Jillian Michaels is not kidding around.
She says so herself, right around the third circuit of the second level of her 30-Day Shred program, when you're drenched with sweat and your muscles feel like half-set Jell-O.
I bought the DVD on impulse, reeled in by its reputation for quick results, its attractive sale price, and its length: 20 minutes, plus a short warm-up and cooldown.
The program consists of three progressively more challenging levels, each composed of three circuits: three minutes of strength, two minutes of cardio, and one minute of abs. I set out to spend 10 days on each level, with the goal of coming out the other side leaner, stronger, and, hopefully, still breathing.
Thirty-some-odd days later, here's what this Shredee has learned.
- Start at the beginning. Granted, I'm not the poster child for fitness, but even if you think you are, heed Jillian's advice in the DVD intro: Start at Level 1 and progress as you feel ready. By Day 6 on this level, I witnessed major improvements in my endurance (read: I didn't collapse in a sweating, moaning heap after the cooldown segment).
- Pace yourself. Even following my 10-days-on-each-level plan, I jumped the gun when moving from Level 2 to Level 3 and probably would've benefited from a few more days of prep. Take as long as you need to feel strong in your current level, even if it means your 30-Day Shred becomes more like 52 days (or more).
- Get comfy. There is nothing precisely comfortable about the exercises themselves, so make the best of it. If you're working out on a hard surface, you'll need a mat for the abs circuits. Invest in a good sports bra, and wear nonrestrictive workout clothes and good shoes. As for hand weights, the only other equipment the Shred calls for, consider starting on the lighter side and moving up as your strength improves. Keep a water bottle within easy reach; there are no breaks here and you'll have to hydrate quickly between segments.
- Push yourself. If you want to get a solid workout in 20 minutes, you have to give it your all—and then some. Don't worry, just when you think your arms are going to fall off or your knees are threatening to buckle, it's time to move on to the next circuit.
- Cheat, if you need to. One of Jillian's two cohorts, Anita, is there for just that purpose, showing the modified, lower-impact versions of some of the tougher moves. When you feel stronger, you can shift your attention to Natalie, who showcases the no-holds-barred routine, usually, somehow, with a smile on her face.
- Watch your form. Jillian and company will show you the proper way to manipulate your body without doing any major damage. Be aware of your knees, especially when you get to plyometrics-happy Level 3, and scale your efforts back if you experience knee pain.
- Don't get too hung up on the numbers. Twenty pounds in 30 days? No. Results? YES. They manifest less on my bathroom scale than in the mirror, however, coming first in the form of tighter calves, then better-defined shoulders, a flatter stomach and the reappearance of my long-lost waist.
- Bottom line: You'll suffer, you'll sweat, and you'll feel it the next day. Even if you don't drop pounds as quickly as you'd like, you will see a dramatic improvement in your endurance and strength.
And that's reason enough to let Jillian kick your butt for a month.