What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Around this time last year, I went to the gym two or three times a week. I had a routine: bop around on the elliptical for about 40 minutes, lift a five-pound weight for about 10 minutes, and then do a bunch of crunches in front of the mirror until I got bored.
My gym offered classes, but I’d arrive late and spend the whole time comparing my body to everyone else’s. It’s really hard to maintain proper downward dog form when you’re eyeballing your neighbor’s waistline. Even though exercise has always been important to me, I wasn’t really doing anything at the gym. I wasn’t getting fit, I wasn’t kicking butt, and I definitely wasn’t feeling good. In fact, I was barely breaking a sweat. However, I was spending $39 a month on a membership. For a place where I wasn’t really doing anything, the gym was really expensive. So I quit. And turned to YouTube. Though I’d previously only used the site to watch cats get stuck in tiny boxes, I knew there were at least a few vintage Jane Fonda videos hidden away among the fake eyelash tutorials and Taylor Swift covers.
It turns out Jane Fonda workout videos are really flipping hard. She had me doing what I can only describe as pseudo-River Dancing for over an hour, followed by approximately 500 push-ups. It was the best workout I’d had, maybe ever.
After a week or two, Jane’s legwarmers became distracting, so I started searching phrases like, “yoga for weight loss,” “fun cardio,” and “how to make butt cellulite disappear.”
Hundreds of videos — varying from professionally shot to hilariously homemade — were suddenly at my disposal. I tried Pilates for the first time with a Crunch Super Slimdown workout that supposedly “lengthens and strengthens” all the main muscle groups. I did a dance workout called Pump It Up for an hour and 17 minutes with a group of tan, potentially coked-out Australians. I even started a free 90-day program called Bikini Body Mommy Challenge, which is meant for women who’ve just given birth. Unfortunately, I had to stop doing the 20-minute daily workouts after a week because they were so hard I was too sore to sit at my desk.
It didn’t take long for me to find what are now my go-to fitness YouTube channels. Here are my tried and true top three absolute favorites:
Do not let the serene white background fool you! These workouts, curated by two adorable married people with matching six-packs are tough — but very rewarding. Thanks to Daniel and Kelli (yes, we are on a first name basis), I no longer throw around a five-pound weight and expect to get stronger. Instead, I mix strength training with high intensity interval training to achieve maximum continuous calorie burn.
How do I know this? Because Daniel and Kelli patiently explained the process while we did tricep-dips together. Their videos are filmed in real time so we synchronize struggle through squat jumps, and they emphasize the importance of realistic health goals versus trying to look like Kate Moss.
Their channel features an insane variety of workouts, including Pilates, HIIT, kickboxing, and sometimes brief cameos from their cute dog.
Cassey Ho might give off a slight, manic Valley Girl impression at first, but she will destroy you. The first Blogilates video I tried is called Miley Cyrus Ab Workout, and it involves dipping your hips back and forth while in plank while smiling.
Sometimes, Cassey’s expectations for my #fitlife are a little too high — in one video she told me that ketchup is considered a “cheat” food — but being the booty-short-wearing goddess she is, she provides a free workout calendar for the organization-impaired as well as tons of healthy recipes on her website.
Do a round of her Call Me Maybe Squat Challenge and try to tell me it’s less effective than running like a hamster on a treadmill at the gym. You won’t be able to — because you will be gasping for oxygen.
On days that I’d rather not do burpees until my heart falls out of my chest, I visit Adriene. The definition of chill, Adriene guides me through yoga moves by describing them in ways I can wrap my un-athletic head around.
For instance, she compares extending your arms during bicycle crunches to lifting baby Simba over your head like Rafiki in The Lion King. It is not unusual for Adriene to sing a little improvised song or encourage you to take a second to massage your neck or “sweet feet.”
Even though her videos are relaxing, they help improve strength and balance. In case you’re looking to enter a serious relationship with yoga, Adriene recently released a 30 Days of Yoga Program, which is just as charming and enlightening as her other videos.
Thanks to these fitness angels of YouTube, I no longer exercise aimlessly. Since I don’t have to leave home, I work out on my own schedule, and (if I so choose) in my underwear.
Without anyone else around to compare myself to, I push harder, jump higher, and groan a little if I need to. I can yell at the screen, I can wear a sports bra that’s too tight and extenuates the worst of my back fat. I can finally do 25 full push-ups. In case you’re wondering, I haven’t lost any weight during this past year of Internet exercise. Actually, I’ve gained weight — muscle weight. I wear the same jeans, but now have the ability to flex my butt cheeks on command, which I’m going to consider a reward for doing all those squats to “Call Me Maybe.”
My YouTube gurus advise not to dwell on numbers on the scale, so I try to focus on other things I’ve gained: confidence, perseverance, and, above all, strength. Oh, and the real best part? It was all free!