12 Minute Workout: It’s easy just kidding


This year I’m conducting a wide-ranging series of 2-week self-experiments. This is Experiment 4.

As a 10-year-old I borrowed a Joanie Greggains workout cassette from my mom, and then spent the summer with Barry Manilow as my soundtrack, Copacabana-ing myself from husky to slightly-less-husky.

Fast forward 30 years, and my life involves mostly sitting in a chair looking at screens of various shapes and sizes. I sometimes get inspired to go for a jog (not true – running is death) or hunt down the old dumbbells in the garage (pretty much never).  An experiment to get more active seemed in order.

I didn’t want to to join a gym or buy equipment. So I did a little research and found another way.

Minimum Effective Dose (MED) is the smallest quantity of anything that will produce the desired outcome. Anything beyond MED is wasteful. For example, heating water above 100 degrees Celsius is a waste of energy – it’s already boiling.

High Intensity Interval Training  (HIIT) applies MED to the body through short, intense workouts. The Experiment: Using the 12 Minute Athlete smartphone app, workout 12 minutes per day, with the caveat of taking a rest day if I get too sore (spoiler alert – I got too sore) and write about the results.

Hypothesis: I expect to see minor-but-noticeable improvements to body composition, energy, and mood, and that the exercise will bleed over into other health-related actions like healthier food choices and increased general activity.

Day 1, 5:30am. It was not easy to climb out of bed, but it felt easier knowing that I only had 12 minutes of work to meet today’s goal. It was fun. Here is the Day 1 workout: 3 rounds of these 6 exercises for 30 seconds each, with 10 seconds of rest in between equals 12 minutes.

At 7:00 my abs ached. Pretty bad.12min

Day 2, Welcome to Burpees. As a high school basketball player, I was introduced to Bear Crawls – a barbaric activity that played a significant role in my journey to adulthood. Having lived a pretty sedentary life since then, I hadn’t really experienced much pain in a while.  Enter Burpees.

I took Day 3 off.

Day 3, Sabbath. No HIIT today, and it rained outside so I didn’t walk much, either. Everything hurt, including the bottoms of my feet.

Day 4, Workout Buddy. My 13-year-old son joined this afternoon. Keeping up with him was harder than I expected. Also, today’s randomly-generated workout added Pike Jumps, which I think were invented by the Burpee guy.

Days 5 and 6, Change of Plans.  I changed our schedule to an every-other-day workout. On Day 6 we pistoled, reptile-push-upped, and dive-bombed our little hearts out. Then we ate ice cream.

Day 7, Week 1 Reflection. After 4 workouts totaling 48 minutes, I felt as sore this weekend as I have in a long time – a testament to my mediocre physical condition and the potential effectiveness of this strategy.

Day 8, 50 Seconds of Hell. The randomized HIIT workouts had followed a pattern of 30-second workouts with 10-second rest periods. Today the HIIT gods selected 50-second workouts, which were way, way, way, way harder.  Full disclosure for peer reviews of the experiment protocol: When 50-second sessions randomly popped up later in the week, we “randomly” re-rolled until we found 30-second intervals. 

Day 9, Rest Day.  I felt much less sore than last week, which surprised me after yesterday’s workout.  Am I getting accustomed to this already?  Is my body getting stronger?

Day 10, Back at it. Today was summed up in a single quote from my son:  “If my legs were my mouth, I’d be vomiting.”  I can think of no stronger testimonial.

Day 12, Super Basement Bros. My son has joined me for most sessions, which as been really fun.  And we stink up the basement bad. And the basement is my office. Oops.

Situps felt easier today than they did a week ago.  It’s working, it’s working!

Day 14, This is it!  I managed to twist my ankle on the first set of high knees today. I rested through the next interval, and then tried squats. The ankle felt ok, so I pressed on. Strangely, the pain went away halfway through the workout and didn’t come back.

I am superhuman!


Conclusion. For the first time in years I saw muscle definition in my shoulders, after only a few minutes of total exercise. I think this HIIT thing is legit. Also, the computer voice in workout app is my new Joannie Greggains – a high honor, indeed.

For more info on the topics of MED and HIIT, and more high intensity exercises, see The 12-Minute Athlete by Krista Striker and The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss.

Image credits (order of appearance): Joannie Greggains; Krista Striker; Brett Curtis (via Flickr Creative Commons).