Fifteen years ago, Fonda's first workout video made America feel the burn

Are you ready to do the workout?” asked an enviably light-in-the-leotard Jane Fonda in April 1982 on videotape. With those seven words, the former sex kitten-turned-Academy Award-winning actress-turned-antiwar, no-nukes activist signaled that she was transforming herself yet again — into a fitness crusader. It was the beginning of a cultural and marketing phenomenon that would spark a renewed interest in exercise and transform the video industry.

In that first tape, Jane Fonda’s Workout, the taut 44-year-old smiled and urged her viewers to ”go for the burn” — and they did, by the millions. By October 1982, her $59.95, 90-minute tape had become the country’s top-selling video. It stayed at No. 1 on Billboard’s list for 53 weeks and remained on the chart for almost five years. (It can’t have hurt that On Golden Pond, also on tape that fall, showed off Fonda’s sleek 5’7”, 122-pound physique in a bikini.)

Fonda was clearly the right spokeswoman at the right time. A high-profile feminist gadfly since the ’60s, Fonda also had binged and dieted for about 20 years before beginning, in her 30s, to exercise and eat more healthily. Her credentials and conviction on video blended with the bodycentric zeitgeist to create a marketing juggernaut. (To date, her 23 video titles have sold a total of 13 million copies.) In addition to the huge sales of her books and videotapes, at the peak of her popularity her three (now-defunct) exercise salons saw an estimated 10,000 customers a week, each paying $6.50 a class. Fonda became the founder of the celebrity exercise genre; Richard Simmons and Kathy Smith have her to thank for their video-gotten gains. ”It took the charisma, energy, star power, and great body of Jane Fonda to get American women to become [fitness] participants and not just spectators,” says Smith.

The massive popularity of Workout changed the public perception of video — and introduced the idea of buying a tape, as opposed to just renting one. ”She was a marquee name who gave credibility to the special-information video,” says Bruce Apar, editor of Video Business magazine. ”Before her, movies were the primary form of content for videos.” Fonda shares credit for the innovation with video entrepreneur Stuart Karl; Karl approached her after his wife suggested that 1982’s best-seller Jane Fonda’s Workout Book would make a great tape.

More or less retired from acting since her 1991 marriage to communications mogul Ted Turner, Fonda continues to crank out fitness videos (the most recent installment is her Personal Trainer series). Though she’ll turn 60 this year, her sculpted form is still evident — making it clear that on the subject of fitness, she’s still a firm believer.

April 25, 1982

Moviegoers picked Porky‘s, while readers tried to fight the pork with Jane Fonda’s Workout Book. TV’s most popular destination was Dallas, and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts delivered their musical testimonial, ”I Love Rock ‘n Roll.”