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That time when Toronto TV was fit for aerobics

Posted by Ed Conroy / January 8, 2013

20 minute workout TorontoIt's that time of the year again when the gluttonous excess of making merry has to be atoned and gyms are brimming over with new puffy faces who probably won't last a month. While Good Life memberships or Jillian Michaels and Skinny Bitch DVDs are the most common instruments for getting fit in the new year, there was time not all that long ago when local broadcasters were mad for fitness shows and created some amusing shows celebrating the art of getting fit.

In the sweaty wake of Jane Fonda's Workout, the VHS juggernaut of 1982, Fitness and aerobic workouts became as crucially trend defining to the 1980s as a sockless Don Jonson, leg warmers and "Just say no". Most famous and still fondly recalled three decades later was The 20 Minute Workout, a cheap as chips studio production from animation upstarts Nelvana, which aired on the still burgeoning Citytv and featured a bevy of spandex adorned beauties grooving with a pulsating electro soundtrack (later released on vinyl).

Only 2 seasons of 20 Minute Workout were produced- all 65 episodes were filmed at Magder Studios in Scarborough - however the series ran daily in syndication for years and developed a questionable cult following based mostly around "Aerobics Queen of the 80s," Bess Motta, who led the workout in its first season and also co-starred as Linda Hamilton's unlucky flat mate in the original Terminator (1984). While the show did wonders to raise the profile of regular aerobic activity, it was the mildly sleazy style in which the show was filmed and marketed that brought it so much infamy (one of the many unfounded rumours that plagued the show in the early days was that it's camera crew shot pornographic films in between aerobic sets, although with promos like the one below it's not hard to see why so many people were hoodwinked).

Although nothing matched the gargantuan popularity of 20 Minute Workout, there were many pretenders - The Fitness People, Fitness Break, Fit for Life and Toronto Today's daily installment of Flexercize with the breathless Vyvyan Campbell.

One of the more bizarre workout series was CHCH 11's Good Morning Workout which featured the host Pamela Callyer working out with her dog.

While the majority of shows were aimed squarely at young women, there were also fitness programs created at TVOntario aimed at both a much younger, and much older audience.

Around the same time, Participaction and the Province of Ontario were buying a lot of airtime to promote fitness and getting into shape with public service announcements like this:

It's mildly amusing to look back on what worked but mostly didn't in that decade as the initial rat race to monetize fitness kicked off and made so many people rich, especially 20 Minute Workout. It was the cash cow that built the house of Nelvana (although they would much rather acknowledge their vintage kid shows like Inspector Gadget and The Care Bears), and most likely gently ushered a generation of young boys into adulthood, but like so many other legendary Canadian TV series the legacy is mostly forgotten and unavailable, with only a handful of fuzzy bootleg DVDs and torrents floating around the darker corners of the internet. While the aerobic content is out-dated, those old episodes are a great time capsule of the fitness mad decade that was the 1980s.

Retrontario plumbs the seedy depths of Toronto flea markets, flooded basements, thrift shops and garage sales, mining old VHS and Betamax tapes that less than often contain incredible moments of history that were accidentally recorded but somehow survived the ravages of time. You can find more amazing discoveries at



Grimzeek / January 8, 2013 at 09:10 am
It's such a tragedy that during the time Nelvana made this over-rated paean to body fascism, they couldn't get any other original animated TV series out on the air besides an aborted Doctor Who show and a few specials. I'd rather watch what they have on the air now than this dated tripe.
Hurst / January 8, 2013 at 09:28 am
I've had that Body Works song in my head for 30 years now. Knee socks and Adidas shorts...good times.
sean / January 8, 2013 at 09:31 am
Four more, three more, two more, now take it up. Reach up, and up, up and up...
ROB FORD / January 8, 2013 at 09:36 am
I lost 10 pounds to the 20 minute workout..the hard way.
W. K. Lis / January 8, 2013 at 10:08 am
Oh Grandma, what did you do when you were young?
Skye / January 8, 2013 at 10:08 am
!!! My mother, like so many suburban moms, used to do the 20-minute workout on a daily basis (and in her case, they worked). I used to love watching them, because 5-year-old me thought the ladies were so pretty and glamourous. Of course, I never realized it was so softcore at the time...
perv / January 8, 2013 at 10:15 am
I preferred Men in Action in CHCH. Hot gay porn type guys in too short shorts and on occasion their junk used to fall out.
Malcolm replying to a comment from Grimzeek / January 8, 2013 at 10:43 am
Pipe down, fatty.
Hamish Grant / January 8, 2013 at 10:56 am
Oh, Bess... Laurie... Arlaine... so many hours of my teenage years spent mesmerized.
Jacob replying to a comment from Grimzeek / January 8, 2013 at 11:24 am
Body fascism? Wow.

Anyway, when I was a little kid, I looked forward to 20 Minute Workout coming on the TV. Of course, I turned it off as soon as the trippy intro was done. I didn't care about the aerobics, I just wanted to see those hypnotizing graphics.
Todd Toronto / January 8, 2013 at 11:42 am
Don't just think about it, do it, do it, do it.
timeoutofmind / January 8, 2013 at 12:18 pm
can those graphics give you leukemia ?
John / January 8, 2013 at 12:24 pm
I'm not alone when I say this was my first wank material, sadly.
Bess / January 8, 2013 at 05:02 pm
Thrilling morning glory was had by all
Nicholas Moreau / January 8, 2013 at 07:10 pm
FYI, Nelvana acquired the company behind Inspector Gadget, they didn't create it. Care Bears, yes.
Nina Amazing / January 8, 2013 at 11:30 pm
Check out some art that was inspired by this sexercise craze. start from das beginning (n stuffff)
Tom / January 9, 2013 at 01:09 am
I'm glad someone else mentioned Men In Action. It was the same as the 20 Minute Workout except with hot 80s porn-type men. This only mention I can find on the internet is a VHS tape "Men in Action: Standing Cardio Aerobics." The VHS cover does not do it justice.
Grimzeek replying to a comment from Malcolm / January 9, 2013 at 03:20 am
Fuck you, buddy. Not everybody can be as thin as you, even if they work out three or more times a week. We all have fixed body weights based on our genetics, and making yourself thin just to suit what society thinks is ideal is bullcrap. Also, the so-called 'obesity plague' is a load of bunk, and you know it, or at least should know it.
McRib replying to a comment from Grimzeek / January 9, 2013 at 03:53 am
up for your 3am feeding?

put down the sausages.
Grimzeek / January 9, 2013 at 04:09 am
When and how I eat is none of your business.
Malcolm replying to a comment from Grimzeek / January 9, 2013 at 09:31 am
Did you sweat much while mashing the keyboard with your sausage fingers?
Andrew L. / April 19, 2013 at 10:27 pm
Da-na-na-NAAAAA-NA! (Body Break!)
Karen / July 25, 2015 at 12:39 am
Loved walking up and down Yonge St. Popping into the Yonge Station. Gasworks then Piccadilly Tube and visiting Yorkville
Patricia / February 5, 2016 at 05:24 pm
I miss these shows, and being older don't do a thing for the waist line. I can remember being a kid doing these workouts every day, with these ladies, the guys and yes even the Simmons dude. I do wish they'd bring it back. I find we live in a world where young girls think being in shape is be all and end all of being young and attracting a mate, back in my day we did because we loved the music, instead of dancing to it we exercised to it, gave us some wild moves on the dance floor too lol. I say bring back Aerobics for syndication and I'm sure one the word is out, the ratings will over flow, as long as you provide a great workout that anyone can follow in a living room setting, as well as being slow paced for us older gals Tee Hee
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