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Pumping Retro Iron with the 1985 Hulkamania Workout Cassette Tape

Steroids not included!

Even as a six-year-old child in the mid-1980s, I knew there was something suspicious about the Hulkamania Workout Set. After all, there had to be something fishy going on with the WWF Champion’s signature workout collection if the Hulkster couldn’t be bothered to film a commercial for his product, and instead delegated that duty to his errand boy “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff. It’s no wonder Orndorff got sick of Hogan, turned against him and gave him a piledriver in the middle of the ring; it’s probably all owed to the embarrassment he felt for having to represent this repurposed selection of bargain-basement workout products made in Taiwan.

When you open up the “Deluxe” Hulkamania Workout Set and evaluate the contents offered therein, it quickly grabs you that the foundational piece of intellectual property within the box is clearly the 40-minute workout cassette narrated by Hulk Hogan. It certainly isn’t the two neoprene-coated 3-pound dumbbells, the grip-strengthener, the headband, the wristbands or the children’s jump rope

What sort of training advice was the Hulkster doling out to children ages six and up?

Well, once you get past the Hulk Hogan theme song — the Rocky-IV-training-montage-inspired theme music from the Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling cartoon, which sounds like it came out of Vince DiCola’s reject pile — the Hulkster himself chimes in and introduces himself as the WWF Champion. He then effortlessly coasts into promo mode, declaring himself to be “6-foot-7 and three inches from heaven,” which is apparently reached at a height of 6-feet-10, and also “three-oh-five and can whip any man alive.”

Hogan gets over “The Three Demandments of Hulkamania” by insisting that he eats his vitamins, says his prayers and exercises every day. (Unfortunately, neither Hogan’s children’s vitamins nor his real-life vitamins were included.) From there, he explains that he requires the presence of good, strong tag-team partners to help him take down the heel cast of Rock ‘n’ Wrestling: Big John Studd, the Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. The way you can be of benefit to the Hulkster is if you get in shape so that you can watch his back.

Enough editorializing: We all know you were a Randy Savage fan! What did Hogan say about training?

He said he would still have performed his standard “hangin’ and bangin’” at the gym and eat all the proper foods even if he wasn’t a professional athlete. He also advises you that building a strong body takes time, and he hopes that the Hulkamania workout set is sufficient to get you started, which is a proper piece of guidance, as you certainly shouldn’t be under any illusions that 3-pound weights are going to provide you with a set of 24-inch pythons… Brother

Finally, Hogan advises Baby Hulksters like you that workout equipment shouldn’t be confused with toys, and that you aren’t to goof around with training devices that were clearly specially designed (read: cobbled together from odds and ends left sitting around a Taiwanese factory).

This is all pretty responsible advice the Hulkster is dishing out!

I haven’t got a single complaint thus far.

Next, Hogan instructs you to dress properly and to seek out a spot where you have lots of room. He also advises you to select a convenient time to work out because exercising just before bed can cause you to stay awake longer than you’d like, and that training after a meal can have negative consequences for your body. Finally, Hogan suggests seeking out the guidance of an adult before beginning his training program and to consider acquiring a workout buddy

What does the workout consist of?

The overall workout has been divided into four sections: 

  1. Warm-up 
  2. Stretching 
  3. Workout
  4. Cooldown 

Fortunately, a poster has been provided so that you can follow along with the pictures displayed on it — and what pictures they are! Each image is a drawing of Hogan in his Rock ‘n’ Wrestling style, performing every stretch and exercise, and all while wearing his championship belt.

After providing more quality training advice — specifically that you should track your progress in a log book — Hogan leads a five-minute warm-up consisting of running in place, jumping jacks and jumping rope. (Hogan frequently interrupts the energetic 1980s music to rant about remaining focused.) Once the warm-up concludes, Hogan orders you to look at his workout poster and select three stretches to fill the next five minutes with, which leads me to my first legitimate gripe about the program. 

Hogan may have been following the accepted pattern of 1980s strength training, but the training industry is now virtually unanimous in its belief that no static stretching should be conducted prior to strength training. This way, you can avoid the injuries that stem from stretching a cold muscle, as well as not disrupt your body’s natural stopping points during the eccentric phases of lifts. Of course, you can’t fault Hogan for not possessing settled knowledge decades before it was settled, so he earns a free pass for what would today be considered a fitness faux pas.

Now it’s time for what you’ve been eagerly waiting for, as Hogan yells, “Let’s go pump some neoprenes iron!” He advises you to begin with three sets of six reps, and then work your way up to 10 reps per set as you get stronger. As far as which workout you’ll be doing, Hogan tells you to select either Training Block A or Training Block B, and then to switch over to whichever block you didn’t select during your prior workout, after taking one day off to rest and recover.

Here’s what Training Block A consisted of:

  • Chest: Bench presses from the floor; dumbbell pullovers while reclining on your bed (!)
  • Shoulders: Military presses; shrugs
  • Back: Bent-over deltoid raises
  • Arms: Overhead tricep extensions; standing bicep curls; wrist curls
  • Legs: Squats; calf raises; front leg lifts
  • Abs: Lying bent knee raises

And Training Block B:

  • Chest: Chest flys from the floor; push-ups
  • Shoulders: Side laterals; upright rows
  • Back: Single-arm dumbbell rows
  • Arms: Concentration curls; wrist reverse curls; tricep dips
  • Legs: Side leg lifts; back leg lifts; lunges
  • Abs: Sit-ups

That’s quite a few resistance movements the Hulkster is administering to the youth!

For its era, this workout is actually very comprehensive, and if a fitness novice followed this routine safely at a gym, they’d probably experience noticeable and impressive results within two to three months. More impressively, by illustrating the Hulkster performing chest flys on the floor, this workout was decades ahead of the curve with respect to protecting its users from the pectoral tears they might have experienced while executing that movement from a weight bench. 

On the flip side, in terms of what would now be considered outdated: These days, sit-ups are almost universally panned as an abdominal training tool due to their propensity to cause injuries. The same is true of upright rows. Also, bent-over deltoid raises are generally factored in as a shoulder exercise, but I suppose this routine was limited to only a few back-training options inasmuch as it couldn’t presume that its followers had access to pull-ups bars, let alone the strength to use them.

Now let’s get to the hilarious part: You could never convince me that Hulk Hogan spent any portion of his precious training time lying on the floor executing leg raises like Jamie Lee Curtis in Perfect. No way. Not even if you paid him Right Guard money.

“I’m gonna help you sculpt a killer backside, little Hulkster!”

Nearly as funny is the fact that a few of the Hulkster Hints clearly contradict what’s being illustrated on the poster. For example, the squat illustration depicts Hogan with his heels conspicuously elevated off the floor while he’s concluding the eccentric phase of the movement — and yet, the Hulkster Hint admonishes you to keep your heels on the floor.

“Do as I say and not as I do, Brother!”

Finally, the image of Hogan doing dumbbell pullovers while lying on his bed, with his ring boots securely tied to his feet, must be acknowledged. My mother wouldn’t have been pleased with me if I’d followed this example.

“Make sure the bottom of your shoes are clean!” 

For the record, the song that plays throughout your neoprene-pumping session sounds like something straight from the soundtrack to Super Castlevania for the Super Nintendo. Fun fact: Around the 30-minute mark, Hogan terrifies all of the tiny children struggling their way through his prescribed fitness routine by threatening to personally bodyslam them if they dare to give up.

Following the primary training portion of the tape, Hogan growls you through a brief cooldown session, recommends you look for additional opportunities to exercise — like riding a bike, swimming or doing chores around the house — and encourages you to use the hand gripper throughout the day, as if he remembered at the last instant that grip strengtheners were included in the package.

So what’s the verdict?

Frankly, I’m stunned by how not awful this workout is, and how legitimately beneficial it would be to a novice lifter, or even to some intermediate lifters — just as long as they ignored the illustrations, researched the proper techniques for several of these exercises and replaced the lifts that would now be classified as dangerous with safer alternatives. 

Don’t get me wrong: Anyone relying on the included equipment to carry their physique into a new era of physical supremacy is going to be disappointed, especially any mid-1980s children who expected to look like a chemically enhanced Thunderlips in a few short weeks. 

There’s only so far you could get with six total pounds of weights, a grip strengthener and a jump rope that was already probably too short for half of those who broke the seal on the box. However, as far as the training advice being completely reasonable relative to the era it was provided in — if not spot-on — the Hulkster delivered a five-star performance.