Exercise is a Gift: Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred

Sunday, September 7, 2014

It's when I'm at the bottom of up-down planks that the cat always takes a dive bomb at my fists, pulling sideways at the last possible second. My heart is pumping, I'm flailing around in a pool of sweat, and Z thinks this is party fun times. Maybe in this case, the cat actually knows best. It's all about attitude change.

...but it started with weight changes. I got back from my 12 weeks in Japan the skinniest I'd been since high school. Too skinny. Something about perfectly sized portions, the largest bag of potato chips being only slightly larger than American 'fun size', minimal dairy, cups of matcha green tea instead of snacks, taking 12 hour walks nearly every weekend, and being under an incredible amount of stress all contributed to this unintentional weight loss. So when I got back home I pretty much immediately adopted an I-eat-what-I-want attitude reminiscent of a quote from Caitlin Moran's 'How to be a Woman': "...Let Christmas last forever! Every morning can start with two mince pies, served with cream, six miniature heroes, and some Pringles! It's Crisp-mas!". It was Crisp-mas every day, but someone forgot to tell my metabolism.

By May of the following year, I was sitting in a five hour car ride back to Philly, and I could feel my back fat rolls lying on top of each other for the first time in my life. I imagine this is not a sensation most people are aware of because they are either (1) too thin to have back fat rolls or (2) have had their back fat for long enough that the sensation isn't new. But it was new for me. And uncomfortable. It meant I went from the boniest version of myself in April 2013 to the least-skinny version in April 2014. Pile that on top of stalled dissertation misery, some pretty terrifying family health issues, and I wasn't exactly what one would call healthy.

After a couple months I got sick of being miserable. I started putting some of the pieces back together by constructing routines and reinforcing positive behaviors with rewards (like I'm the damn cat), but it worked, more or less. I'm more often than not, not miserable.

Part of this routine involved dusting off my old copy of Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred that I'd never opened and actually doing the damned thing. Starting to exercise when you're out of shape is really not pleasant.

Living Room Turned Workout Space
Z werkin' it

The Format

Each set of exercises in the 30 Day Shred is broken into 20-25 minute levels which consist of warm up, {3 minutes strength, 2 minutes cardio, 1 minute of core workout} times three, and cool down. So there's 9 different 3-2-1 circuits total on the DVD. The video recommends that you do Level 1 for 10 days straight, then Level 2 for 10 days, finishing with Level 3 for 10 days. No rest days, and no breather breaks allowed in the middle of the 20 minute exercises. Something about keeping an elevated heart rate for 20 minutes straight being more effective for calorie burning. Who knows. Since I intended to form a longer term habit, instead of just a one-off 30 day experience I actually only did the video 3-5 times a week, taking every weekend off (no jumping on the floor when the downstairs neighbors are home!). Muscles get built while resting, so there's really no reason to do weights every day.

Pro Tips

Experts of this video will note that you can pretty much do these levels in whatever order you want. Maybe doing a different one everyday. Some crazies even do multiple levels back-to-back. I tended to only move on to a new level when I could complete the previous one without dying. In some cases (I'm looking at you, Level 2), it meant that I was stuck on one level for four weeks. When I got through all three levels, I'd start over again with heavier weights. Connoisseurs will also note that once you're familiar with a level, you should turn off Jillian's volume and play your own music playlist over it. I like Jillian alright, but how many times do you need to be congratulated on being well on your way to getting shredded? This is my current workout playlist, it's constantly changing so your mileage may vary:

You can view each of the three levels of the 30 Day Shred online: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3, if you'd like to preview the exercises before splurging on the $9 DVD. I like the convenience of just having to turn on the DVD player. You'll notice that there's lots of jumping involved (aka "cardio") throughout. Level 1 has the most reliance on lifting weights, Level 2 relies mostly on plank exercises (ugh), and Level 3 mostly seems to add weights to exercises you did before.


Starting a new habit is hard. It's even harder when you go from couch potato to attempting push ups, lifting weights, and untold quantities of crunches. Basically, everyone will agree that the first day of Level 1 is nearly impossible. Then you'll be sore for days afterwards. This is all true. But it gets easier, you just have to hang on. And then you start Level 2 and it's a struggle, although not quite as bad. The same with Level 3. If you can just get through the first two weeks, it gets easier to continue the habit, especially as results start rolling in.

When I started, I couldn't even do many half push ups, because it hurt my wrists! Weeks of swinging around spaghetti sauce jars fixed that up. Now I can actually challenge myself to do deeper half push ups and someday lots of legitimate push ups. I can focus on pushing myself instead of focusing on form and whether or not my wrists will give out. Progress.


Aside from the video, you'll also want to make sure you have a yoga mat (for your knees), something to pass as weights, and sneakers. The ladies in the video use 3 lb weights, but you do what you can and keep working upwards with heavier weights. I started using 1.5 lb spaghetti sauce and cans of beans, and bought some cheapo 2lb weights at Target after two months of commitment. Now I've craigslisted some 5lb weights, and it's a bit agonizing. When I went from the 2lb weights to the 5lb weights I was surprised that it wasn't impossible. I guess all those body resistance plank moves in Level 2 really helped. The next day, my arms were quite sore but still not as bad as from my first day of Level 1 with the 1.5 lb weights. So, it gets better. Nowadays I start with the 5lb weights, but if I can't finish I switch to the 2lb weights. This makes the 2lb weights really challenging.

A word of warning: you really must wear shoes. I didn't for my first month, and ended up straining my achilles tendon. There's just so much jumping involved, you really need something to cushion that impact. Shoes.

Hand weights: A <2 lb Can, 2lb, and 5lb
I realize fitness buffs are prejudiced against the pink dumbbell, but you've got to start somewhere...like with a can of beans.


Everytime I notice my inner thoughts complaining or dreading the upcoming exercise, I remind myself that this is a gift and I don't complain about gifts. If drinking is borrowing happiness from tomorrow, exercise is borrowing happiness from today, and I will eventually experience that happiness. That, and reminding myself that in 20 minutes I'll be done and I'll feel better afterwards helps. Setting and achieving goals is a good feeling.

After a month or so of dedicated effort, my brain stopped complaining during the exercise, and I started sort of enjoying it. Sort of. Once I started being able to see/feel my baby biceps and deltoids, staying committed got easier as well. So here I am, 3 months later. I still struggle with negative thoughts about this whole thing, but I keep doing it despite the thoughts.


I have no before/after photos, because to be honest, the differences are really barely perceptible. If you need some other motivating before/after shots or reviews, you can check out Adventures in Womanland, Nurse Loves Farmer, The Wonder Forest, Sunny with a Chance of Sprinkles or Meg Goes Nom Nom.

I may have gone from my heaviest back down to my (almost) typical weight, but it's not really that big of a difference. Maybe a quarter pants size. I'm a regular BMI, but I'd really like to fit into all my pants again, so I'm probably about another 1/4 pants size away from that. This program is likely better for toning than for losing weight, but I don't weigh myself nor did I change my eating habits too much (and as NerdFitness tells us, weight loss is 80% diet). So I've mostly seen evidence of toning. Muscle movement in my biceps where there wasn't any before. Baby deltoids when I lift my arms. I tell J I have chiseled belly fat, and while he doesn't believe me, there was some obvious shrinking of the perpetual food baby.

One of the best results is more of a mental outcome. By overcoming all the naysaying within my own head, I am reminded that I have willpower on a daily basis.
Lentils, Pickled Vegetables, and Iced Chai for Lunch
Post workout high protein lunch: lentils with fried egg, pickled vegetables, and iced chai.


Unknown said...

I started to work out about 5 months ago, after I started to notice my weight creeping up and having some weird health problems like a never properly diagnosed back injury. We've bought a pull up bar and adjustable weights that go from 1kg to 15kg, and my husband designed my work out program which is mostly lifting.

I feel stronger than I used to, and I can see some noticeable changes in my body (like the biceps you mentioned), but working out still feels like such a hassle, I hate watching what I eat and as soon as a weight doesn't feel difficult, it goes up so it never gets any easier.

I'm not sure if you plan on posting more about this, but I'd be interested in what you do as you progress. Are you planning on working some other work out videos into your routine?

missris said...

Making myself actually start a workout every day (or on the days I exercise) is pretty much the worse thing ever. Being halfway through or totally done reminds me that it's really not that bad. Dreading it is much worse than actually doing it.

h said...

Claire - 'Probably not going to post much more about my exercise routine unless something changes. This goofy 30 Day Shred thing is working for me at the moment, maybe you just need to find something that works for you? I will, however, be posting about some of my diet changes, most likely.

Missris - On most days, it becomes a chant of "It'll be over in 20 minutes. It'll be over in 20 minutes." Over and over again. But yeah, like most things, the dread is much worse than actually doing it. Except for my dissertation proposal. The dread was only about 3/4 as bad as the thing itself! Ugh.

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