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One Retro 90s Exercise Craze You Won't Believe Is Popular Again

Thanks to YouTube, Billy Blanks—and his invention Tae Bo—is mounting a comeback.
FACT CHECKED BY Alex Daniel

Anyone who was around in the mid-to-late 90s will no doubt remember Tae Bo, the at-home VHS workout craze that combined synchronized aerobics and moves inspired by martial arts and boxing. ("Tae Bo" is evidently a portmanteau of taekwondo and boxing.) At the very least, night owls will remember the ubiquitous informercials featuring the exercise's energetic founder, Billy Blanks.

According to the promos, Tae Bo was the greatest workout ever invented. "The hottest gym in the United States belongs to seven-time world martial-arts champion Billy Blanks," touted former Olympian Dana Torres (talk about the 90s!) in one 1998 video. "Every week, thousands of people, including the world's top athletes and celebrities, crowd into Billy's world training center to train shoulder-to-shoulder with housewives, executives, and kids. They take part in an incredible new fitness system called Tae Bo! It's the rage of the fitness world!"

Tae Bo went on to sell millions of home videos and momentarily was crowned king of the at-home video fitness world, supplanting Richard Simmons, Jane Fonda, and Jazzercise. Of course, it faded away into the aughts, as newer trends such as the Insanity Workout, CrossFit, SoulCycle, HIIT classes, and other forms of fitness caught on.

Now, to be fair, many of the principles of Tae Bo never truly went away—until COVID-19 reared its ugly head, group classes like Zumba were on the rise, and kickboxing classes that feature punching and kicking have remained popular for some time—but the two words "Tae Bo" have since become synonymous with era best known for dial-up Internet, Monica Lewinsky, Y2K, and movies that could go by I Know What Urban Legend You Screamed About Last Summer.

But, you know, then 2020 happened. And while at-home fitness products such as Peloton exploded in popularity, so has Tae Bo. "When Tae Bo first came out, that's what it was all about—working from the inside out," Blanks explained to USA TODAY Sports last year, at the height of the pandemic. "Especially during these tough times, we're at mental warfare and my thing is, let me work you out to help you find a place of peace inside yourself to deal with everything, so that when you go back to normal life, you're feeling 3-4 times better."

Last year, Blanks emerged from obscurity to post a video titled Tae Bo "For Real," featuring a 25-minute workout. In place of the usual Tae Bo fanatics around him, he had his family. "This time I'm showing you a TAE BO 'For Real' Workout with my wife and daughter," he explained. "Us three want to encourage you and your loved ones to get off the couch and get those calories burnin'!"

To date, the video has been viewed more than 775,000 times. Since then, he's been posting a steady stream of Tae Bo workouts—the "SUMMER SLIMDOWN," the "WARRIOR WORKOUT," the "MOTHER'S DAY WORKOUT!"—and he's now got a devoted following of nearly a 500,000 subscribers.

Blanks is quick to give some credit to social media for his resurgence. "I think because of social media, fitness is in people's eyes, 24/7," he explained to Men's Health in a recent interview. "Back in the days, when I was coming up, it wasn't. But fitness is a household word now because of social media."

Now, if Tae Bo's not your thing—and you're in the market for a great new workout—here are some other great workouts you can do, courtesy of our own in-house training team:

William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more
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