Twenty days ago (technically, 21 days ago), I embarked on something I've tried to do before and failed mercilessly at multiple times: Jillian Michaels's 30 Day Shred. If you don't know who Jillian is, she's well known for being one of the trainers on The Biggest Loser and has earned a reputation for being, how to say, tough.
That's one of the nicer words I can think of for her. At least, it was back in the earlier days. Now, I think I kind of love this woman for that very reason.
A friend convinced me to join in with her to do the workout video. As I mentioned before, I've failed at doing this numerous times. Usually, I get to day 2 or 3 and say I'm not strong enough, I'm a failure, I'm way too out of shape, [insert other excuse of choice here for why I quit]. But I thought, well, I can try again. I mean, I've failed before and I've come to accept that as part of how things roll.
Before I explain a whole lot more, here are some things you should know about me. If the average US woman is a size 14, I am slightly larger than that. Over the last couple of years I've really changed a lot of my habits in terms of eating and fitness, and as a result, I've lost something like 50 pounds (it's hard to say precisely since I am something like 70 or 80 pounds lower than my highest weight in 2008). I eat fairly healthfully, meaning lots of fruits and vegetables, very little white meat, no red meat at all, little processed food, and I gave up drinking all forms of pop (though I do like a natural pop once in a while and do not tell myself no on it). I talked about how I incorporated a treadmill desk into my routine, and I made a habit of walking on it most days for at least a mile (usually at a 20-25 minute/mile pace). I don't have any health issues, aside from a pair of weak ankles from injuries way back in the day. The short version: I'm a healthy but shapely lady.
The 30 Day Shred is set up in three different levels, each building upon one another, and each level lasts for 10 days. Each level consists of three circuits, and each circuit is made up of three different sets of work outs. You do 3 minutes of strength training, 2 minutes of cardio, and 1 minute of abs in each of the circuits, for a grand total of working out roughly 25 minutes. This includes a warmup, which is essential, and a cool down that I found pretty worthless. Jillian leads the work outs, but she has 2 girls who help her out throughout, one who does modifications to the moves and one who does advanced modifications to the moves (my advice is to ignore her -- though she cheats more than once and so that might help with your own self esteem). To do the workout, you should have a pair of hand weights, but they are not essential to the video if you do not have them. I began with 2 pound weights.
Level 1 of Shred looks like this:
- Warm up: arm crosses, windmills, jumping jacks, hip circles, knee circles, jumping jacks.
- Circuit one strength (3 minutes): 30 seconds of push ups, 1 minute of squat and press and repeat
- Circuit one cardio (2 minutes): 30 seconds of jumping jacks, 30 seconds of jump rope, and repeat
- Circuit one abs (1 minute): 30 seconds crunches, 30 seconds reverse crunches
- Circuit two strength (3 minutes): 30 seconds dumbell row, 1 minute static lunge with bicept curl, and repeat
- Circuit two cardio (2 minutes): 30 seconds butt kicks, 30 seconds punches (my favorite!) and repeat
- Circuit two abs (1 minute): side crunches
- Circuit three strength (3 minutes): 30 seconds chest flies, 1 minute anterior raises and side lunges, and repeat
- Circuit three cardio (2 minutes): 30 seconds of each of the previous cardio moves
- Circuit three abs (1 minute): bicycle crunches
So while it sounds unintimidating (because come on: jumping jacks, anyone can do those!), I'll be honest: I did not make it through the entire work out on the first day. I quit at the start of circuit three, feeling like I was going to keel over on the floor and never get up again. I felt awful physically because everything hurt and awful emotionally and mentally because I could not get through the first level. I took it at that, got mad at myself, and put it away for the day. My thinking was that I at least DID a work out, which is more than I was doing before. Even if it sucked.
And then I spent the next day in horrific pain, hardly able to walk, and absolutely dreading day 2 of the work out (which is the same thing). I worried I'd be completely defeated again, unable to get through the workout, and then I'd give in to one of those excuses and quit all together. When I say I could hardly walk, I mean I could hardly walk. I won't tell you how ugly it was trying to move around the house, let alone getting in and out of chairs. Everything hurt. Every. Thing.
I started day two though, and after talking with a friend about how she modified some of the moves, I decided that rather than feel completely defeated by the things I could not do during the circuits, I was going to make modifications on them and be okay with it. I could not do a pushup for the life of me. Not even a modified one (you know, knees on the ground, only lifting some of your weight). I decided to do wall pushups instead. It's still an exercise with resistance, but it wasn't going to require quite as much of me and would make me feel like I was doing something even if it wasn't quite what they were doing on the video.
Day 2, I got through the entire level. I was absolutely dead at the end, but rather than let myself get defeated by something like being unable to do a modified pushup, I just did something I could do. Same went during the first circuit of cardio: although I could do all the jumping jacks and could do the jump rope, I had a very hard time doing them in conjunction with one another. Like, my muscles couldn't coordinate them right. So rather than be frustrated, I substituted the jogging in place for the jump rope. Much better. Day 2 was still ugly, and the resulting feeling the day after of pain, pain, and more pain didn't go away. The worst pain on that day was in my quads, followed by intense knee pain. Just so you know where we're standing at now.
But something clicked about day 3 for me. I think it was the fact that I knew I was in so much pain that quitting would feel like I was in pain for nothing and the fact that I'd given myself permission to tackle things as I needed to tackle them, but day 3, I got through the whole work out. And I even did a couple of pushups on the floor without the wall (not all of them, just a couple!). But that was more than the day before. I also made sure to wear good shoes while working out which helped significantly with the knee and quad pain in subsequent days.
After day 3, the work out got easier for me. It didn't ever get easy through the next few days of the first level, but I felt immediate differences in my endurance and in the ability I had to get through the things I failed spectacularly on in the first days. Let me repeat this and make it very clear: I was in a lot of pain. This is not an easy work out. A good friend of mine who is a runner said that she prefers running three miles to doing 20 minutes of Shred because it is easier. So contextualize that.
The physical changes though were near immediate for me. I knew going in that I wouldn't lose much, if any, weight during the program (despite the claims on the box, I have a hard time believing anyone could actually lose 20 pounds on this). But I weighed myself, and then I took measurements on day 2 of the program. I measured my upper arms, my chest, my waist, my hips, and my upper thigh.
At the end of day 5 of the circuit -- three days after my initial measuring -- I had lost an inch in my arms, one in my chest, half an inch in my waist, one in my hips, and half an inch in my thigh. Not too shabby. For me, taking those measurements was incredibly motivational. I felt my clothes fitting a little bit better, too. But it was at the end of day 10, which is the final day in level 1, where I found myself actually somewhat eager for level 2. I'd lost two inches in my arms, one in my chest, one and a half in my waist, three in my hips (!!) and an inch and a half in my thigh. I had to buy new pants. It was pretty fantastic.
More than that, though, I felt great. I could get through the entire level without dying (it still hurt like hell, but I made it through). My endurance had definitely increased throughout, and I could do all of the pushups (modified on the floor) by the end. Maybe most exciting for me was how awesome my skin looked. I've always had less-than-amazing skin, but my skin had a really nice glow to it and was very clear and bright. Talk about a huge ego boost.
I took a day off to rest between levels, and then when I started level 2, I found myself back where I was with level 1: I could hardly make it through. It sucked. It was awful. I felt like all I had done in level 1 was for nothing and I wrote a teary email to more than one person about how I felt like a failure and I wasn't strong enough.
OF COURSE I WAS, but being thrown back into that insecure, weak place in level 2 was a reminder that there was still a lot I could improve on. But knowing what I knew about how I worked in level 1, I decided that day 2 of level 2, I would be making modifications as needed. I won't lay out the movements in level 2, but they are significantly more challenging than level 1, and many of them involve plank pose (which if you have weak wrists, well, they're tough is all I can say). As I made those plans for modifications, though, the other thing I did was set goals for myself. By the end of day 4, I told myself I would be doing 70% of the plank twists (which is the last ab movement in circuit three of level 2). By day 5, I would do them all. Setting those mini goals within the bigger goals motivated me, and I achieved them.
Today is my last day of level 2, and aside from moving up from the two pound weight to the three pound weight in this level, I feel like I learned a lot about how much I can push myself. The pain, I will say, has been non-stop during this level, but it's an entirely different kind of pain than in level 1. This time, it feels like there is constant tingling in my abs, in my hips, in my thighs and my back.
But the results? As of earlier this week when I measured -- and I plan on measuring when I finish day 10 of this level today -- I'd lost 3 inches in each arm, 2.5 in my chest, 3 in my waist, 5 (actually, 6, since I did measure there yesterday) in my hips, and 3 in each of my thighs. I guess if you measure that all up, it's over 24 inches total.
In 20 days.
There are ten days left for me, and I am not going to lie: I'm terrified of what I'll feel like after the first day of level 3. I am prepared to suck at it, prepared to cry at the end when I feel like I've just sucked it up. I've already given the heads up to my support folks they're going to probably hear me whining about how I can't do it. Except, I know that after doing this for 20 days, I can do it for another ten. I just have to make the modifications I need to make when and where I need to make them because it's as simple as this: any movement is going to be better than no movement. Moreover, I know that by day 4 or 5, I'll turn a corner again and by day 10, I'll feel like I've got it. I'll also measure again and hopefully see some movement, even if it's simply in the way my clothes fit.
Now the part everyone probably really wants to know. I've laid out how I did it, but I have a ton of caveats for anyone who wants to do this:
- Jillian is tough as hell, but she is ultimately very encouraging. She will tell you she wants you to feel like you are going to die. But she does it because it is MOTIVATING. It is normal to feel like you are going to die. That means it is working.
- Follow the movements. I previewed the levels before doing them, and I tried out the moves before doing the entire level. This helped ensure I was doing the movements correctly with good form. It would be VERY easy to get hurt if you hurry through things without making sure you are doing them right.
- This is killer on the knees, on the joints, and on every muscle you can imagine. Be prepared to hurt. Be prepared to pop pain reliever (I found myself taking them before working out, which helped). You will be working things you didn't know could hurt. That's normal. But also pay attention to your body's cues -- if you know you're hurting more than simply workout pain, take it easy on yourself. Don't kill yourself. Not worth it. Modify, modify, modify, and take a day off here and there if you need to. Take breaks (short ones) during the circuits if you need to.
- Hydrate. I drank a glass of water before and a glass of water after, and obviously, plenty of water throughout the day. I work out first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, and it works for me. But other people might find themselves feeling ill because of this. If that's the case, eat.
- Be motivated by other people's progress but do not use it as a yardstick. My results are huge. Your results might not be the same in terms of numbers, but you have to find out what it is that will be a measurement of success for you. Is it fitting into smaller clothes? Is it getting through the entire level without dying? Is it simply working out every day? Pick something and use it. Then be surprised and pleased with the other outcomes (like the amazing skin!). Note here: I did not lose a single pound on this work out. In fact, I gained a couple pounds.
- Choose how hard core you will be. I chose not to diet at all. I chose to eat what it was I wanted to eat, when I wanted to eat it. I have had insane cravings for peanut butter and saltines (which makes sense -- the protein and salt). I ate them. You can choose to overhaul your entire diet, too, but for me, that felt more like punishment than a commitment to fitness. Your mileage may vary.
- Be okay with making modifications. This is insanely important. Do not berate yourself if you have to change things to make them work for you. I am very easily demotivated by things like this. But changing that attitude was key. Also? If you need to stay on a level longer than 10 days, there is nothing wrong with that. If you need to go back to a level since the next one is simply too hard? No shame.
- Maybe the most important thing is this: have support. I do not know what I would do if there were not other people doing this with me that I could vent to and celebrate with. This is not easy. Jillian will tell you that. But what made the difference for me this time against all of the other times I've tried this and failed was that there were people who could cheer me on and tell me I wasn't a failure when I felt like one. For me, that was enough push to do it the next day and the next day and the next. Of course, if you're getting support, give it back. I personally find giving pep talks as encouraging, if not more encouraging, than getting it.
There are ten days left in the program for me, and I've been asked what my maintenance plan is when it's over. Almost as if this is the end of things. But it's not. I feel so encouraged by my progress that I don't want to stop at all. I bought Jillian's Ripped in 30, which is similar to Shred and I plan on tackling that next. Then maybe I'll move onto one of her other videos. As much as I hated the woman at the beginning of this, I have found her to be the right level of what I need in a video instructor: she's tough but she pushes because she knows that's effective. At least for me. I'm motivated by being told I should feel like I'm going to die (there's something comforting there).
Now that you've made it this far, the long and short of it is this: I think it's worth it. It's not going to be for everyone, though. It's tough, and it's a killer on the body, especially if you have any health/physical limitations. The thing is, if you're willing to put in the work, even via making modifications, it is absolutely worth it. It's only 25 minutes of your day.
I say it with utter sincerity: if someone in my shape can do it, I suspect most people can do it. Jillian has worked with people on all sides of the weight and fitness scale. I trust her ability to know what works and what doesn't, and I never felt like there was something impossible in the work out. Just very challenging and maybe not achievable for me -- just yet.
DVD dusted off from my shelf at home.