Issue of the day: Jane Fonda's iconic fitness video turns 40

Jane Fonda's first fitness video sparked a revolution in the exercise industry when it was released 40 years ago in April 1982
Jane Fonda's first fitness video sparked a revolution in the exercise industry when it was released 40 years ago in April 1982

ITS release revolutionised the fitness industry and spawned a genre that is still going strong today, albeit no longer on VHS. Jane Fonda's first exercise tape - one of the best-selling video tapes of all time - turns 40.

Forty and looking…?

…rather fine as it happens, with the original cover, showing Fonda, who was 44 at the time, with red leg-warmers, striped leotard and 1980s hair, in her new guise as an exercise guru.

She was already a household name?

Fonda's father was the iconic American actor Henry Fonda and she embarked on her own film career in the 1960s, starring in a raft of classic movies, including Barefoot in the Park opposite Robert Redford in 1967 and Klute in 1971, opposite Donald Sutherland, taking home the Oscar for Best Actress for the latter. She also won an Academy Award in 1978 for her role in Coming Home.

She was also known as an activist too?

Vocal on civil rights and a range of Native American causes, Fonda was a high-profile activist, even drawing the ire of President Richard Nixon for criticising US involvement in the Vietnam war. He was recorded in a conversation in 1971 saying: “Jane Fonda. What in the world is the matter with Jane Fonda?. I feel so sorry for Henry Fonda, who’s a nice man. She’s a great actress. She looks pretty. But boy, she’s often on the wrong track.”

What inspired her to change tack?

No longer able to practise ballet after breaking an ankle, she began taking aerobics classes and found them "a revelation", saying: "I entered so called adult life at a time when challenging physical exercise was not offered to women. We weren’t supposed to sweat or have muscles. Now, along with forty other women, I found myself moving non-stop for an hour and a half in entirely news ways.” And after opening workout studios and a workout album, the video was the next step, with profits going to the Campaign for Economic Democracy, a political action committee (PAC) she co-founded.

It was a huge hit?

The 1982 Jane Fonda's Workout was the home video release to top sales charts around the world and remained the top-selling VHS tape for six years. In total, Fonda sold 17 million fitness videos from 1982 to 1995, inspiring other celebrities - from Cher to Raquel Welch - to release similar tapes. Fonda enjoyed the change of pace, saying later: “It was a pretty interesting time for me because people recognised me in a whole different way.”


The seventh - and final - season of her Netflix show, Grace & Frankie, airs later this month and she continues her activism, finding herself arrested in Washington DC in December 2019 after taking part in a climate change protest.


Her fitness releases still sell and in 2010, she resumed the series, focused on exercises for women over 50. She also posts exercise clips and advice on her social media as the Fonda fitness regime continues into her 80s.