I tried Richard Simmons’ 20-minute throwback workout — and it was surprisingly effective

Richard Simmons' 20-minute cardio workout on a TV
(Image credit: James Frew / Tom's Guide)

I usually work out with weights. Over the past few years, I gave up the gym, got a set of adjustable dumbbells and a kettlebell, and now normally do high-intensity resistance training (HIRT) sessions to work my muscles even when I don’t have a lot of time.

Though, I’m not always in the mood for an intense workout. Sometimes I do it anyway, but it can make it difficult to stay motivated. However, I recently heard about the new Zumba app for home-based dance workouts, and it got me thinking about other forms of exercise I could try.

That’s when it clicked — I’d do a classic Richard Simmons routine instead. Simmons, a popular fitness trainer in the 80s and 90s, has an incredibly upbeat and motivational style, and the fun-focused sessions are a long way from my normal weight training.

He used to have regular slots on daytime TV, and while you can find his sessions on DVD (if you still remember those), his team uploaded a substantial amount of Simmons’ older routines to his YouTube channel in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic. So, I found a 20-minute cardio workout and got started.

Watch Richard Simmons’ 20-minute cardio workout

Simmons’ inclusive style is perfect for beginners, so you don’t need any equipment or experience to get started. Some loose clothes that you can move around in will do if you don’t have dedicated workout gear and a yoga mat can help, but all you really need is a few moments and a bit of space.

1. It was actually a lot of fun

I’m a strong believer that you should enjoy your workouts if you want to make it a regular part of your day. After all, if it feels like a chore or a punishment, you won’t feel motivated to keep doing it. And Simmons is great at making you feel at ease and like you can relax during the session.

There were a few moments when his vocalizations actually made me laugh, but rather than throwing me off, it helped lighten the mood so that I didn’t take the whole thing too seriously. At the end of the 20 minutes, I felt a different, more breezy, kind of happy than I usually do after exercising.

The upbeat soundtrack helped. This session is actually a couple of segments from Simmons’ routines from the early to mid-80s, so the music is of its time, but it felt more like exercising to Lionel Richie’s classic Dancing on the Ceiling than lifting weights to Eminem’s Lose Yourself.

2. It made me more confident

I don’t enjoy dancing. I’ve always found it strange because I love music, but I find myself worried about my ability, so I tend to nod along at concerts rather than let loose, and I shy away from the dance floor at parties and weddings.

But in my own space at home, I felt free to lean into the dance-inspired workout. I didn’t get every step right the first time, but it felt liberating to just move without worrying if I was doing it right or what everyone would think of my poor coordination or delay in picking up the steps.

Of course, we don’t have a switch that flips us from nervous to confident, but this routine felt like a way to ease into the practice without being judged. If I did it regularly, I imagine that I may (one day) even feel comfortable attending a group class.

3. It was more like yoga than you’d think

Okay, so I can see why you’d question my thinking here. After all, Richard Simmons’ high-energy heart-rate-raising cardio sessions seem a world away from the calm, mindful experience of yoga. But there were a few similarities.

Simmons doesn’t make you do high-impact exercises like running on the spot or burpees. Instead, most of the routine is done while standing (except for the last few minutes on the floor), and although the pace is different, the exercises were really more like stretches.

There were lunges, chest openers, and classic warm-up moves like donkey kicks and fire hydrants. The focus was on developing an awareness of your body, utilizing your core (the collection of muscles around your stomach that connect your upper and lower body), and stretching.

This is not a million miles away from the foundations of yoga. Simmons’ class is faster, so it’s worth pausing the routine to practice the steps and perfect your form, but otherwise, it’s a good introduction to some of the moves you’d find in a beginner’s yoga routine.

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James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is Tom's Guide's Fitness Editor, covering strength training workouts, cardio exercise, and accessible ways to improve your health and wellbeing.

His interest in fitness started after being diagnosed with a chronic illness, and he began focusing on strengthening his core, taking regular walks around the city, and practicing meditation to manage the symptoms. He also invested in fitness trackers, home workout equipment, and yoga mats to find accessible ways to train without the gym.

Before joining the team at Tom’s Guide, James was the Fitness Editor at Fit&Well, where he covered beginner-friendly exercise routines, affordable ways to boost your wellbeing, and reviewed weights, rowing machines, and workout headphones.

He believes that exercise should be something you enjoy doing, so appreciates the challenge of finding ways to incorporate it into everyday life through short muscle-building sessions, regular meditation, and early morning walks.