At the start of October I joined a 30-day challenge on The Betty Rocker’s website. Each week she’d sent out a new workout challenge for people to do at home — you could do it as often as you liked, or tack it on to other workouts, but the goal was to get it in three times a week at minimum. Each workout was a series of seven one-minute exercises, which you were supposed to repeat at least three times.

The challenge also included access to an active Facebook group page and periodic emailed tips, recipes, and other encouragement from Ms. Rocker, and really, it was great. Just a super helpful, incredibly positive experience, and it cost zero dollars. I totally recommend checking out her next free challenge, which it sounds like she’ll be doing in early 2014.

What I really learned from doing this is that you can absolutely get an amazing workout in about twenty minutes, WITHOUT Jillian “Don’t Phone It In” Michaels, with no equipment and very little floor space. I wish I could share her exact program with you, because it cleverly built each week so by the end of the month I was doing moves I absolutely couldn’t have managed during week one (push up jacks! Get right out of town!), but — well, shit, I don’t really know how this stuff works but I’m thinking that’s her intellectual property and even though she provided it for free it’s probably not kosher of me to copy and paste it elsewhere.

But the concept itself is basic and adaptable, so if you’re in the market for some new home workout options, here’s the idea:

• Write down a list of bodyweight exercises. You know: squats, pushups, tricep dips, planks, mountain climbers, lunges. Here’s a handy reference.

• Make a circuit out of seven of them. Adapt as needed — everything should be challenging, but not in sustain-a-brutal-injury kind of way. Pushups too hard? Do them inclined or from your knees. Pushups too easy? You monster. Do them on an exercise ball or raise one leg.

• Program that shit into an interval timer. I’m a fan of Interval Pro. It’s only $3 (there’s a free version, too, and I cannot remember why I upgraded — maybe it has ads?), it plays nice with iTunes, it’s got a clear readable display. Here’s how I set up the 3-sets-of-7 routine:


So that cycles between a high interval that’s one minute long, during which I do as many reps as I can of one exercise, and a low interval of fifteen seconds, during which I gasp and wipe sweat and get ready for the next thing. It repeats for seven cycles to get in all seven exercises, and I follow it through three times.

• Last but not least, have music in your ears. This is the most critical step and the thing that actually keeps me motivated and preferring this type of solo workout WAY more than listening to Jillian tell me to “Make! The! Most of it!”: you need some righteous tunes playing directly into your ear-holes so you don’t have to hear yourself panting or your kids playing nearby or anything at all other than the sweet gritty scream of AWOLNATION singing “This Kid’s Not Alright.” (Your power song may vary.) Just make sure you have your interval timer where you can see it.

You could repeat it 5 times, you could mix up the exercises each interval so you don’t get bored, you could really strategize over what order you do them in so you work in supersets or give yourself much-needed muscle breaks (pushups followed by squats, say). You could add weights (squats with overhead presses), or mix in some evil plyo moves.

Three sets of seven basic bodyweight moves is highly effective all on its own, though. I find that the time goes by pretty quickly, too — there’s something about knowing you only have to do something for a minute that keeps you going.

Anyway, forgive me for the occasional boring exercise-related post. I always get excited when I feel like I’ve discovered something that works for me, and I JUST WANT TO SHARE.


41 Responses to “Kick your own ass in 21 minutes”

  1. Lissie on November 10th, 2013 11:40 am

    Thank you for sharing this! It’s pretty similar to what I’ve been doing recently to get back into a fitness routine (30 min power walk around the neighborhood + 15-20 min strength training intervals at home), but a great next step for me. Stupidly I had never thought to do the intervals by time rather than by reps.
    Your exercise posts are always so inspiring! I can relate to that on again, off again feeling and I think there’s something to hearing someone else say, you know what? I had to start over again, but this is what’s working this time.
    Relatedly, I’ve been crossing my fingers for another “let’s all share our power songs” post from you, too. I love when you do that!

  2. Kim on November 10th, 2013 11:42 am

    This sounds AWESOME. And while I love me some Jillian DVDs, I’ve gotten to the point I have to mute her and have music playing instead or the love was going to turn to hate really soon.

  3. Koa on November 10th, 2013 1:57 pm

    Worth the price of admission for the interval timer app recommendation. The previous one I downloaded never worked right, and I was too annoyed by it to ever try another.

  4. NancyJ on November 10th, 2013 2:40 pm

    THANK YOU!! This old body does not get any results with a treadmill or recumbent bike! I need weights and a step and lunges and more…..
    I’ve been alternating Jillian Shred L1 and L3 (I HATE 2!) with a couple of Firm workouts. but I need more and maybe I can convince my husband to give it a try.

  5. Eric's Mommy on November 10th, 2013 4:19 pm

    I can’t remember the last time I worked out, I hate it :(

  6. Lana on November 10th, 2013 6:00 pm

    Saw this on my Facebook news feed. Scroll down to picture 5.

  7. Lola on November 10th, 2013 6:42 pm

    These are my fave kind if workouts. Have u tried the sworkit app? It’s reallllly cool. Similar concept. :). It’s always nice when you share….

  8. Jennifer on November 10th, 2013 7:22 pm

    I love the “boring exercise-related posts.” Almost as much as I love the “boring salad recipe” posts that go with them!

  9. Sara on November 11th, 2013 6:47 am

    I personally love this one and it can even be done my office during the day. Only 7 minutes and it hits all the major muscle groups, works up a sweat (but not so much you need to shower each time!).

  10. kim on November 11th, 2013 8:14 am

    there’s a ‘bikini body mommy challenge’ on facebook that i started a few days ago that’s really similar to this – it’s a lot of basic bodyweight stuff and some cardio mixed in. it’s 90 days of workouts (well, some are rest days) and it’s also free. might be worth checking into if you get bored. the first day was a fit test, only about eight minutes, and yeah… i nearly died.

    scroll all the way to the bottom for the first day.

  11. autumn on November 11th, 2013 10:06 am

    You should check out Max Capacity Training. I think there’s a website but I just use the free app on my phone. It’s a 12-week program: 3 days a week, 15-20 minutes a day, and it is killer. It’s all body weight exercises and by the end of the program, you’re up against the wall doing headstand push-ups. It’s incredible. I think you’d love it.

  12. Elle on November 11th, 2013 11:32 am

    Hello Linda,

    Just sent you an email. Hope you have a chance to respond.


  13. Ashley on November 11th, 2013 1:28 pm

    Linda can you solicit power songs again from your readers and post the replies? I need new workout tunes and your readers (um, sans me) are a great resource!

  14. Jess on November 11th, 2013 2:08 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing! It’s not boring at all and I signed up to get the emails when her next 30 day challenge starts. And I DLed the Interval timer. I’ve never been fit, but am trying to make an effort. I’ve started running consistently and need to add in some kind of other exercise.

  15. Francie on November 11th, 2013 6:15 pm

    Thank you!! I’m in need of a good kick in the butt, this will work nicely.

  16. Angella on November 12th, 2013 8:26 am

    You know I love exercise posts. Thanks, L!

  17. Jessica on November 12th, 2013 2:25 pm

    Thank you for sharing! I have been feeling like working out but the only DVD’s I have are Jillian and I just can’t hear her anymore. I will happily make my own workout up, but I’d love to see what Betty Rocker can do!

  18. Eva on November 12th, 2013 4:48 pm

    I am just coming back from an injury, and know I needed to get back in gear, but had NO motivation. This is perfect, and I just programmed a couple of new workouts into an app. Thank you!

  19. Sara on November 15th, 2013 10:38 am

    YES! I am so doing this! You rock. Duh. :)

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  21. KD on December 18th, 2013 9:59 am

    Thanks so much for this, Linda! I signed up right after reading this post a month ago, and I’m looking forward to giving it a whirl! I’m trying to do her Denver workout every other day in the meanwhile. This is Day 2. ;) I just wanted to thank you for always inspiring me to get back on the fitness bandwagon- I did a half year of Turbo Jam after you recommended it years ago, and it put me in the best shape I had ever been in! Your testimonials are always great- don’t stop posting these!

  22. Celia on December 27th, 2013 7:52 pm

    Just wanted to say thanks for writing about this – I signed up for the January challenge because I read about it here and just finished one of the bonus pre-challenge workouts.

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