Twenty-five years ago, Jaime Brenkus was a young fitness instructor looking to make a name for himself. He’d just been hired by United American Video Corporation, a North Carolina-based home-entertainment company that wanted to cash in on the new trend of at-home instructional exercise videos.
Brenkus, however, had something else in mind. “Back then, the focal point of exercise was to do 60 minutes at a time,” he tells me. “But everyone lives hectic lifestyles, and the first thing that gets pushed aside is physical fitness. So we tried to put something together that would be the antithesis of the 60-minute workout. We called it ‘8-Minute Abs.’”
Since that fateful day, Brenkus’ workout routine has been a punchline in blockbuster comedies, remixed over and over again and accumulated more than 70 million views on YouTube.
‘All Right, Let’s Get Goin’’
Looking back, Brenkus believes he and his team were way ahead of their time. “Experts in sports medicine now say that exercise is cumulative,” he explains. “You don’t have to do 60 minutes at a time; you can do eight, 16 or 32 minutes. Something is better than nothing, and more is better than something. So we got people moving, and it resonated because of that.”
The idea of being able to work out anytime, anywhere, was, of course, the thesis of the ubiquitous “8-Minute Abs” commercial. “The darn thing was played so much, it certainly became a fixture on TV in people’s homes,” Brenkus says. “Not many people were doing commercials for exercise at the time, especially for videotapes.”
“Suddenly, everybody and their mother were coming out with ab exercises that were only seconds long, never mind minutes!” he adds. “So we kind of started the whole time-oriented aspect of working out.”
‘This Will Never Hurt You’
Like the multitude of other at-home workout videos that came out in the 1990s, once the new millennium hit, “8-Minute Abs” could have easily faded into the ether. And given its production value, maybe it should have. “There was no production value whatsoever,” Brenkus says. “We basically went outside the production facility and said, ‘You know what, there’s a little pond here, let’s put the cameras right here and let’s just do it right over the pond.’ It was kind of a joke.”
Yet at the same time, that remains a significant part of its charm. “Maybe these days that’s kind of the allure of it, because it’s so early 1990s,” Brenkus theorizes. Certainly the soundtrack only added to the kitschiness. “Oh, you didn’t like the porn music?” Brenkus laughs.
Since Brenkus was trying to speak to “real people, with real jobs, real families and real lives,” he didn’t want to sound like every other fitness instructor out there. “I’m not a rah-rah type of person. I can’t see how an adult would actually respond to another adult screaming at them. So my approach was to be the voice of reason,” he says. “I wanted to be motivating and inspiring, but I wanted to do so as an adult.”
‘C’mon, Gang. Nice and Easy, That’s It.’
Brenkus’ hushed motivation has certainly led to some interesting YouTube remixes. “Oh my gosh, there are so many spoofs out there,” he says. “My mom got upset at the ‘23 Dirtiest Seconds of “8-Minute Abs,”’ where someone recut it to me basically stating, you know, ‘Ohh, right there, it’s not gonna hurt, nice ’n’ tight.’ It was the funniest thing, though, because it’s a total spoof.”
But Brenkus says none of the remixes compares to the biggest tip of the cap: the Farrelly Brothers using “8-Minute Abs” as a bit for Harland Williams’ psychotic hitchhiker in There’s Something About Mary.
“I mean, that was just an honor. If they put you in a movie, that means it resonated,” Brenkus says, adding that he met Williams 20 years later on a TV show. “We did a little bit of ‘8-Minute Abs,’ and he told me he actually ad-libbed that whole scene.”
“Every time that movie is on I still get phone calls,” Brenkus continues. “There aren’t many workout videos that have been included in pop culture as much as ‘8-Minute Abs.’”
‘Couple More. Boom. Right There. Nice ’n’ Tight.’
“People are still discovering it,” Brenkus says of the routine’s staying power. “My best friend’s 17-year-old son came home from track practice and told his dad the track team was doing ‘8-Minute Abs’ as a part of their workout. He tried to tell his teammates that he knew me, the guy in the video, but they didn’t believe him,” he laughs. “But here we are, with 17-year-old kids still discovering a video that’s older than them.
“Maybe it’s because of the cheesiness of it,” Brenkus reiterates. “But also from an exercise and physiology standpoint, it actually makes sense. No one can refute the moves — it works.”
That said, Brenkus admits that eight minutes of ab exercises might be overkill. “Abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym,” he says. “Nutrition is an extremely important component if you want abs; you can’t spot-reduce. So when we did ‘8-Minute Abs,’ my gosh, there are about 260 different flections and contractions, which is almost overkill.”
‘Keep Going. That’s It. Squeeze. Concentrate.’
As an inadvertent YouTube star, Brenkus hasn’t necessarily benefited financially from his success there. Case in point: While Brenkus hosts the video on his own YouTube page, it’s only accumulated around 4,500 views in four years; on the flip side, the other versions — uploaded by users who have no claim to the IP — have racked up 29 million and 15 million views respectively.
Brenkus has no hard feelings. “Some people capitalized on it, but it seems like others were just people who wanted to put it up for their own viewing,” he tells me. “So instead of shutting ’em down, we just said, ‘You know what? God bless ’em, let’s just make our own new ones and continue to get those views.’”
Plus, he adds, “You can’t take those cumulative 70 million views away. They’ve kept the word out there, so I think it’s an honor.”
Not to mention, he’s always had a bigger goal in mind anyway. “My work won’t be finished until everyone’s in shape,” Brenkus concludes. “So I’ve certainly got my work cut out for me.”