning you not to go hard, but I’ve been a perfectionist my whole life, so of course I did not “take it at my own pace”. I tried like hell to keep up with those slim perfect ladies and their heavy eyeshadow, and by the end I’d be gasping.

I wanted a unitard, but I didn’t have one. I used to pull my shorts up really high on the sides to try and approximate the look. One day it dawned on me that a unitard was basically a bathing suit, so I would run to my room after Sesame Street and change into my elderly Speedo before the workout started. I had leg warmers too – meant for winter, not the gym, but I didn’t care! – and I’d put those on, too.

I’d follow along, murmuring “and four more… and three more… two… one…” as I pulled my stomach in and lifted my knees up high.

I couldn’t have been the only kid obsessed with 20-Minute, because the 80s also brought us Hasbro’s “Get In Shape, Girl!” line of toys. I apologize for the quality of this clip, but oh man, does THIS take me back:

Weighted bracelets! Ribbons for rhythmic gymnastics! A pink cassette tape with scribbly 80s font!

And we wonder why as adult women we all have body-image issues???

I’m pretty sure I asked for this for Christmas, and I’m also pretty sure I didn’t get it. I don’t remember ever owning a ribbon-stick, although you’d better believe I would twirl the hell out of one if I had it right now.

It’s funny, but 20-Minute was the birth of my lifelong love/hate relationship with exercise classes. I still will try to do them every so often. I still struggle to get the choreography down. I still push myself too hard and wind up gasping on the floor.

And I still don’t have a unitard.



9 thoughts on “and three more

  1. So, when the :20 Minute workout was on, my school was on staggered time. (School fire, no space for everyone at once, some grades go early, some go later) I distinctly remember calling a friend and asking if we were doing the workout “today” – every single day – we held each other accountable. If those ladies were the bait, we were enthusiastically going for it – hook, line and sinker.

    There was so much wrong with it from a grown up POV, but as a roundish kid? I just wanted so badly to be that. Whatever “that” even was!

    The exercises were awful, btw. If you were an educated fitness person now watching you would be able to pick apart so many things. My NS BFF and I now refer to this as “flinging body parts” (also how we dance, btw, but I digress …) and it’s terrible. It is begging for permanent injuries.

    I was too old for the “Get In Shape Girl” craze, but luckily for me I had “Seventeen” (when I was 12) and so the permanent scars of never being enough still found their way to my brain. As if it wasn’t already cluttered enough by then. (It was, btw. Oh man!)

    Great post.


  2. I had the Get in Shape Girl kit – including smelly rubber/velcro ankle weights and skipping rope. I never got much use from them. As a roundish kid, I much preferred to fantasize about the fat camps that were advertised in the back of my big sisters magazines. Camp LaJolla….I think I even called their 1800 number to order a brochure.


  3. I had this exact conversation yesterday at the gym. The “aerobics” thing in the 80s was really the concept of working out (as opposed to, say, walking everywhere and cleaning your house, which is what women did before that) – so there was all this paraphernalia (the choreography, the leg warmers), but the real fad was the mere idea of doing exercise as an intentional activity. Then in the 90s it was cardio, while in the 00s that turned to isolation exercises targeting particular muscles (in both cases, the fad was directed at whatever people thought would help them lose weight – do you do lots of cardio to burn calories, or do you build muscle in order to boost metabolism?). Now, in addition to yoga, the real fad is cross-fit – high-intensity interval training that seems to appeal to a demographic that views exercise as a competitive activity, again with lots of calories burned and without worrying too much about the likelihood of injury, general health, etc. (because of course, all along everyone knew that walking is one of the best forms of exercise, but walking never quite achieves fad status). As someone who never exercised at all until quite recently I find this all fascinating, mostly because I never did any of it but even from the sidelines these fads were still somehow on my radar. And I absolutely did make at least a few attempts in the 80s to do the 20-minute workout along with the TV. 🙂


  4. I agree with Bea – cross-fit is a really big thing right now. Zumba too, although I think it’s star is beginning to fade. Remember boot camps were a big thing a few years ago.

    For me, the 80s was the Get in Shape Girl rhythmic gymnastics ribbon and Charlene Prickett, the 90s were step aerobics – remember step aerobics? I did like five of those classes a week back in the day – then I moved on to spin classes.

    Ah, good times. My MIL actually taught aerobics in the 80s and there are some killer photos of her in a thong unitard and sweatband. She was in fabulous shape and looked amazing, so we both can smile at the awesome neon yellow 80s wear.


  5. I missed the Get in Shape Girl thing altogether, although my kids did have those twirly ribbons – they’re a pain in the ass, BTW, they get all tangled up in no time flat. I did aerobics classes at my gym in high school and they were really fun – I liked the music and the dim light and I felt totally hot in my unitard. I think I only ever watched the twenty-minute workout to make fun of, though. Those pervy camera angles. Oy. And now I mostly just walk my dog, which is why I am currently icing my hip.


  6. My sisters and I were total 20 minute workout junkies. We knew all the girls by name and even had our favourite instructors (Beth and Annie!). We used our gigantic VCR to record a bunch of episodes and then we’d all get together in the basement and do a workout (with leg warmers, of course). I can’t imagine what our mother thought about the whole thing. I actually kind of miss it – maybe I’ll give the YouTube video a look and see if I can make it past the first two minutes :).


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