Saturday, May 24, 2014

Jillian Michaels and the Art of Tough Love

VIDEO: Jillian Michaels 6 Week Six-Pack

STYLE: Abs-focused interval training

INTENSITY: Moderate to intense

STRUCTURE: Two 30-minute workouts with pairs of cardio and resistance intervals

GIST: Quality ab work, motivation, and pseudo-sexual harrassment in equal measure

For anyone trying to lose weight in America, the system is against you. This is a system that yields entire menus of fast food cheaper than your average head of broccoli, where yogurt and granola get tarted up like Act III–Grease Sandy, rebranded and pumped full of industrial-grade sweeteners, exchanging any real virtue for black spandex and a trip in a flying convertible. We're told we deserve microwavable cake and cinnamon buns the size of a small child's head for merely getting through the day. Food giants want us to want them, ad infinitum, and they'll literally walk out of the room when faced with the results of their efforts. 

Against the backdrop of this trans-fatty monolith stands Jillian Michaels. American-made in the obesity age, she is to exercise what Mark Bittman is to food: an approachable, back-to-basics authority who doesn't want to hear your bullshit. 

I wasn't crazy about Jillian the first go-round, but her mixture of no-nonsense efficacy and genuine encouragement won me over. In 6 Week Six-Pack, she offers two workouts built around abs-heavy cardio and strength intervals, and they're the most efficient use of 30 minutes you're likely to find in an fitness video. Jillian makes it clear from the beginning that when it comes to exercise, interval training is a Faustian deal: you can have your shorter time frame, but you'll have hell to pay.

So you've got burpees, planks, jackknives—and that's all in the first 10 minutes. I like the way she incorporates upper, middle and lower body into a move, such as this lateral lunge with a side crunch made harder by hand weights. 

Or these leg lift–crunches: 

Or this god-awful side plank that actually once made me cry:

There's a bit of the sadist about our Jillian, and you know? I'm into it. At times she makes her backup girls work extra hard, and she likes to watch them burn. She'll taunt them—"I love watching the Barbies suffer"—and coo at them while they do her bidding. 

It's all kind of twisted and pervy, which is at least interesting. So often, it's like fitness presenters are made to take an oath of blandness before inking their contracts. And Jillian's clearly having fun, performing a role here. She takes all the old fitness cliches—no pain, no gain; feel the burn—and adds a little dose of camp. She acts like she's getting off on their pain because she wants you to get off on your pain—to feel charged and empowered by making your suffering your bitch. 

So that's the psychosexual stuff going on. The basic instruction is solid: she explains things clearly and quickly, and she knows just the right moments to drop the theater and push you to keep going. There were definitely a couple times I was on the verge of calling it quits when she intervened, right on cue. 

Bookending all this "Master and Servant" Masterpiece Theater is the gentle Jillian, the one who strokes your gross sweaty hair and tells you it's gonna be ok, because you're one step closer to that 21st-century holistic grail: total wellness, total control of your life. 

This is what the people want, in addition to Doritos Locos tacos and mocha-caramel popcorn sundaes, which can make a person both crazy and corpulent. Jillian succeeds because she cuts through the crap and reminds you that 30 minutes of tending to your one and only body is painful, possible and absolutely necessary.


  1. I just discovered your blog and had to read every post. I'm in love. Please never stop. You're blog makes the world a sillier and therefore a better place.

    As a side note, have you seen the workout attire available at Carbon38? Sexy/rock'n'roll/weird pieces abound. Behold.

  2. Ooooh thank you! Will check out that site.

  3. :D :D :D as a "future psychologist" and fitness fan, I loved this review. If you enjoy Jillian Michaels' unique, camp presentation, hopefully you get a chance to check out "Bodyshred" soon. In one routine, Jillian states that she enjoys incorporating "running in place," because she likes to have the trainers do their thing, and she gets to check them out. Verboten in a different context, it just works W/ Mme. Michaels.