What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
When I was maybe 25, I made a new friend at a bar — we were both writers, I was freelance and she was an assistant at a magazine — and early on, we decided to go to a spa together. I didn’t think anything about being in a bathing suit in front of her, even though she was A) Really toned and B) Wistful about hitting the gym more despite her time-sucking 9 to 5.
She took one look at me and said disapprovingly: “God, if I was freelance, I’d be in such good shape.”
She’s my daughter’s godmother now.
Just kidding! I don’t have a daughter and I never talked to that woman again. Although the tip came in the form of shade, she did have a point. Until the last few years, I didn’t work out — like, ever, even though every psychiatrist I’ve had since I was a teenager has recommended regular exercise for my clinical depression (aside from/in addition to medication, obvs). But I was like, “Sorry, what? Half a pack of Marlboro 27s and a bottle of white wine at noon every day? If you say so, Doc!”
I’m sort of an all-or-nothing person when it comes to health. I’ll go through intense, month-long phases of health/exercise — making my own green juice, joining ClassPass and trying a new one every day — followed by intense month(s)-long phases of decrepitude (see aforementioned wine/cigarettes, add fried chicken and ennui). I don’t think I’m alone here. It’s easy for a lot of us to backslide when we start a new workout regimen: Skip a few days, lose momentum and start worrying your endurance is back to where it was before, and oh look Jane The Virgin is on, and suddenly you’re asleep.
I do feel better emotionally when I work out on the regs, though. So ten days ago, I started from the bottom. I’ve tried Ballet Beautiful, but Mary Helen Bowers doesn’t yell. I’ve tried Tracy Anderson, but the “dance cardio” part of the workout makes me feel like a bat mitzvah entertainer on crank. Jillian Michaels is the only one that works for me.
Jillian walks out, flanked on both sides by Anita, the white girl who’s inexplicably dour despite the fact that she gets to demonstrate the easier versions of each workout, and Natalie, the black girl who beams even when she’s contorting herself in a one-person Kama Sutra position.
Here’s the Level 1 breakdown. (Full disclosure: I used 3 lb. weights instead of 6 lb. weights, as Our Goddess Jillian hath intended.)
Warmup: -arm crosses (30 seconds) -windmills (30 seconds) -jumping jacks (30 seconds) -waist circles (30 seconds) -knee circles (30 seconds) -jumping jacks (30 seconds)
These are pretty easy. Mostly stretching and jumping jacks. Sorry not sorry, neighbors.
CIRCUIT 1 Strength = 3 minutes -pushups (30 seconds) -squat and press (1.5 minutes) -pushups (30 seconds) -squat and press (1.5 minutes)
Pushups get a lot easier by the end of the level, but I still can’t do them all the way through, both rounds, without getting on my knees and doing the Anita version. Squat and press is slightly less difficult, but I was definitely sore at the beginning because I have untoned little T-Rex arms. Cardio = 2 minutes -jumping jacks (30 seconds) -jump rope (30 seconds) -jumping jacks (30 seconds) -jump rope (30 seconds)
Again: The cardio really gets a lot easier by the end. (Also worth noting: If you do this workout hungover in a hot room, you’ll feel like steaming shit during it, but much better afterwards.)
Abs = 1 minutes -crunches (30 seconds) -reverse crunches (30 seconds)
The hardest part about mat work (for me, at least) is finding and settling into the right form in the very limited amount of time. I have a natural curl in my lower back — it lifts off the mat naturally, which means I’m not using my core as much — and that fucks up my alignment unless I’m really conscious of pushing it down. And then you also have to remember to keep your eyes on the ceiling, tongue at the roof of your mouth, etc.
Also, I have to put a towel under my tailbone because I have a hardwood floor and am a delicate flower, apparently. CIRCUIT 2 Strength = 3 minutes -dumbell row (pull – 30 seconds) -static lunge w/ bicep curl (left – 1.5 minutes) -dumbell row (pull – 30 seconds) -static lunge w/ bicep curl (right – 1 .5 minutes)
If your knees are wack like mine, make sure you’re not putting too much weight on them. Even on Day 10 I stuck with the Anita version of the workout. Also: Make sure your elbows are sort of tucked behind your waist. Cardio = 2 minutes -butt kicks (30 seconds) -punches (30 seconds) -butt kicks (30 seconds) -punches (30 seconds) This one isn’t that bad, mostly because the punches are static and upper-body only. But it won’t feel like anything unless you “activate your core” (before I started working out I thought that “activate your core” was some kind of bullshitty spiritual term.).
Abs = 1 minute -twisty crunches (1 minutes) I still do the Anita version of this: one arm flat on the ground while the other one goes behind my head. I seem to feel the crunches way more when I do the easier versions of them, and considering I am alone in my apartment in my underwear at 3pm on a weekday, I’m not here to impress anyone.
CIRCUIT 3 Strength = 3 minutes -chest flys (flies? flys?) (30 seconds) -anterior hand raises and side lunges (1.5 minutes) -chest ~*~fLyEs~*~* (30 seconds) -anterior hand raises and side lunges (1.5 minutes)
Guys. The anterior-raise-lunge thing is the WORST. If you can get past this, in the easier adjustment, on the first day, and come back for more, then you are totally capable of doing 10 days of Level 1.
Cardio = 2 minutes -jumping jacks (30 seconds) -butt kicks (30 seconds) -punches (30 seconds) -jump rope (30 seconds
From days 2 to 10 you will be so relieved to be done with those anterior things that this will fly by.
Abs = 1 minutes -bicycle crunches (1 minute)
Again, form and breathing is everything. You might not feel a lot of ab stuff happening in the first few days, but that’s because (I think?) the muscles are still too buried for you to really feel your core yet. I definitely feel/see it by now.
Do these. Every time. I made the mistake of skipping them on my second day in favor of a cold shower, and the next day I could barely sit down to pee.
I skipped two days over the course of the level, once for soreness and once for mostly laziness. Which seemed OK.
I started seeing results around Day 7. I don’t know how significant they look in the (shitty, sorry!) photos below, but in real life, I can absolutely tell a difference. (I also have more energy and a better sleep cycle.) Obviously I’m not tensing my muscles in either of these; if I did, you’d see some ghost abs in the Day 10 pics.
I start Level 2 today. Pray for me. And check back in in 10 days for a recap!