Music, Popular, Then & Now
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Songs We Worked Out To in the ’80s (If We Worked Out At All)

Aerobic Lady from Buns of Steel (Photo: YouTube)

Back in the 1980s, working out wasn’t inextricably linked to music, the way it is today. There weren’t Zumba songs or “Jock Jams.” We didn’t listen to playlists oriented by BPMs. We didn’t have a handy, clippable iPod touch. Yes, we had our Sony Walkmans, but I had nightmares of trying to “jog” with that thing affixed to nylon shorts and watch it crash to the ground.

While the ’80s saw the advent of aerobics, and Jane, and Olivia, of course, we did our jumping jacks to whatever music was bouncy. I remember taking a “dance fitness” class in 8th grade and my young teacher playing the Moody Blues “Tuesday Afternoon,” which we thought was the coolest thing ever, if completely inappropriate for Jazzercise.

So we conducted a purely unscientific poll of friends, asking people what music they worked out to back then, and found a wide range of tunes — from the obvious to the obscure.

We say, whatever moves you.

Good For:  Aerobics 1.0 

  • “Can You Feel It” — The Jacksons Everyone remembers the Jane Fonda workout record (yes, we worked out to a record), but who remembers the music —  from the Jacksons to “Stomp” by The Brothers Johnson.
  • “It’s Raining Men” — The Weather Girls The clarion call for the lady workout.
  • “I Will Survive” — Gloria Gaynor “At first was afraid, I was petrified…”
  • “We Are Family” — Sister Sledge Kathy Sledge actually taught an aerobics class in Philly, which always felt like life imitating art.
  • “YMCA” — The Village People Along with the all-important semaphore.

Good For: Doing Jazzercise with Mom

  • “I’m So Excited” — The Pointer Sisters

Good For: Twirling in Your Bedroom in an Off-the-Shoulder Sweatshirt 

  • “We’ve Got The Beat” — The Go-Go’s Belinda Carlisle’s side-to-side swirl dance is the perfect new wave workout
  • “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”  Wham Dancing in your most awesome “Choose Life” t-shirt.
  • “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” — Cyndi Lauper How much do 15 rubber bangle bracelets weigh?
  • “Flashdance (What a Feeling)” — Irene Cara TueNighter Jennifer Ha remembers spraining her ankle in an aerobics class to this song. “What a feeling, indeed.”

Good For:  Twirling in Your Dorm Room

  • “Radio Free Europe” — R.E.M. Weirdly danceable.
  • “Don’t Go” — Yaz If this doesn’t make you move, nothing will.
  • Anything by the Simple Minds
  • “Going Down to Liverpool” — The Bangles The All Over the Place cassette on an endless loop in college.
  •  Purple Rain, the album — Prince

Good For: Walking Out for a Smoke

(I mean, right? Everyone smoked back then.)

  • “Ride the White Horse” — Laid Back While we won’t indulge in song meanings, this song is dope.
  • “Tesla Girls” — Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark  A classic.
  • “I Need You Tonight” — INXS One TueNighter clarified that it was clove cigarettes she smoked, often while listening to this song and making out with her future ex gay boyfriend.
  • “Word Up” — Cameo I live for Larry Blackmon’s ” Ow.”

Good For: Your Boyfriend in his Nylon Track Suit

  • “Eye of the Tiger” — Survivor Just a man and his will to survive.
  • “The Final Countdown” — Europe Was once voted as one of “The Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever.” And G.O.B. Bluth brought it back.
  • “Gonna Fly Now (Theme to Rocky)” — Bill Conti No one remembers that Rocky actually loses.

Good For: Jogging. In a Jog Bra. (And Other Phrases We Don’t Use Anymore)

  • “Caribbean Queen” — Billy Ocean We have some other thoughts on Billy Ocean.
  • “Owner of a Lonely Heart” — Yes And yes, people really worked out to this.
  • “Blue Monday” — New Order Still a perfect workout song.

Can’t get enough? We’ve compiled a bunch of these into a handy Spotify Playlist:

So what were your go-to songs? Share in the comments below…


  1. Jessica says

    LOL… this is hilarious. Love it! Survivor, Go-Gos, All Over the Place, yes!

  2. I don’t see Olivia Newton-John’s Let’s Get Physical which is of course a classic in leg warmers and sweatbands.

  3. Margit Detweiler

    Funny thing Amy, we had it in there but I took it out because she was so fundamental! You are absolutely right. The women who kicked it all off…

  4. ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ – The Bangles for sure and there always seemed to be something off Queen’s ‘The Game’ in any Aerobics class (let’s not even talk about Jazzercise)

    As for smoking songs – easy one for me: Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie…White Horse is a good one though. Now I can’t get it out of my head.

  5. Wow – memories! My favorites were The Hungry Wolf – X, Let’s Have a War – Fear, Take on Me – aHa, California Uber Alles – Dead Kennedys……..

  6. Omg, what a fabulous walk down memory lane. My BFF and I were studying martial arts together in the early 80’s. Our anthem was Eye of the Tiger and object de lust was anything Prince.

    Even though I’m now 60 (!), there are days I feel stuck in the 80’s. Love your site.

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  9. Shelly "Splinters" Rabuse
    poes says

    What? No Lover Boy Working For the Weekend?

    No Hunters and Collectors?

    No B-52’s???? What else would you twirl in your to?

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  19. Dona Marrone says

    Instant replay by Dan Hartman
    Was one of my favorites. I taught aerobics for 10 years in the 80s. Everything was choreographed!

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