Not to brag, but I have a personal trainer, and their name is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I actually have a few personal trainers; others include Bruce Lee, Shonda Rhimes, Benjamin Franklin, and the late Portugese poet Luís de Camões. “Let the world tremble as it senses all you are about to accomplish,” de Camões occasionally tells me during my rest period, as I catch my breath after another round of burpees. Yes! The world is trembling at these freaking burpees!!, I think to myself, motivated, inspired, accomplished. Since I started working out under the coaching of de Camões et. al., lifting furniture around my house as I endlessly rearrange it has gotten much easier, and my stupid little back and neck feel generally less bad at the end of the workday.
My trainers are not really my trainers, even though they feel like they are; they are disembodied entities who offer me encouraging quotes within in my new favorite exercise app called Shred. Unlike the bubblegum-pink apps and flat-tummy-huge-ass YouTube workout series that are endlessly thrust into my feeds as targeted ads, Shred is not “for” me, a woman whose Instagram explore page correctly serves her Bachelor memes and those squiggly pastel candles; aesthetically, Shred sits somewhere at the nexus of Tonka truck and Home Depot store. But I know that Shred is for me because it’s kind of ugly, extremely functional, and, for a little over a year, has made me feel notably stronger. (Or, to use the parlance of the app, shredded.)
The only other “workout app” I’ve consistently used was Sweat with Kayla, for about a year, several years ago. I was drawn to it because it was what everyone else in my cohort like me—basics who use Instagram—was using, and it seemed simple enough: Do these guided, 30-minute workouts a few times per week, and you’ll look like Kayla Itsines and the squadron of “transformed” people whose photos she shared on her Instagram page, all perky glutes and long, lean thighs. (Literally, it used to be called “Bikini Body Guide” before a rebranding a few years ago.)
Sweat was a fine way to cross-train for a half marathon I was getting ready for—I think it saved me some overuse injuries, and shaved some time off my race, due to my having muscles—but the workouts felt extremely repetitive within a few weeks. Opening up the app started to feel more like hot-person maintenance than an opportunity for strength and endorphins. When I eventually deleted the app, I didn’t feel guilty so much as I felt very freed.
I downloaded Shred at the very beginning of 2020, after I joined a gym and was looking for some sort of easily accessible program to tell me what to do with all the little weights and machines at my disposal. Even though I played sports all growing up, the last real experience I had navigating the gym—not just taking some workout class—was in the high school weight room, and even then, coaches watched over. Joining the gym as an adult felt intimidating. I needed the feeling of a coach, without having to pay for a coach.
The app made no sweeping, unrealistic promises to give me the juiciest ass of my life in a mere two weeks or transform my body composition in 28 days, two things I’ve never had any interest in, but especially not during a pandemic or at my current age. All Shred advertised was a basic program to follow, when a basic program to follow was all that I wanted.
When the gyms closed only three months into my Shred journey, I nearly redownloaded Sweat (remembering most of the exercise didn’t require equipment), but was then distracted by the idea of having a dump-truck ass a la the Chloe Ting Two-Week Shred Challenge. Thin women on my Instagram Discover were praising the program’s effect on their bodies: For the first time in their lives, they had abs and rotund booties. What they did to achieve that was mysterious, until I looked at a sample of the program online and saw that it involved as many as three miniature workouts in a single day, and essentially millions of planks.
This seemed awful to me, someone with a full-time job and who hates popping down into random planks, like it’s 2011 again. And all this effort seemed less about getting stronger than it did looking a certain way, the same thing I’d disliked about Sweat with Kayla. As someone who’s struggled with body dysmorphia in the past, the less I can think about the way I look while I’m exercising, the better. I declined to participate in Chloe Ting, unconcerned as ever with the state of my ass, and stuck instead with Shred’s new at-home workout program.
I’ve always loved exercise. Endorphins are not a scam, and running around and lifting things can be very fun; literally, this is what recess was centered around. But something about the idea of working toward some fixed goal—getting smaller or somehow “bikini body ready”—strips the joy out of exercise for me. It becomes less about running around for fun, and more a form self-inflicted corporal punishment. Yet this is exactly what the majority of workout programs seemingly marketed to me, a 20-something woman, are all about. What if that’s not what I want?
The Shred ethos seems unconcerned with aesthetic results, unlike Sweat, Chloe Ting, or CrossFit, as far as I can tell (upon setup, Shred asks once if you’d like to “lose weight,” but after that, there’s no mention of slimming down or juicing up the ass). Each day that I want to work out, I open the app, which presents me with a routine for a different area of my body. The workouts themselves are simply called “Lower Body,” “Upper Body,” Abs,” and “Full Body.” My trainers offer inspirational quotes, all of which feel made up, during each rest period. In the absence of a goal related to appearance, I’ve hit a few notable milestones since starting Shred: I can now breeze through sets of pushups, I can do proper sit-ups for the first time in my life. Has my ass also gotten slightly bigger? I think, yes. But it’s so much more rewarding as an unexpected outcome, rather than the entire point of a year’s worth of effort.
After downloading Shred, I was delighted to be able to select between two coaching modes: “mean” and a regular one. I obviously chose mean, which appears to be the same as regular coaching mode, but with cusses thrown in. For over a year now, a tiny smiling man, who I think is named Adam, tells me things like, “Let’s fucking go, Hannah!” and, “You just crushed the shit out of that workout!” Perfection! I read these to myself in my own voice, in a slight yell, like I am my own coach. Which is, truly, what I wanted.
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