America's passion to stay fit is becoming a private affair. Bypassing gyms and health clubs, many people now prefer to do their exercising at home--just them and their VCR.
Exercise tapes are much in demand on the videocassette market, with sound advice for every size, shape and situation. The do-it-yourself fitness boom can be traced back to 1983, with the release of Jane Fonda's first "Workout" tape, which showed that something other than movies can make it big on home video.
Many have followed suit, including such personalities as Raquel Welch, Debbie Reynolds and Pat Boone, and fitness experts Richard Simmons, Kathy Smith, Callan Pinckney, Jake Steinfeld and Deborah Crocker.
Convenience and privacy are the biggest advantages. And, as one consultant put it, "Some people will use these in the privacy of their rec room, where they wouldn't dream of going out in a leotard in a group."
While some call it a fad, sales charts indicate otherwise. Preliminary figures for June, according to Billboard Magazine, show Fonda's "Low Impact Aerobic Workout" and "New Workout" and Pinckney's "Callanetics" outselling everything except the film "Top Gun," while Smith's "Body Basics" and Welch's "A Week With Raquel" make it five fitness videos in the top 10.
Workout tapes are but a part of a "how-to" video surge. There are tapes to help you find a job, buy a home and defend yourself. You can learn about cooking, landscaping and woodworking, how to overhaul your car, fix a leaky faucet or buy a home computer.
Industry sources say "how-to" videos made up 14 percent of all sales last year and are showing the greatest growth potential for 1987.
Fitness videos, representing by far the biggest chunk of that business, sell within a wide price range, from $15 to $40, though some are as low as $9.95. All carry a warning: This exercise is not for everyone, so get your doctor's approval before starting.
Fonda is leading the field, as usual, with her sixth offering, "Low Impact Aerobic Workout," buoyed by a huge advance sale, which mirrors the latest trend in exercise.
"Low impact" exercises are more like marching or quick walking, which helps if you have shin or ankle problems, while standard aerobics employ running or jogging. Both have the same goal: to burn off excess calories and to strengthen the heart. Low impact, Fonda says, is "gentle to the joints."
An alternative to aerobics, and a sharp contrast to the Fonda friskiness, comes from Pinckney, 47, a fitness teacher who turned a best-selling book into a best-selling video, "Callanetics," which promises to "make you feel 10 years younger in 10 hours."
She goes about it with a series of slow, gentle, precise movements designed to tone the body, with, as one observer noted, "no bounce or flounce."
Smith's low-impact "Body Basics" is a clever routine that contains isolation exercises for the arms, stomach, buttocks and legs. Her "Ultimate Video Workout," a more difficult program, is also on the charts.
The effusive Richard Simmons is riding high with his "Silver Foxes," designed for older folks. Its workout crew consists of parents of famous people, including his mother, who proclaims, "I'm 75, and I feel great."
Simmons also has several others on the market, including "Get Started" and one for the physically restricted, "Reach For Fitness."
Welch's "A Week With Raquel" involves seven 15-minute sessions, one for each day. "A little bit every day is better than a whole bunch every once in a while," she said.
Steinfeld, known for his "Body By Jake" TV spots and as trainer to the stars, takes an athletic approach in "Energize Yourself," a good workout for both men and women.
Crocker is featured in The Esquire Great Body Series, leading a variety of exercises, some general and some for specific areas, such as "Super Stomach" and "Dynamite Legs."
Dr. James Garrick, who helps develop the Fonda exercises, thinks "low impact" exercises are safer than standard aerobics, because "it's harder to abuse yourself."
But Garrick, director of sports medicine at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco, also said regular aerobics are safe when done properly.
"Both increase the heart rate. But the goal in the (low impact) program is to get your heel down on every step," he said. "Some people complain that with standard aerobics, you're on your toes too much. With low impact, both feet are never off the ground at the same time."