Let’s get one thing straight: I am not a runner. I’ve always aspired to become one of those early-morning long run people, but I’ve accepted that that’s just not who I am. I get bored within the first 5 minutes, even if I’m listening to a podcast or music. Enter: the 12-3-30 workout, made famous on TikTok and treadmills all over, which focuses on walking instead.
When it comes to TikTok workouts, my immediate assumption is that they’re just trendy for aesthetic purposes and not actually effective. That’s true for some, but not all. The 12-3-30 workout does have real fitness benefits.
When I got the opportunity to try the 12-3-30 workout—walking on the treadmill at an incline of 12 at 3 miles per hour for 30 minutes—I was intrigued. I’d heard of it, but never tried it. I assumed the 12-3-30 workout would be a breeze because it’s walking. I do regular runs and walks on the treadmill, so how different would it be? (VERY, but more on that in a sec.)
I also stick to a low/flat incline when I’m using a treadmill, especially if I’m running, and if I’m walking, it’s never above four. I expected the 12-3-30 workout to be difficult, but I didn’t have major results expectations. Here’s what happened after working it into my routine for three weeks.
12-3-30: Set the treadmill to an incline of 12, change the speed to 3 miles per hour, and walk for 30 minutes. Complete 2 to 3 days a week. (I chose to do it for 21 days.)
Not only is this treadmill workout a great way to enhance your cardiovascular health, but it’s also good “to activate multiple muscle groups in your legs,” says Haley Gott, CPT. (That’s your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves, thank you very much!)
12-3-30 Form And Safety Tips
There are a few tips I kept in mind when I first started, because this exercise isn’t for everyone and it’s not low-impact. If you have lower back issues, this workout may not be the best option for you. “Walking on a steep incline can really aggravate your lower back,” says Gott.
Avoid hunching. Pay close attention to your posture and engage your core throughout the workout.
If you have lower back, hip, knee or ankle issues, adjust the incline lower to start. The 12-3-30 workout can also lead to injuries for those with hip, knee, or ankle issues. If you have issues with any of the body parts above, start at a lower incline, and work your way up, she recommends. “You can still challenge your cardio and your legs at a lower incline,” Gott adds.
You can’t just set the treadmill and zone out, either. You’re going to want to pay attention to your body while you’re walking. “When we start to get tired, our bodies will naturally start to compensate,” Gott says. That means your lower back or other muscles might help you finish the workout, which can lead to aches and injuries. If you’re feeling any pain that differs from usual workout fatigue, take a break, stretch, and lower the incline.
Don’t skip the post-workout stretch. No matter what, Gott recommends a deep stretch after the routine “because you’re exhausting your legs for 30 minutes in the same exact fashion.” She encourages doing the workout two to three days per week in addition to other types of training.
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My plan was to hit this workout during my normal morning or early afternoon sessions, listening to a podcast or music as I walked. After each walk, I planned to do my usual strength-training routine, focusing on one body part per day (core, arms, and legs).
Week 1: I focused on posture and good form to get the best workout possible.
Thoughts I had during my first 12-3-30 session: This is hard—and I can’t tell if it was because I’m physically exhausted or if it’s actually this hard.
During week one, I opted for my normal workout time of 8 a.m. Even though this is a walking workout, I felt extremely fatigued before I started the workout and afterward.
A lot of different parts of the 12-3-30 workout were hard. It was especially difficult to do without holding the treadmill bars where I was able to apply pressure and make the walk a bit easier. However, I took my hands off frequently to change the level of difficulty of the workout, and when I did, I felt the work mostly in my butt and glutes, and a bit in my core. As the trainers said, it was hard to maintain an upright posture. I felt myself leaning forward a lot to try and counteract the incline. Week one was a real challenge for me, and I had two more to go.
Week 2: I created modifications to the routine for my body.
I switched to workout sessions at noon, and it was a lot easier. I had more energy midday, and I could already feel myself getting stronger. I found that I could walk longer distances without support from my hands resting on the treadmill grips. My back and core area hurt less than they did during the first week.
Of course, I still wanted to change the level of difficulty of the walk for different minute increments. So, I even found a way to make it a mid-level workout. I placed my wrists on top of the treadmill’s handles instead of actually gripping them. That position change gave me just enough support, while still feeling the burn in my legs and core.
My normal strength training routine after the 12-3-30 workout was way harder than usual. Whether I was doing additional core, arm, or leg exercises, I felt more fatigued from the 30-minute walk sesh. I could tell my core and back were cooked.
Week 3: My body was exhausted, but the walk finally felt more comfortable.
Cruising into my final week, I continued to walk with different intervals of difficulty, depending on how I decided to hold the handles (or not) or position my hands. I continued to feel the exercise primarily in my butt and core. (Score!) I struggled to find a balance of engaging my core and protecting my lower back from aches.
A few days after finishing, my go-to treadmill workout felt super easy.
When I got back to my normal treadmill running routine (12 minutes at 5 mph with no incline), it felt way easier. When I walked for the last eight minutes to cooldown, it felt like I was moving downhill—so much so that I increased the incline to 2. It’s made any kind of treadmill sesh feel a lot easier, so I actually need to increase my speed and/or incline to feel more work. Hello surprise results!
My Biggest 12-3-20 Workout Takeaways
1. Half an hour is a long, long time on the treadmill.
When I first took on this workout assignment, I assumed 30 minutes would fly by every time I worked out. (I’ve endured 90-minute sweat sessions in the name of Carrie Underwood’s strong legs, so this should be a breeze.) But…it didn’t. It was a slog even though I saved up podcasts to keep me entertained on the walk. Not getting bored while doing the 12-3-30 workout was a challenge in itself, for me.
It was a mental workout with the stimulation of podcasts, so it could be way more challenging without any entertainment as distraction. Removing the stimulation might leave you less tired in the long run. Or, go in the opposite direction and watch a movie or television show—that might make the time pass faster anyway.
2. You can modify almost anything.
Creating a modification doesn’t require pro help, and it isn’t as hard as you might think. I learned to tune into how my body felt and made adjustments based on that. This was a totally new type of workout for me and felt super hard initially, so letting my muscles signal when to push and when to adjust made a huge different.
For example, by resting my hands on top of the treadmill handles instead of white knuckling them, I was able to find a happy medium amount of pressure in the exercise. I got stronger and was eventually release my hands for a longer period of time. Adding the modification in the beginning also allowed me to see my fitness progress.
3. The workout may not be for everyone—and that’s okay.
This was the hardest for me to grasp. I’m so grateful for my healthy body, and although I don’t take it for granted, there’s part of me that thinks I can still do anything without getting hurt. I have a history with overworking my lower back in dance classes growing up, that’s where I felt the brunt of this workout, and I had to take a few rest days. It was humbling, but it was the best decision and allowed me enough recovery to continue rocking the challenge after the.
I also realized this workout is best if your lower back is in really great shape. If it isn’t, there are modifications and options to start at a lower incline and work your way up to gradually add strength, like I did.
Bottom line: The 12-3-30 workout was great to challenge my physical and mental health and switch up my usual routine. While I didn’t see major physical results, I did feel myself get stronger from it week after week, and gained mental toughness.
Addison Aloian (she/her) is an editorial assistant at Women’s Health. When she’s not writing about all things pop culture, health, beauty, and fashion, she loves hitting leg day at the gym, shopping at Trader Joe’s, and watching whichever hockey game is on TV. Her work has also appeared in Allure, StyleCaster, L’Officiel USA, V Magazine, and Modern Luxury Media.