A 20-Minute Workout That Actually Works

by Melissa Kirsch
Originally Published: 
The 30 Day Shred/YouTube

For those in a Peeps coma who are wondering what the hell happened to their New Year’s Resolutions, take heart. You may not be able to fit into all your adorable spring clothes right this second, but in 30 days you will. We at The Mid have tried nearly every fitness craze out there—from Jazzercise to SoulCycle and everything in between—and we hereby present a very easy workout that actually works: The 30 Day Shred. The hardest part? You just have to get over your aversion to Jillian Michaels.

Jillian Michaels: So Easy to Hate

Among people who care about Jillian Michaels at all, there are two equally passionate schools of opinion: those who think Jillian is a monster—a shouting, bullying caricature of a drill sergeant who abused her Loser contestants and cheated by giving them caffeine pills to speed weight loss—and those who think Jillian is nothing short of a savior—an inspiring, generous fitness instructor and life coach who actually cares about her clients and fans and, most importantly, whose fitness advice actually works.

I’m not ashamed to admit I fall squarely into the latter category: Jillian Michaels transformed my relationship with exercise. She changed how I feel about working out, made me question what I thought my body was capable of, and got me into shape in a way that years of running, crash dieting and membership at every gym in Manhattan did not.

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“The Biggest Loser” Is Jillian at Her Worst

Most people know Jillian from CBS’ The Biggest Loser, the tacky and occasionally inspiring show where people work out all day with tough-loving trainers on a California ranch and compete to see who can lose the most weight.

There’s no question that The Biggest Loser—like proms and ranch dressing—is an embarrassing, uniquely American spectacle, and Jillian’s affiliation with it, while invaluable for establishing her brand, is a valid reason to want nothing to do with her.

But if you spend any time in the forums on My Fitness Pal, arguably the best fitness tracking website and app out there, you’ll meet Jillian’s most ardent supporters. These (mostly female) devotees gather to express their love for “America’s Toughest Trainer,” to post shots of their transformed bodies before and after doing Jillian’s workouts, and to share tips and encouragement for surviving those very workouts.

The 30 Day Shred is a miracle

Jillian has created dozens of workout DVDs, but the one I want to talk about is her crown jewel, her Abbey Road, her 2008 masterpiece, The 30 Day Shred. The format of the Shred is simple: three 20-minute workouts, each consisting of intervals of strength training, cardio and abs. You do each workout for ten days, then move on to the next (harder) level.

I don’t know how it is possible that working out for 20 minutes a day can actually have measurable results (I have heard it has something to do with the miracle of interval training) and I actually don’t really care. All I care about is that it works.

I first tried The 30 Day Shred about a year ago. I had just gotten a Fitbit Force (and, yes, the attendant rash) and had gotten back to running after a hiatus that was supposed to be a week and had turned into a year. I was on one of those fitness kicks you have to seize when they arrive, because Real Housewives-and-takeout rationalizations are always waiting in the wings, ready to re-emerge as convincing lifestyle choices.


What couldn’t I do for 30 days? How painful could 20 minutes of working out be? And I wasn’t as out of shape as many of the MFP “before” photos, so maybe I’d even find it easy!

Even if you’re in decent physical condition, the Shred is very hard. The exercises seem deceptively simple: “I can do jumping jacks! I can do bicep curls! This is child’s play!” you think.

But at the relentless pace Jillian and her sidekicks Natalie (who does the advanced version of the moves) and Anita (baby version) run through the exercises, the cumulative effect is one of exhaustion. There are no rests—as Jillian says, “You don’t get to do a 20-minute workout and take a break. It doesn’t work that way.”

A Kinder, Gentler Jillian

The Jillian you encounter in The 30 Day Shred is hardly the bellowing taskmaster she was on The Biggest Loser. This Jillian is chill; she’s encouraging but she doesn’t bullshit you by telling you how awesome you are or how great you look. She’s just like you—she feels stupid doing hip circles too, she’s so inflexible she can barely touch her toes—only in a lot better shape, which makes you trust her.


Thankfully, there’s none of that criminal personal trainer-as-psychotherapist crap the trainers pull on The Biggest Loser where they insist you talk about the deep well of pain inside that stops you from being thin, and there’s no silly catchphrase nonsense. (Witness Jen, aka the New Jillian on this season’s Loser, with her asinine, “There are two places people operate from. It’s either fear or love.” Ew.)

Jillian is only the tiniest bit new-agey, but she earns it: “I know you feel that little knot in your stomach…that is fear leaving the body,” she informs you during the final ab set of Level 1, just before you finish and collapse in a quivering heap.

A Workout That Works

When I finished my first round of the Shred last December, my body was significantly more toned. My belief that I was physically incapable of pushups and burpees had been vanquished. I began Shredding again last week to jump-start my lackluster autumn exercise regimen, and I’m falling in love with the workouts and Jillian all over again.

I still hold fast to my belief that it is undignified for any self-respecting adult to engage in an exercise called a “rockstar jump,” but The 30 Day Shred in toto is so transformative, so easy to fit into my schedule and so entirely satisfying all the way through (I was sore from Day 1, and started to notice changes in my body by Day 3) that I can put up with the silliness of some of the moves.

I am not sure that I can put up with my downstairs neighbor, who banged on my door last night and threatened to slug me if I kept jumping around over his head, but at least I will be in shape when I inevitably have to fight him.

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