Going For The Burn: Revisiting Jane Fonda’s Workouts

by Alison Hamm


Because I follow Jane Fonda on Twitter, I was among the first to “feel the burn” all over again: Fonda recently released her 1980s-era workouts on DVD for the first time.

Here’s what you need to know: in the early 1980s, Jane Fonda, a well-established sexpot, activist, and a two-time Academy Award-winning actress, started doing aerobics. In 1981 she published Jane Fonda’s Workout Book, which became a bestseller. Her original exercise program, which included a beginners and an advanced routine, had an accompanying audio tape with music to pair with the different exercises. The book was a huge hit and it was basically a no-brainer that she create an accompanying video, which was released a year later.

I first worked out with Jane around the age of 8; my mother owned both the book and a home-recorded VHS copy of the original workout, and I’d join her in the living room as she worked her way through the routines. My older brother Jay would often sit on the couch and eat potato chips, making fun of us as we worked out. Our mom would brush him off, saying she’d like to see him try it. While it’s no Insanity workout — not that I’ve ever done it, as I’m not fucking crazy — Jane’s workout is challenging, especially if you’re new to exercise or it’s been a while since you did four reps of bicycle crunches, vertical leg crunches and situps. (If this seems disarming, heed my brother’s couch advice: “She says you can slightly bend your knees, not totally bend your knees.”) Before creating the workout, Jane took ballet classes, which becomes clear as you do the workout and realize her flexibility is on part with Barbie’s — her range of motion during leg lifts is rather terrifying.

We continued doing Jane Fonda’s workout tape until I was a teenager, when my health-conscious mother was diagnosed with a lung disease. But I didn’t stop working out with Jane — the VHS made its way into my room, where I’d exercise behind closed doors, hoping to avoid having my mom, who was now tethered to an oxygen tank, see me and feel left out. I even brought it to college with me, although by 2002, VCRs were quickly becoming obsolete. And a few months later, my mother died, and the tape got stashed in a closet, hidden but not forgotten. The routine, including the music, the outfits, and Jane’s commentary, has been burned in my brain ever since, even long after I moved on to other at-home workouts, like yoga and Pilates DVDs.

* * *

After 13 years, I embraced my nostalgia, popped in a DVD, and went to work out with Jane Fonda in my living room.

The beginner’s routine opens with the visual of a woman’s leg on a ballet barre. As the camera pans out, home exercisers are quickly introduced to the members of Jane’s workout class. This is mostly women, with the exception of two men, including our eye-candy ballet-main-man Ned. We know his name is Ned because one of the female babes says “Hey Ned.”

But more on Ned later, because this is when we see our queen teacher, Jane, doing plié squats in the background. She dramatically stretches up, grins at the camera, and asks: “Are you ready to do the workout?”

This is when everyone in the class starts going bonkers. The ladies and two dudes all very excitedly take their places behind Jane. You’ll basically never see the one dude in the class again, probably because he is a silly misfit wearing shorts over his leggings like a weirdo. But don’t worry, Ned is in full view behind Jane throughout the video.

The beginners routine is about 30 minutes, and after a warm-up, Jane runs through a (very) quick cardio sequence, followed by arms, waist, abdominals, legs and hips, buttocks, and a cool-down section. It is important to emphasize buttocks, as Jane says it in a breathy mock-whisper every time.

Some of the women in the class are incredibly vocal: they are LOVING this exercise routine, whooping and shrieking and sighing at all kinds of crazy moments. Ned, on the other hand, seems pretty indifferent, especially during the cardio routine, when he can’t even be bothered to follow along with the rest of the class. I’ve decided that Ned is actually a young Tony Goldwyn with a perm. Ned is definitely in this class looking to bang a hot babe. Poor Ned doesn’t know that he serves no other purpose than being our living room eye-candy.

Although it’s hard to determine just who exactly is doing all the orgasmic shrieking that begins as soon as we get into the cardio, I like to pretend it’s all coming from the non-Ned dude. The enthusiasm starts to get real during the arm exercises — making large circles backwards and forwards that may or may not cause your shoulders to pop out of their sockets — when the woman in the back of the class yells, “Burn those muscles, Jane!” to which Jane of course grins and responds, “Yes! Make it burn!”

But for whatever reason, the whooping and shrieking and sighing really peaks during the waist exercises portion, particularly at the end, when Jane leads us through a seated forward fold that includes lifting your heels off the ground. As Jane tell us to “Get those heels up!” someone in this class is having the orgasm of her life, and I am sitting on my living room floor grabbing my heels and wondering what I’m missing.

Things calm down a little after that, although Jane continues to repeatedly encourage everyone to “Go for the burn!” throughout the video. This is especially fun during the buttocks exercises, when you are essentially laying on your yoga mat doing pelvic thrusts into the air again and again.

You know you’re almost through the beginners routine once you’ve made it through the buttocks exercises and the music dramatically switches to what sounds more fitting for the opening sequence of a softcore porn video. “This is the cool-down section,” Jane tells us, and I try to focus on supporting my lower back while doing a shoulder stand and pray that Ned isn’t looking.

Soon enough, I remember I am alone in my living room and it’s all over.

Jane grins. “Don’t you feel good?” she asks, and then she and the rest of the class start jumping up and down, clapping, and yelling, “Bravo!”

I grinned through my entire first routine: it felt like hanging out with my mom again, the best motivation to get off of my ass and exercise. Jane Fonda’s decision to make her workouts available again has felt like a gift. Partly because it has given me a fun way to break out of my at-home exercise rut, but mostly because it has helped me reconnect with my mother in a small , but special way. When I do the Jane Fonda workout tape, I no longer have a visual of oxygen tanks and catheters and hospital waiting rooms when I think of my mother. Instead, I’m reminded of the tough woman who insisted on walking up the three flights of stairs to see my college dorm room, even though she was tethered to oxygen and often relied on a wheelchair at that point. If she could do that, I can certainly “go for the burn” with Jane and Ned a few times a week. When I do, it’s like we’re back in the living room together, working out while laughing and yelling back at the TV: “Burn those muscles, Jane!”

The day after the workout, you might be a little sore, most likely in your waist and buttocks areas, but probably ready to do it again. After about a month of working through the beginners routine, I’m excited to check out the advanced routine for the the first time in over a decade. I can only imagine what Ned gets into during that routine.

Alison Hamm is a writer living in Chicago, where she recently found Jane Fonda’s Workout Record for 99 cents. She tweets @alisoncomposes.