I was living in a giant attic on Haight Street in San Francisco when I discovered Karen Voight's 1990s gem, The Power Packed Workout. I'd picked it up for a few dollars at Amoeba Records, and with nary a concern for the people living in the apartment below me, I leapt and kicked, arms flapping wildly, as I jogged around the attic, sweating profusely. It was old-there were headbands and leg warmers and shiny, iridescent tights-but that thing worked me.
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I'm not suggesting you need to do any of the exercises in this video-in fact, most trainers would probably have major notes about all of them. But if you want to goof around and have a boozy '90s workout party with your friends, we've got you covered.
The Right Stuff
The videos in this section are surprisingly still relevant. The outfits might be delightfully dated, but a lot of the moves can still do your body good.
Cindy Crawford: Shape Your Body (1992)
In 1992, The New York Times called Shape Your Body creator Radu “the toughest trainer in town,” as well as an early proponent of plyometric exercise. This video is still blatantly awesome. It has solid production value, and although the amusement factor of her workout garb is sadly low, she does rock some big honkin' white Reeboks on set, and the butt-flossy white leotard over black tights that she wears on the roof set is good for a chuckle. The producers also shelled out for the rights to use actual songs, such as Seal's “Crazy,” which makes this video even more of a delightful throwback.
Crawford also takes a ton of short breaks for water, during which she sounds legitimately out of breath, which is kind of endearing. Subsequent releases are awesome too, such as Cindy Crawford: The Next Challenge Workout.
Karen Voight Power Packed Workout (1996)
You'll definitely want privacy (some of the moves are… goofy, to say the least) and some extra space for this butt-whopping cardio extravaganza. Karen Voight, a fitness star of the '80s and '90s who put out roughly a million workout DVDs during those decades, leads a high-impact aerobic routine that basically involves jumping up and down for nearly an hour.
Voight is an experienced and energetic instructor who keeps bullsh*t to a minimum. The entire thing may be worth watching just for one point when she chastises her backup people for missing a cue and asks, “Are we jumping?” But the true benefit here is the outfits: The flavor of the '80s was still alive and well in the Power Packed Workout: One of the women wears burgundy tights under a camouflage leotard with a matching sweatband and-yes-leg warmers.
If you're super feeling it, you can even buy it on Amazon. We do not recommend this level of commitment.
The 1990s had more than its share of cuckoo-crazy fitness videos, including almost anything by Denise Austin, who is prone to drift away in a reverie and forget to do an exercise on the opposite leg, and the silly but terribly popular “Tae Bo” workouts by Billy Blanks. But the following are kind of expert-level cuckoo crazy-which of course, makes them all the more fun.
Warm Up with Traci Lords (1990)
Produced by Marc Lemkin (who directed Swayze Dancing and also produced 1989's How to Get Revenge, hosted by Linda Blair), this workout's front cover reassures fitness seekers that the routine was designed by Tanya Everett and a then-member of the President's Council on Physical Fitness… both of whom totally signed on to produce an exercise video with someone famous for being an underage porn star.
This video also boasts that it's the “first and only completely non-impact 'jazz-thetics' exercise system,” a workout trend that sadly did not catch on, perhaps because it sounds like a rip-off of Jazzercise, which had been around for at least a decade by then.
Backed by a man and a woman in a vaguely depressing living room set, Lords performs standard moves such as neck circles, leg lifts, and pelvic thrusts punctuated by a lot of arm swinging. Much of it is too jerky and fast, and Lords's rap doesn't include any advice for protecting one's lower back during the moves.
Yes, I did say “rap,” which brings us to why this workout is a must-watch (but uh, a please-don't-follow-along-to): the bizarre rap spurring you on during Lords's hip thrusts. I'm pretty sure Lords herself is rapping the hilarious workout with barely high school cheerleader-level lyrics like: “Keep your tummy flat and tight / If it hurts, you've gotta fight!” and “Push your pelvis to the air / Keep your can nice and square!” Yes, she calls your butt a can. This video is amazing.
Step-Up with LaToya Jackson (1993)
Surrounded by fitness star Gay Gasper and other fit people in sedate black workout outfits, Jackson sticks out like a deranged doll in a blinding yellow leotard with a huge black pleather belt wrapped around her impossibly tiny waist. One online reviewer said Jackson seems like she's on drugs, which is not totally out-of-line speculation-but she does seem to be half-assing it through this, whispering comments now and then that make it seem like she thinks she's supposed to be somewhere else. At one point, Gasper says, “Watch LaToya if you want to get a little funky!” Or… something.
Alyssa Milano Teen Steam (1988)
OK, this one wasn't technically released in the 90s, but if you watch it, you'll understand why I couldn't possibly omit this gem. Imagine being in front of a camera at 15 years old, singing a song written by your dad about how tough it is being a teen girl-which is how this thing actually begins-and you get a glimmer of the glorious awkwardness of Teen Steam. Pop's odd lyrics include, “Sometimes I feel, I'm living on the edge / 'bout halfway in-between a feather and a sledge (note: a toboggan or sleigh).”
And it just gets weirder. After talking on the phone with her friends, one of whom complains she is grounded but inexplicably can come over anyway, Milano's high-school gal pals show up to “let out some steam” and exercise with her in her bedroom, under the watchful eye of Corey Haim in a framed photo. They complain about having to babysit a little brother and getting a D in school, adolescent angst and pressures that can only be alleviated by low-impact aerobics.
And don't worry, there's a rap here too: Milano and her pals make up a rap about toe raises while performing them. Then, suddenly-magically-Milano disappears through a mirror into a music video set with so much smoke you can't see the dance moves they're doing. Perfection.
Pro tip: Don't read the YouTube comments, which are almost all men enthusing how enjoyable this workout is to masturbate to.
Virginia Pelley is a freelance writer in Tampa, Florida. Follow her on Twitter @VirginiaPelley.