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Is the 12-3-30 workout trend one worth trying? Experts weigh in

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It started simply enough. A social media influencer shared an exercise routine she devised to get over her boredom with treadmills. Now it’s a viral fitness sensation that’s sweeping the nation.

It even has its own catchy name: 12-3-30. It may look a little like a calendar date, but we’re not celebrating the holidays in the Great Depression. It stands for a group of treadmill settings: 12% incline at 3 miles per hour for 30 minutes. And many people are turning to this workout to achieve their weight loss goals.

When viral celebrity Lauren Giraldo, who has millions of combined subscribers across social media channels, created the workout, she probably didn’t expect it to make her an overnight fitness guru. But therein may exist the problem with 12-3-30: While Giraldo deserves commendation for creating the routine and improving her health, the fact remains that she is not a trained fitness or health care professional. And those who are professionals in these fields say it can present serious injury risks for the unprepared.

So what do the experts say?

Check with your health care professional before starting any new exercise routine, and listen to the voices of trained authorities. Here, we’ve compiled a raft of expert input from a range of professionals to analyze the pros and cons of 12-3-30.

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Beginners beware

According to experts, the workout’s half-hour duration can be deceiving, as can the notion that this is “just walking.” To put it another way, this isn’t the right workout for people who are jumping off the couch and straight into the gym.

Why? Much of it has to do with the steep 12-degree incline.

Beau Burgau, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, told Shape that the 12-3-30 workout is actually pretty challenging. It turns out that walking those steep steps can take a toll:

Walking on an incline can be very taxing on your body. And doing it on a level-12 incline for 30 minutes straight is a lot. You have to make sure that you’re building up to such intensity of order to avoid injury and overstraining your joints and muscles … You should be able to walk on flat ground for 30 minutes straight before adding any kind of incline on the treadmill. Once you’ve mastered that and it starts to feel easy, you can progress, but conservatively.

If you’re new to regular exercise or restarting after some time away, consider taking a more methodical approach to the treadmill — think of it as your 1-1-30 — before ramping up (literally) to the leg-busting demands of steeper incline.

Benefits of the 12-3-30

For those who can complete the 12-3-30 workout, there are several benefits.

Given the current state of the world, it can be a tempting option for spicing up the same old treadmill routine you’ve been doing by yourself at the gym or in the basement.

Vincent Miceli, co-founder and CEO of Verb, a fitness and personal-improvement expert, is a firsthand success story of a program similar to 12-3-30. As it happens, the workout fad has been around in some form for some time.

[The] fact that 12-3-30 has caught steam is amazing but not at all surprising. The concept is built upon old-school bodybuilding workouts. I successfully overcame obesity and other health issues both mentally and physically by using this very method. I’d put on a hoodie, get on a treadmill for 45-60 minutes at an incline and start walking. I lost 100 pounds doing 11-3.5-45/60.  As a gym owner, coach, and expert in habits, this is hands down the most effective way I have seen to lose real weight … The science behind this type of workout is focused on heart rate, ease, and safety. [It’s] otherwise known as ‘steady-state cardio.’ It’s not sexy, it’s rarely fun. But I know firsthand that it works.

Incline walking is not only effective but relatively easy — once you’re sure you’re ready to tackle the new task. Stefani Sassos, MS, RD, CDN, a dietitian with the Good Housekeeping Institute, said that, in general, treadmills — and incline walking — can do a world of good.

Walking on a treadmill is a great way to introduce yourself to exercise since it’s intuitive and doesn’t require much thought or skill to start. Incline walking, in particular, is a great lower-impact alternative to running that can instantly up the intensity in your workout.

Drawbacks of the 12-3-30

The primary drawback of the 12-3-30 is its risk of injury — and the underestimation of that risk.

Speaking recently with Today, Dennis Cardone, DO, a sports medicine specialist with the NYU Langone health system in New York, said the risk of injury is significant.

The problem is people don’t think that walking is a stressor. They think, ‘What’s the big deal using an incline? I’m only walking.’ But it really is a big stressor: Low back, hamstring, Achilles tendon, knee, plantar fascia … These are the areas where we see some significant injury related to inclining a treadmill.

At the end of the day, everyone will need to decide what exercise regimen is right for them — just as Giraldo did. The reality, according to experts, is that the 12-3-30 workout, while undoubtedly beneficial in some cases, is simply too much, too soon for many people.

The best way to proceed is to make things manageable and ensure that whatever routine you choose is something safe that you’ll actually stick to. Even if the 12-3-30 workout isn’t right for you at this moment, you can always try to tackle it once you feel truly ready.

Scott Harris
Scott Harris is a freelance writer based near Washington, DC, with more than a decade of experience covering health…
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