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Fitness

The 47 Greatest Fitness Icons Ever

They've inspired us, instructed us, made us sweat buckets – but who takes the number-one spot?

47 Richard Tidmarsh

This is the guy who transformed Millie Mackintosh into the hyper-toned fitspo queen she is today. Follow his Instagram account – @richtidmarsh – and we guarantee you’ll feel instantly buffer. Honestly, tense your arm. It looks bigger, right? Yeah it does.

46 Mr Incredible

Sure, he’s made of pixels, but Mr Incredible’s journey from middle-aged sagginess to rediscovered buffness doubtless inspired many a dad to hit the gym and turn their steady physical decline around.

45 Samantha Briggs

Mancunian Samantha emerged victorious at the 2013 Crossfit Games – pretty much the toughest physical contest on the planet – and was duly crowned “The Fittest Woman On Earth”. She weighs 62kg but can deadlift 170kg which, frankly, is bananas. Her Instagram is well worth a follow if inspiring bad-assery is your thing: @bicepslikebriggs.

44 Jake Gyllenhall

When it comes to movie stars getting in shape for a role, Gyllenhall raised the bar preeetty high with his hyper-intensive training routine for boxing drama Southpaw. Hard to believe he was ever that scrawny kid in Donnie Darko. Size of ‘im!


43 He-Man

Alright, don’t laugh: made of plastic he may have been, but He-Man set many an ’80s kid on the path to buffdom – including Unbound’s in-house personal trainer (and competitive bodybuilder) Jonny Jacobs: “He-Man was my childhood hero!”

Fact: if you yell “By the power of Grayskull!” while working out in the gym, you’ll find yourself capable of incredible feats of strength.

42 My Name Is Jessamyn

Billing herself as a “yoga enthusiast and fat femme”, Jessamyn is helping dispel the idea that yoga is only for the svelte and skinny.

41 Rob Sulaver

Sulaver uses a deliberately ridiculous ‘bandana-wearing bro’ persona to get across serious, effective fitness info devoid of any dryness or condescension. Check out his website and you’ll know within seconds whether his “bro-hugz” schtick is for you or not. Typical post: “A video of me doing the coolest push-up you’ve ever seen…”

40 Neghar Fonooni

Air Force veteran Neghar is all about helping women not only change their bodies, but their attitudes to their bodies as well, via her blog Eat, Lift And Be Happy. If you’ve ever fantasised about a sun-kissed, salad-powered Cali lifestyle – or as close as you can get to that while living in Slough, anyway – Neghar is your woman.

39 Marie Purvis

Purvis is a pro trainer over at Nike, and if it’s perky, ass-kicking inspiration you’re after, you can’t get much perkier or ass-kickier than her wildly popular Instagram account: @mariepurvis.

39 Richard Simmons

Part ridiculous, part awesome, headbanded Art Garfunkel lookalike Simmons spend much of his childhood and early adulthood obese, and his battle to shed more than 100lbs transformed him into a flamboyant evangelist for getting fit. His series of Sweatin’ To The Oldies workout videos shifted millions, and helped make fitness fun and accessible in the process.

Over the course of his 35-year career, he reckons he’s helped humanity lose approximately 12,000,000 lbs. We’re not sure how he arrived at that particular figure, but okay, sure, let’s go with that.

38 Natalie Uhling

As head trainer for Under Armour, Uhling is a hero to anyone who likes their workouts served up tough, gritty and a wee bit aggro – because when your programmes have names like Roundhouse and Triple Threat, you’re not exactly a shy, shrinking violet. Follow her on Instagram for a daily dose of two-fisted fitspiration.

37 Bro Science


Ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek and wilfully offensive, Bro Science duo Mike and Gian simultaneously mock and celebrate the intensely macho culture surrounding ‘getting swole’ – and it’s made them internet superstars. So wrong, it’s right. And also still a bit wrong.

36 Shiva Rea

The creator of Prana Flow Yoga is an icon to millions of yoga fans around the world, and pretty much the living embodiment of the barefoot-on-the-beach, in-tune-with-the-universe ethos. Namaste, Shiva!

35 Popeye

“I’m strong to the finish ’cause I eats my spinach!” Generations of kids were taught about the direct correlation between nutrition and fitness by a rampantly violent, semi-incoherent, pipe-smoking sailor with disconcertingly massive forearms. If anyone’s planning a 2010s reboot of Popeye, can we suggest swapping the spinach for kale? Bit more ‘now’.

34 Paula Radcliffe

Technically, of course, Radcliffe is an athlete rather than a fitness-industry type – but if you were to put a face to distance running, it’s likely that face would be Radcliffe’s. Not a dry eye along the Mall as she approached the finish line of her last-ever London Marathon this year…

33 Nicole Winhoffer

Describing herself as a “fitness artist”, Nicole is the woman who personal-trained Madonna into ridonkulous shape, and is currently employed as adidas Women’s “global trainer”. As you might imagine, her Instagram account is cooler (and more popular) than most pop stars’ – lookit: @nicolewinhoffer.

32 Charles Atlas

Legendary US muscleman Charles Atlas (real name: Angelo Siciliano) was the first person to bring bodybuilding to the masses, via his 1922 workout course Health & Strength By Charles Atlas. For decades to come, Charles’ rippling physique would be used to market his legendary programme, designed to turn a “97lb weakling” into a swaggering strongman.

Basically, he was the original ‘swole bro’. (Spoiler: he was never actually a “97lb weaking”. It looked cool on the ads though, so they stuck with the fib.)

31 Mr T

Pity the fool who doesn’t think the roles of BA Baracus (in The A-Team) and Clubber Lang (Rocky III) made Laurence ‘Mr T’ Turead one of the workout icons of the 1980s. Pity the fool!

30 Marie Ellen Bowers

Marie trained Natalie Portman for Black Swan, and her ballet-themed fitness classes have resulted in one of the most gorgeous and coo-ed over accounts on Instagram – @balletbeautiful.

29 Kenzie From Out Of Blazin’ Squad

Chingford yoofs Blazin’ Squad may not have gone down in history as one of the all-time great hip-hop outfits (sample lyric: “See you at the crossroads, crossroads, crossroads; See you at the crossroads, crossroads, crossroads; See you at the crossroads, crossroads, crossroads; See you at the crossroads, crossroads, crossroads”) but James ‘Kenzie’ Mackenzie – the one all the girls fancied – has gone on to become a true icon of buffness on Instagram.

“When I started out,” he says, “I was a skinny, eight-stone kid; now I’m toned, I’m 13 stone, and I’m really happy with how I look and feel.” As he flippin’ should be – see his Instagram feed and let your jaw drop: @kenzofficial_.

28 Patrick Beach

Patrick’s searingly cool, rampantly popular Instagram account (@patrickbeach) is proof that yoga into Brooklyn hipsterism does go.

27 Hilary Swank

One of Hollywood’s most in-shape stars since making her breakout appearance in 1994’s The Next Karate Kid, Swank really cranked up the workouts for her Oscar-winning role in 2004’s Million Dollar Baby. You can’t fake looking like you could knock an opponent out in the ring, not even with the fanciest CGI in the world.

26 The Duracell Bunny

Spirit animal of long-distance runners everywhere.

25 Jeanette Jenkins

When your client list includes Alicia Keys, Kelly Rowland and Serena Williams, you’ve definitely ascended to the rank of A-list personal trainers. If you’re into your fitspo memes (motivational quotes over beautiful sunsets, that kinda thing) Jenkins’ Instagram account is an absolute goldmine: @msjeanettejenkins.

24 The Theme From Chariots Of Fire


Okay, yes, yes, this is a piece of music rather than a person, but if you’ve never been for a run with this on your headphones, you’ve not lived. Yes, you’ll feel ridiculous at first – a bit cringy, even. But once you’re past the first few bars and those massive Vangelis synths kick in… well, you’re gonna run faster and harder than you ever ran before.

23 Nia Shanks

Personal trainer Shanks is the behind the Lift Like A Girl movement, dedicated to getting women in shape without treating them like delicate wallflowers. “Become the strongest, most awesome version of yourself!” is her motto – hard to argue with that, innit.

22 Mark Fisher

With his loopy outfits, wacky photoshoots and “Ninja Master” persona, New York workout guru Mark Fisher is all about injecting a little fun – actually, a shitload of fun – into fitness. But there is method to his madness – “ridiculous humans, serious fitness” is his mantra.

21 Millie Mackintosh

Who’d have thought one of the champers-quaffing, polo-watching, gold-card-swiping stars of Made In Chelsea would evolve into one of the most inspiring fitness icons of the decade? Look, we’re as surprised as you are. If you’re not already doing so, you need to follow Millie Mack’s Instagram feed: @camillamackinstosh.

20 Jenny Hadfield

A running guru for people intimidated by running gurus, Jenny Hadfield has made distance running accessible to millions via her Running For Mortals and Marathoning For Mortals books and free online training plans. She’s become a go-to choice for running newbies, she says, because she still remembers what it was like “to be a young, chubby woman who hated running”.

19 The Green Goddess

Model and journalist Diana Moran earned her nickname thanks to her daily workout segment on BBC1’s Breakfast Time, which she unfailingly performed in a luridly green leotard. Her gentle, sensible workouts were aimed squarely at those who found her ‘rival’ – TV-AM’s Mad Lizzie (see number 14) – a bit much to take first thing in the morning.

18 Annie Thorisdottir

The Viking Queen of CrossFit, Annie can deadlift 363lb – more than twice her own bodyweight (152lb) – and trains for five hours a day, six days a week, before relaxing with cycling and swimming on her ‘day off’. She is spectacularly nails, basically, which is how she came to be crowned “Fittest Woman In The World” at the CrossFit Games in 2011 and 2012, and came second in 2014. You can witness the fitness over on her Instagram account.

Her name, by the way, translate’s as “Thor’s daughter”. Seems about right.

17 Mr Strong

Dude is strong. It’s pretty much, like, his defining characteristic.

16 Sohee Lee

Strength and conditioning expert Sohee Lee is the cheerleader-in-chief for an online community of women who, in her words, “eat for health and for enjoyment, lift heavy shit, and thrive in all aspects of out lives”. Her journal-like (and refreshingly un-vain) Instagram account is a must-follow: @soheefit.

15 Jen Selter

Proud owner of what’s widely regarded as “the best bum on Instagram” (sorry, Kim), 21-year-old fitness model Jen is the queen of the beflie. The New Yorker has inspired millions of women to tone their glutes to perfection – if you want someone to blame for this decade’s bottomless (fner) obsession with bumcheeks, Jen may just be your gal. You can join her 6.7million Instagram followers at @jenselter.

14 Mad Lizzie


Parachuted into ITV’s ’80s breakfast-telly show TV-AM as a direct response to the success of The Green Goddess over on BBC 1 (see number 19), Mad Lizzie instantly overtook her rival in terms of popularity, thanks to her reliably insane tracksuits and quadruple-espresso personality.

13 Craig David

He may not have bothered the pop charts in a while, but Craig David has expertly reinvented himself as one of the UK’s biggest fitness icons. The one-time tubby teenager is now ripped beyond belief, and his Instagram feed (180,000 followers and counting) is a major inspiration to anyone travelling along the sweat-soaked path to Buffsville.

12 Cindy Crawford


If Jane Fonda was the original queen of the home-video workout, supermodel Cindy was her heir. Her first workout video – 1992’s Cindy Crawford: Shape Your Body – shifted well over a trazillion copies, and two sequels did similarly well. If you worked out in your living room during the ’90s, chances are you did it with Cindy.

11 Fauja Singh

In 2011, Britain’s Fauja Singh became the first 100-year-old to complete a marathon – the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, in 8:11:06. He holds several age-bracket world records for distances from 100m up – in fact, he’s actually the originator of many of these records, as nobody his age had ever attempted them before. Now 104 (!), Singh retired from running in 2013. Which is, y’know, fair enough.

So if you’ve ever worried that you’re maybe too old to take up running….

10 Rich Froning

Controversial and ‘not for everyone’ it may be, but CrossFit is the unarguably the biggest fitness phenomenon of the decade, and Rich Froning is its undisputed champ. He’s managed to win himself the title of “Fittest Man In The World” an incredible four times, having triumphed at the super-intense Crossfit Games in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Rich’s favourite bodyweight training routine – should you fancy giving it a whirl – is five sets of 20 reps of the following: press-ups, squats, burpees, pull-ups and one-legged squats (performed on both legs). Hard. Core.

9 Michelle Lewin

“What motivates me? The mirror! There’s nothing more motivating than finding a new vein. That may sound crazy, but it’s true.” Venezuelan fitness model Michelle may be the hyper-glam queen of the Instagram selfie (you can join her millions of followers at @Michelle_Lewin_) but she’s very much the real deal in fitness terms.

8 Ellie Goulding

It’s been faintly surreal, watching electropopper Ellie blossom into Britain’s coolest fitness icon and the gym-fresh face of Nike’s workout range. But now she’s here, buffing up our Instagram feeds with a steady stream of hardcore fitspiration, we wouldn’t have it any other way. If you haven’t already, join her six-million-strong Instagram army at @elliegoulding.

7 Mr Motivator

Jamaican-born Derrick ‘Mr Motivator’ Evans was an instant breakout star when he hit GMTV in the early ’90s, thanks to his winning combination of technicolour spandex, bouncing bumbag and irrepressible energy. It was virtually impossible to stay sat on your sofa.

6 Jillian Michaels

Tough on the outside and pretty flippin’ tough on the inside too, Michaels is the firm-but-fair drill sergeant for a generation of women who want to get toned, not twig-like.

Thanks to million-selling DVDs, books, console games and a starring role on US weight-loss show The Biggest Loser (on which her teams won for 10 straight seasons), Jillian is an all-conquering one-woman fitness industry.

5 Kayla Istines

On the verge of becoming a household name at just 23, ex-personal trainer Kayla Istines has taken the internet by storm: 205,000 Twitter followers, 1.8 million Facebook fans and a whopping 3.1 million Instagram followers can’t be wrong.

The Aussie has built her reputation on just two ebooks (so far): Bikini Body Workouts and H.E.L.P Nutrition Guide, each costing $69.97 a pop. Pricey they may be, but Itsines’ legions of fans swear by them, and the global Cult Of Kayla continues to grow at an astonishing pace.

4 Rocky

Ain’t no training montage like a Rocky training montage.


3 Michelle Obama

Almost certainly the first First Lady capable of knocking out 30 burpees before 9am, super-toned Michelle Obama is on a mission to get her fellow Americans to lay off the fries and get a little exercise now and then. Her Let’s Move program is helping to steer millions of US kids away from a life of obesity, for which she ought to get whatever the American-lady equivalent of a knighthood is.


2 Arnold Schwarzenegger

Sure, there were bodybuilders before Ah-nold, but none of them had his charisma or his all-consuming drive to be the best ever. And once he graduated to fully-fledged Hollywood stardom, he introduced millions of ’80s and ’90s youngsters to the idea that, if you really work at it, you can turn yourself into an astonishing superhuman with arms that look like they could knock out a tank.

Little wonder that his image still graces the covers of fitness magazines to this day – or that he remains an inspiration to every new generation to hit the gym.

1 Jane Fonda

It was 1982, the dawn of the home-video era, and the US was on the verge of being overtaken by a mass fitness craze. Into this perfect storm appeared Workout: Starring Jane Fonda, a world-changing VHS and Betamax release starring the then 42-year-old Oscar-winning actress.

Going on to shift in excess of 17 million copies, it’s inarguably the single-most influential workout ever, launching legions of copycats and kick-starting a billion-dollar industry.

“It made it okay for women to have muscles,” says Fonda, who herself had embraced working out as a way to battle bulimia. Now 77, Fonda remains the consummate fitness icon, having inspired millions of older readers with her 2011 book and DVD Prime Time: Love, Health, Sex, Fitness, Friendship, Spirit – Making The Most Of All Of Your Life (bit of a mouthful of a title, Jane, but whatever, you’ve earned it).

She’s still hiking and hitting the yoga studio, putting her apparently-age-proof body down to “one-third good genes, less than one-third diet, and all the rest is working out.”

She’s the once and forever queen of leotards and leg-warmers, and we bow before her.

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