The 12-3-30 Workout: All Hype or Worth Trying?

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Mark Sisson sitting in a blue shirtIn today’s Dear Mark, I’m tackling a reader’s question regarding a new workout that’s apparently all the rage on social media. I’m not much for hopping on viral fitness trends myself, but I’m always interested in keeping my finger on the pulse of what people are doing in the name of health, strength, and weight loss. You never know when the next truly great thing is going to come along, right?

Let’s get into it:

 

Dear Mark,
I’m seeing a new fitness trend all over my TikTok: “12-3-30.” Other users are claiming it changed their bodies in just a month, and I’m tempted to try it, but as far as I can tell it’s just… walking uphill? Is this trend too good to be true or worth trying? Do you think something like this could be considered “primal”?

Thanks for asking—and for thinking that I might be hip enough to already know about a TikTok trend! As a general rule, if a “get fit quick” scheme seems too good to be true, it probably is. However, let’s not discredit the actual value this trend might hold without examining it more closely.

What is the 12-3-30?

A quick dive into Google explains the “12-3-30,” aka the 12.3.30 treadmill routine, is walking at a 12 percent incline at 3mph on a treadmill for 30 minutes. Credited to influencer Lauren Giraldo, this workout’s short time frame and relative ease have piqued people’s interest. I’m sure the testimonials from people claiming to have made big physique gains in a short time don’t hurt either.

 

To answer your question: yes, from what I can tell, the 12-3-30 workout is basically just walking uphill. From a Primal perspective, I’d give it a qualified thumbs-up. Here are a few reasons why:

Pros of the TikTok 12-3-30 workout:

The biggest pro is simply that it gets people moving. As you probably know, I’m a particularly big fan of walking. It’s the ultimate Primal exercise and one of the best ways to combat the myriad health problems that result from a modern, mostly sedentary lifestyle. If I was being cynical, I might say something about how disconnected we are from Primal human movement patterns if it takes a viral TikTok trend to get people walking for 30 minutes, but far be it for me to rain on people’s parade. If this is what motivates people to get moving, who am I to argue?

Uphill walking can also be easier on the joints because it involves less impact, and it works the muscles somewhat differently than walking on a flat surface.

Potential cons of the 12-3-30 workout:

My biggest concern is that this could become just another form of chronic cardio depending on how challenging this workout is for you. Generally speaking, I define chronic cardio as sustained, repetitive exercise that keeps your heart rate pegged in the “black hole.” That’s the middling ground where workouts are too hard to be considered truly aerobic and not hard enough to achieve the benefits of high-intensity workouts like sprinting.

The best way to know if you’re in the black hole is to use a heart rate monitor. To keep your effort level in the aerobic zone—which is what I’d recommend here—you’d want your heart rate to stay below the MAF threshold of 180 minus age. For example, a 50-year-old wouldn’t exceed a heart rate of 130 beats per minute at any point during the workout.

From what I read online, people often find the 12-3-30 routine pretty challenging, especially at first. If you’re panting away on the treadmill, that’s a pretty good sign your heart rate is in the black hole. The Primal recommendation would be to adjust the treadmill speed so you can keep your heart rate under 180 minus age. That will deliver more overall fitness benefits than grinding away at a moderately hard—and thus overly stressful—workout intensity. In lieu of wearing a heart rate monitor, try breathing only through your nose. Nasal breathing serves as a decent proxy of aerobic threshold.

A couple other caveats:

Being in a gym all the time isn’t the most Primal. As I said, I don’t want to discourage people from walking in any form. Still, I’d encourage you to go outside and find a real hill sometimes, too, if possible. Part of what I love about walking is that it gets you out of the house or office, ideally into green space and fresh air.

Finally, do I think the 12-3-30 workout is enough to “melt the pounds away” and deliver all the health, fitness, and physique benefits you could possibly want? No. Even if you commit to this workout regularly, you’re still going to want to supplement with lifting heavy things, high-intensity sprints (or something equivalent), and maybe the occasional microworkout.

So what do you think, are you going to try the TikTok 12-3-30 workout? Are there other workouts you’re seeing on social media that you’d like me to weigh in on? Let me know in the comments!

Related Posts from MDA

  • A Case Against Cardio (from a Former Mileage King)
  • The Evidence Continues to Mount Against Chronic Cardio
  • 17 Reasons to Walk More This Year

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