EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


October 30, 2006

From Fonda and 'Physical' to calisthenics and comfort:Group exercise has evolved from fads to a focus on real fitness

Mary Lou Medlock warmed up her Monday morning step aerobics class to Run DMC's "Tricky," a flashback to 1986. In another studio at Cedardale Health and Fitness in Haverhill, aerobics instructor Ellen Balboni asked her class if they remembered one of her warm-up songs, the 1983 hit "Let the Music Play."

A retro-1980s flavor is hot in today's health clubs, and not just in the music. Aerobics instructors are trending away from overly choreographed dance-based aerobics that were popular in the 1990s, and getting back to basic calisthenics, such as jumping jacks, jump ropes and boot camp classes. Headbands are even making a comeback in some aerobics studios.

It's funny, because people who remember the aerobics classes of the early '80s shudder at the thought of going back.

"When I think back, I just can't believe I used to do that stuff," said 50-year-old Kate Hudson, co-owner of the Fitness Factory in Newburyport.

For starters, women wore leotards with belts. Jane Fonda's 1982 "Workout" video was a phenomenon even outside the fitness world. Aerobics gear inspired fashion, from cut-off gray sweatshirts to Reebok aerobics high-tops.

"The sweat bands around the head, the leg warmers, uh huh," Hudson recalled.

To actually be doing aerobics in the '80s, and not just wearing the clothes, had a certain cachet, said Peabody resident Kiki Hanson, group exercise director at Beverly Athletic Club.

"It's funny because I don't know where that came from or how it got to be," she said. "The clothes were as important as the workout."

Hanson worked out in leotard and tights, and later - yes, she's willing to admit - in leggings under a thong.

"I forgot about (that)," she said, laughing. "Oh my God."

The earliest aerobics classes were brutal, said Mary Lynch of Cedardale, who was certified to teach aerobics in 1987.

The instructor would make up the routine as she went. There was no choreography, just endless repetitions of jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, leg lifts and running and jumping in place.

"You found music that you liked, you cranked it up and you just went for it," she said.

It was all high-impact, Lynch said, because at the time, there wasn't much information or training about how to raise heart rates without beating on the body.

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