Jane Fonda
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Celebrity Fitness Gurus We Can't Forget

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Jane Fonda
Harry Langdon / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

You Can Do It!

Getting in shape has never been easy, a fact that isn't lost on the multi-billion-dollar fitness industry. And whether you hit the gym or prefer to workout at home, motivation can be in short supply. That's where celebrity trainers come in: With their boundless energy and enviable physiques, they've become a pop-culture staple. Here are some of the fitness gurus who have sweated their way into our hearts over the years.


Related: Which At-Home Exercise System Burns Calories Fastest? 

Richard Simmons
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Richard Simmons

If you ever enjoyed "Sweatin' to the Oldies" with Richard Simmons, you're in good company. Known as much for his flamboyant personality and tiny shorts as his home-based workouts, Simmons was especially popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s — and his videos often featured regular people getting started on their own fitness journeys. After that, it seemed like he was everywhere, from David Letterman to Howard Stern, which made his disappearance from public life in 2014 so notable that a podcast was devoted to unraveling the mystery. Simmons recently posted some of his old videos to YouTube during the pandemic, but has largely remained out of the spotlight.


Related: Fitness Programs Adults Over 50 Can Do at Home

Jane Fonda
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Jane Fonda

What hasn't Jane Fonda done? Equally known as a serious actress, political activist, and fitness icon, Fonda followed film roles in the ‘60s and ‘70s with a series of hugely successful aerobics videos in the 1980s. Vogue even says "Jane Fonda's Workout," released in 1982, remains "the best exercise class out there" (and even if you're not up for a workout, it's worth watching to appreciate the leg warmers, leotards, and feathered hair). Fonda has remained in the limelight, continuing to star in film and TV including Netflix's "Grace and Frankie." She hasn't shrunk back from politics, either, and was arrested in December 2019 during a climate-change protest a day before turning 82. 


Related: The Biggest Exercise Mistakes You Can Make After 50

Billy Blanks
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Billy Blanks

Was there anything more late-‘90s than Billy Blanks and Tae Bo, Blanks' eponymous mashup of martial arts, boxing, and pumping music? Blanks reportedly created the workout while sweating it out to the "Rocky" theme song, according to Sports Illustrated, and soon had a runaway hit on his hand: Tae Bo workout tapes made a whopping $80 million less than a year after their 1998 debut. Blanks is still preaching the gospel of Tae Bo, and has a virtual training center at Tae Bo Nation


Related: The Biggest Diet and Exercise Fads of the Past Century

Kathy Smith
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Kathy Smith

This inescapable fitness icon of the ‘80s and ‘90s began teaching a more athletic style of aerobics in the late ‘70s, eventually creating a formidable library of exercise videos, books, and products responsible for more than half a billion dollars in sales. She's been on QVC, "Oprah," PBS, "The Today Show," you name it — and she's still churning out fitness content. Her daughter was an Olympian in Rio de Janeiro in 2006, where she competed in the 800 meters.  


Related: Fitness Myths to Debunk for Your Next Workout

Jack LaLanne
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Jack LaLanne

This "founder of the modern fitness movement" was ahead of the curve in countless ways. He opened a gym and juice bar in 1936, pumped iron even as doctors said lifting weights would give people heart trouble, and made his TV debut all the way back in 1951, sometimes working out with brooms and chairs. LaLanne's show would run for a whopping three and a half decades, and he became even more ubiquitous for hawking exercise equipment, books and videos, vitamins, and an infomercial staple, the Power Juicer. LaLanne died in 2011 at the age of 96.


Related: The Best and Worst Fitness Products of 2020

Charles Atlas
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Charles Atlas

Before Jack LaLanne came Charles Atlas. Atlas, whose real name was Angelo Siciliano, transformed himself from a skinny "97-pound weakling" who came to America without one word of English to become one of the nation's first fitness stars. In the '20s, the newly muscled entrepreneur began hawking an exercise program by mail. His "Dynamic Tension" program, which relies on self resistance, made him a household name, as did widespread print advertisements and a modeling career in which he posed for statue after statue. Atlas died in 1972 at the age of 80. 


Related: Lies Fitness Trainers Tell

Judi Sheppard Missett
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Judi Sheppard Missett

The woman who created Jazzercise in 1969 initially flopped as a dance instructor. She launched a jazz dance class that didn't stick with customers — but when some of them explained they only wanted to look like pro dancers, not undergo rigorous training, she tweaked her formula and created a fitness hit that boomed in the ‘80s with more than 1,000 certified instructors teaching in all 50 states. Today there are still 8,500 franchises nationwide, and Missett's daughter Shana is the president of the company — though Missett still taught three classes a week at age 75.


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Suzanne Somers
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Suzanne Somers

"Three's Company" made Suzanne Somers a star, but it was the ThighMaster that kept her relevant as its infomercials took over the airwaves throughout the 1990s. Alternatively knocked as a waste of money and praised as a cheap but effective fat burner, the ThighMaster has shown remarkable staying power: It's still readily available on Amazon (along with several knockoffs). The seemingly ageless Somers has kept herself in the public eye, too, competing on a recent season of "Dancing With the Stars" and pumping out tons more products, from cosmetics to supplements to cleaning supplies. 


Related: Celebrity Businesses That Completely Flopped

Chuck Norris
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Chuck Norris

Before the fearsome Chuck Norris became the star of ‘80s action films and the gloriously cheesy "Walker: Texas Ranger," he opened more than 30 karate studios and won several world karate championships. More recently, he has remained a familiar face as a spokesman for the Total Gym, which has another celebrity backer in Christie Brinkley. He has also cemented his status in pop-culture history thanks to the Internet's obsession with Chuck Norris jokes. (Example: "Chuck Norris doesn't get tested for COVID-19. COVID-19 gets tested for Chuck Norris.")


Related: Cheap At-Home Workout Staples

Arnold Schwarzenegger
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Arnold Schwarzenegger

Much like Jane Fonda, Arnold Schwarzenegger ended up doing it all, becoming an actor and a politician. However, his springboard to fame was definitely fitness: The Austrian bodybuilder won the Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia contests several times in the ‘60s and ‘70s before segueing into acting, most famously with 1984's "The Terminator." Of course, as history has shown, his third act was politics, and he was governor of California from 2003 to 2011. But he continues to act, and last reprised his role as Terminator in 2019.


Related: Celebrities That Have Dual Citizenship

Susan Powter
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Susan Powter

"Stop the insanity!" Australian-born Powter rose to fame in the early ‘90s with her plea to America's infomercial-watching couch potatoes: We could all become newly svelte with a low-fat diet and moderate exercise, not some overly complicated fitness regimen that would be impossible to follow for more than a week or two. Powter even had a short-lived talk show in 1994. Unfortunately, she soon ran into legal and financial troubles, filing for bankruptcy and battling for control of her trademark phrase.

Tony Little
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Tony Little

Another fitness-infomercial luminary, Tony Little had a long blonde ponytail and a seemingly infinite well of energy as he hawked products including the Gazelle and the Rock 'n' Roll Stepper throughout the 1990s and 2000s on HSN. The Gazelle spurred well over a billion dollars in sales, and is still on the market. Media-savvy Little has even gone on to parody himself (including his catchphrase, "You can do it!") on a GEICO commercial and in other venues. He also managed to sell plenty more of his products, from footwear to resistance bands, during quarantine.

Denise Austin
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Denise Austin

This former collegiate gymnast handily turned her love of fitness into a lucrative career, selling a staggering 24 million exercise videos, publishing a dozen books, and hosting a daily TV workout, always with her trademark pep and beaming smile. She hasn't slowed down, either, serving for years on the President's Council for Physical Fitness and Sports. Today, she's also a fitness ambassador for the AARP. Her daughter, Katie Austin, is following in her footsteps as a trainer and fitness influencer.

Jake Steinfeld
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Jake Steinfeld

Brooklyn-born Steinfeld never realized his dream of becoming Mr. America, but bodybuilding paved the way for a career training some of Hollywood's biggest names, including Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford. Soon, he had his very own network, FitTV, and the world was introduced to the wonders of "Body by Jake" in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He's stayed busy ever since, even helping found Major League Lacrosse in 1999 and telling jokes in a one-man show in Vegas in 2013.

Jillian Michaels
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Jillian Michaels

Jillian Michaels shot to fame beginning in 2004 as one of the original trainers on NBC's controversial weight-loss competition, "The Biggest Loser," which kept her in the limelight for several years. She has released several best-selling exercise DVDs and wellness books, and runs a personal-training app. She's also no stranger to stirring things up with controversial remarks, and in recent years has made headlines for everything from her feud with Al Roker over the keto diet to her perceived body-shaming of singer Lizzo

Tony Horton
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Tony Horton

We have Tony Horton to thank for creating the inescapable P90X, the high-intensity home workout regimen that has been promising couch potatoes newly ripped abs, limitless energy, and shocking before-and-after pictures since its release in 2005. Horton, who trained stars including Tom Petty and Billy Idol in the '80s, is still deeply enmeshed in the fitness industry, and went on to create P90X2 and P90X3. 

Jim Fixx
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Jim Fixx

Everyone who picked up jogging during the pandemic owes a debt of gratitude to Jim Fixx, who made running a hot trend in the 1970s. His 1977 book, "The Complete Book of Running," spent 11 weeks at the top of the New York Times Best Seller list, and he won fans to the sport with his story of how he started running in 1967 and eventually kicked a two-pack-a-day smoking habit and shed 60 pounds in the process. Though Fixx died of a heart attack at age 52 while jogging, the sport is survived him, as its still a fast and (mostly) free way to get fit.


 Related: 19 Far-Out '70s Fads That Have Made a Comeback