I Tried It: The 12-Minute Workout Science Says You’re Supposed to Enjoy


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To say I enjoyed the 12 minutes I spent trying 10-20-30 training on Sunday morning like I would enjoy, say, a mimosa followed by a fat stack of pancakes would definitely be an overstatement. But it was over in time to squeeze both a workout and brunch into a packed morning, and that counts for something in my book.

We told you about 10-20-30 training a few weeks ago, but in case you need a refresher: The 12-minute workout is the new big thing in the world of high intensity interval training. Researchers have touted it as a workout people actually enjoy doing and, backing them up, New York Times health writer Gretchen Reynolds declared it to be her new favorite interval workout.

The workout goes like this: You run, bike or row at a gentle pace for 30 seconds, then bump it up to a moderate pace for 20 seconds then go all out for 10 seconds. You do this five times, take a two-minute walking break and then repeat five times again. And then your workout is over! Easy as pie, right? Not so much.

As I quickly discovered when I hit the ground running, 10-20-30 training, while short and sweet, is harder than it sounds in a number of ways. For one, in a world where pretty much everyone runs with some sort of pacing tool, getting the hang of bouncing between an easy running pace, a moderate running pace and an all-out pace all within a minute’s time, without an app telling you to slow down or pick it up, is tricky. Tricky enough that I’d say it probably took me the length of the workout to feel like I’d mastered the art of kicking into my gentle and moderate modes.

Another reason it’s harder than it sounds: Doing 10 all-out sprints in 12 minutes — even while taking it relatively easy for the rest of workout — kicks your butt. And I mean, duh: It’s a workout. It’s supposed to be challenging. But don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that, because you’re only going hard for 10 seconds at a time, the workout as a whole will not feel difficult. Selfies of my beet-red, post-workout face are proof: It’s killer.

Now, let’s get to that thing about it being enjoyable: Researchers who studied the workout found that those who worked 10-20-30 training into their weekly workout schedule kept up with it, even when they weren’t required to — something most folks don’t do with HIIT workouts. This led them to believe people enjoyed doing the workout. Plus, athletes who worked out in groups said 10-20-30 training made their workouts more fun and inclusive.

Like I said earlier, to say I enjoyed it would be pushing it. I mean, let’s be honest: For the bulk of the 12 minutes, I was wiping sweat out of my face and wishing it would be over soon. And then it was. And that, rather than the workout itself, is how 10-20-30 won me over: When I was counting down the time until I could stop moving my legs, that time came quick. You can literally step out of your house running and walk back through your door a measly 12 minutes later, workout complete. And I’m guessing this is the reason many runners have stuck with it, and probably enjoy it more than, say, an hourlong fitness class. I left the house to do this workout and made it back home all before my boyfriend had fully completed his morning shower routine. And he’s a boy who owns no hair products or face wash, for that matter, so his morning shower routine is annoyingly, admirably fast.

Another reason 10-20-30 is more enjoyable than other workouts is that you really can do it anywhere. I found that when doing the workout running (rather than rowing or biking), it’s very easy to do on city streets, especially since the all-out portion takes you just about 70 yards, or about the length of a city block. And if you were at the beach, you could up the intensity by doing it on the sand. Or you could do it on an incline to work in some hill-training. It’s truly adaptable to your environment, which is very convenient. Plus, the workout is accessible to all levels: You are the one who gets to decide what pace qualifies as gentle, moderate or fast.

So, if you’re looking for a quick workout to squeeze into busy days, I’d say 10-20-30 training is worth trying. Just don’t expect it love it as much as you’d love a pitcher of mimosas.

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