80’s Workout Tips | Fitness Wisdom from the 1980’s


My fitness journey began in the summer of 1987…

I was 17 and my older sister’s boyfriend Russ saw my home gym. He told me I would never gain muscle unless I lifted big weights in a “real gym”.

He suggested I join the gym he trained at with his brother Randy.

Russ and Randy were huge!

They looked a lot like the Barbarian Brothers (bodybuilders who starred in really bad 80’s movies).

barbarian brothers
(I was a geeky Anthony Michael Hall type of guy… and these were my new workout partners.)

The whole thing was really bizarre.

Russ would pick me up in his blue Camaro and would make fun of me for wearing a seat belt…

“Only small guys like you get hurt in car accidents. Me and Randy don’t need to wear seatbelts.”

What is crazy is that both Russ and Randy drove ambulances at night. They saw what could happen in a bad car accident.

They also knew how queasy I would get when they talked about blood.

“Hey Randy…tell Rusty about how that skinny guy’s scalp came part way off in that car crash last night.”

I would turn ghost white as they laughed.

If I complained, Randy would hit me in the nuts.

I’m feeling traumatized just writing about this. Time for a quick 80’s video break before I continue.

I don’t want to paint a bad picture of these guys.

People loved Russ and Randy!

Seriously, they almost had their own fan club.

It was near impossible to walk anywhere with these guys, without one of them getting stopped.

“Dude how much do you bench?”

I’d patiently wait as Russ and Randy talked about lifting weights with the random person (new fan).

Lifting with these guys was insane.

I would lift less than half as much as them, but they were always encouraging and never made fun of the weight I was using.

I still have never seen anyone as strong as Russ in person.

  • Seated military press with 275 pounds for 5-6 reps.
  • Incline press 365 pounds for 5-6 reps.
  • Barbell rows using more weight than most guys deadlift.

I eventually went away to college, but continued to train with Russ and Randy each summer…until 1992.

These charismatic muscle-heads taught me a ton about training.

In 5 years, I completely transformed my body with weight training and have been hooked ever since.

Fitness Wisdom from the 1980’s?

]I’ve noticed a repeating pattern over the past few decades when it comes to dieting and training methods:

  1. Guru “discovers” a new method (backed by a scientific study).
  2. New method becomes trendy.
  3. All methods used before the new one (mysteriously) do NOT work anymore.

There’s a lot we can learn from the past.

In my opinion, a larger percentage of people were lean and fit in the 1980’s compared to today.

I could be wrong…

It just seemed like every young adult was lean.

The training methods we used back then were quite a bit different than what is trendy today.

]I don’t want to dismiss the new breakthroughs in health and fitness, I just want to revisit some things that worked well for us in the 80’s.

Some of the 80’s gold I’ll cover:

  • The benefit of eating low-fat or non-fat when you want to create a large calorie deficit to drop body fat.
  • Using isolation exercises to laser-focus your attention on squeezing and contracting a muscle group.
  • “Bulking up” in an intelligent way to build muscle. Why having periods of higher calorie intake ensures metabolism stays revved up year round.
  • Getting lean eating plenty of carbs and why we were taught to avoid ketogenic diets back then.
  • How a mix of free weights and machines will help you reach your maximum potential for size and/or definition.
  • Focusing on insulin and glycemic index the past 10-15 years sounds intelligent…but is making the process of fat loss harder than it needs to be. Calories in and calories out is what mattered most in the 80’s.
  • Low intensity steady state cardio (walking) is extremely effective for losing body fat without interfering with strength gains and muscle recovery.
  • Eating 5-6 small meals per day isn’t necessary to get lean, but may help when it comes to maximizing protein synthesis for muscle growth.
  • 3-day body part splits are an effective way to increase the volume for each muscle group. A good workout variation when size is a major focus.

We have definitely learned some things since the 80’s. I’m not dismissing that at all.

You may just want to experiment with a few of these techniques to see if they help you hit your goals faster.

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What fitness methods did rockers, new wavers, jocks, preppies, punk rockers, metal heads, and dweebs use to get lean in the 80's?
What fitness methods did rockers, new wavers, jocks, preppies, punk rockers, metal heads, and dweebs use to get lean in the 80's?
80’s Workout Tips | Fitness Wisdom from the 1980’s