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The Best Throwback Workout Videos From The '80s & '90s

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    I'm 34 and have, up to this point, belonged to at least 15 gyms. I join. I sweat. I debate going to a class. I try swimming in an infinity pool and try again. I quit. Then, after a couple months of sloth, I decide it's time to join again. The cycle has become a habit.

    But, recently, I tried a different tactic and went in search of a great at-home workout video. Not the overly serious and intense videos of today, but the fun ones from the '80s and '90s. Ones that made me excited to grab a couple of free weights and set up shop in my living room. Remember those? Before gyms were gyms?

    In my search for the best old-school workout videos, I found gem after gem. And, I've broken my gym-habit loop. Here are my five reigning favorites.

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    The Original Buns of Steel

    It was the cover that sold me on this VHS in the early '90s. I wanted my butt to look like that woman's. Now, in my mid-30s, I know full well that will never happen — which is fine, that's not what I'm after anymore. I just want a bit of a lift, and a feeling of overall firmness. And that's exactly what I got when I revisited this title.

    Spending three times a week with Greg Smithey reminded me how much I respect men who wear sweatbands, who tout hard work for results, and who make sure to tell us that we're already beautiful. I'm still unsure how his former World Class Pole Vaulting status (!) made him the expert on "bun" exercises, but the man knows what he's doing.

    Don't misjudge the participants' initial lack of enthusiasm as an indication that this workout isn't fun. Once you start feeling the burn (around the same time everyone else does), you'll be laughing not only at the searing sensation, but also at Smithey's motivational phrases like "we're making beautiful legs today."

    The original series is now out on DVD.

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    Elle Macpherson: The Body Workout

    This video wasn't one I grew up with, but when talking to friends about my new obsession with old-school workout videos, this one came up again and again.

    Set on some beautiful island paradise, Elle and her trainer, Karen Voight, take us through different sets of aerobics, weights, and stretching (circuit training). What I really liked about the video was the emphasis on feeling good and feeling strong instead of being skinny.

    The workout is an hour, and it focuses on basic movements that give maximum results, like squats, leg lifts, and jumping jacks.

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    Paula Abdul's Get Up and Dance!

    Growing up, I took dance classes and went so far as to reach pre-professional jazz status. And, I loved Paula Abdul's choreography. I memorized all the moves in her music videos so that whenever they'd play on MTV or VH1, I'd be ready.

    When I got Abdul's "Get Up and Dance!" workout video as a gift at age 15, I didn't think about its health benefits. All that mattered to me was that it was the absolute coolest thing ever. I would pop the tape in my parents' VCR and let everyone know not to disturb me while I was taking class with Paula.

    I'd be lying if I said that, as a thirtysomething, I'm not as excited about this video as I used to be. Learning routines and seeing how she moves and keeps rhythm is still as awe-inspiring as it was back in the day.

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    Cindy Crawford: Shape Your Body Workout

    If I'd wanted to be like any model growing up, it was Cindy Crawford. It wasn't because of her hair, her mole, or her body; it was that she seemed like a real person. Like I could meet her and we'd be able to have a legit conversation.

    What I liked about her workout tape the first time around was that there were three workouts on one VHS — two longer, more hard-core routines and a 10-minute mini-workout. The only annoying part was rewinding or fast-forwarding to get to where I wanted.

    Now, what I like most is how all the exercises make me feel. Much like Elle Macpherson's video, this one promotes taking care of your body and feeling good in your own skin, not obsessively burning inches off your thighs.

    With short intervals and targeted movements for almost every part of your body, Cindy covers it all, but she does so in a way that's accessible. The music still manages to feel relevant, and the location she's filming in — what looks like abandoned warehouses and various NYC rooftops — adds a cool sense of timelessness.

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    The Grind Workout: Dance Club Aerobics

    As a girl from Columbus, Ohio, I was obsessed with New York City and The Real World. I followed that show's star, Eric Nies, when he went on to host MTV's dance show The Grind. And, when the show suddenly became a workout video, I scrambled for a copy. (MTV released a whole series of them.) I loved the idea of working out in a club-like environment with a professional DJ — and getting to hang with a shirtless Eric Nies.

    Twenty-some years later, Eric still looks good, but now I pay more attention to the heart rate monitor they post at the beginning of the tape. What I still like about this workout is how chatty everyone is. It's a reminder that I don't have to take what I'm doing too seriously — just seriously enough to not get injured.

    After a warm up and a nice little water break, you get into the routines, most of which last about 45 minutes. You'll work up a sweat, but nothing's too difficult. Mostly, it's all about attitude: You're encouraged to add your own flare and flavor. As Eric says (and yes, I cringed a little as I wrote this), you'll "groove to the movements."