People who get to know me quickly learn that I don't like sitting still. I got a standing desk—technically, a wireframe crate stacked on top of my ordinary desk—as soon as I could, and I often call it my "dancing desk" because I will put on my headphones and rock out to Daft Punk or Pomplamoose or Mouth Sounds while I'm writing copy and articles.
(One of the benefits of working from home is that you get to rock out whenever you want.)
I love dancing, but my favorite part of ballet class was always the barre exercises: pointing, holding, trying to get that extension just a little higher. I studied Suzuki movement technique in college (it's the one with all the stomping), and after I graduated, I got really into Ashtanga yoga. People gravitate towards specific types of sports or exercise, and for me it's the type where it's just you working with and against your own body, pushing at its limitations, feeling the stretch increase and the muscles grow.
But even with all the morning yoga and desk rocking-out I could handle, I'd still end up with a lot of cold and wet nights in Seattle with nothing to do but sit and stare at books or TV. I love books, I adore TV, but I wanted to get moving.
Running was out, first because of the wet and second because I tried Couch to 5K and gave myself permission to quit after I could successfully run 3K. (It just never got fun. I was always bored and uncomfortable.) Sports are a non-starter because I can't catch a ball even if you throw it directly at me. It had to be something else.
I first found out about the Gorilla Workout the same way a lot of people find out about it: through a friend. Every few days, there'd be another tweet about how amazing this workout was and how this friend could feel his body growing stronger.
So I downloaded the app.
No, wait. I did one better. I paid for it. Skipped the free version and gave Heckr LLC my 99 cents, trusting that it would be a solid investment.
Nearly a year later, I am ready to talk solid. Or, as another friend put it: "Wow, you're getting really ripped from that app."
Is it possible that a basic calisthenics app, one that gives you a series of workouts in slowly increasing difficulty, can actually change your body? I hadn't expected it to; I just wanted a reason to get off my seat and move around. Most of the time, I didn't even break a sweat. And yet my body transformed.
My muscles, especially in my arms and back, became much more defined. I lost weight—about six pounds total, and potentially unrelated to the workout—but also gained a bit of bulk. Sleeves tightened up, that sort of thing. Because of my genetics and natural body shape, I'm always going to be small and curvy, and I wasn't doing the Gorilla Workout to try to get some thigh gap or bikini bridge. But the texture of my body has changed. (To put it in the most blunt and evocative manner possible: my boob tacos are now hard tacos.)
So I wanted to know: was this for real? Was I an example of "results not typical?" Or does the Gorilla Workout really make a muscular monkey out of anyone who is willing to go through the steps?
I set up an interview with the man behind the Gorilla Workout, Rick Hecker. I wanted answers, and I wanted to know how 20 minutes of exercise, four nights a week, could actually transform a body. (That's, like, the type of claim you see on a late-night infomercial, or the "one weird trick to reduce belly fat" that we all know not to click on.)
Rick Hecker was more than happy to take my call. As it turns out, I'm not the only person who's transformed her body through the Gorilla Workout—not by far.
ND: Let's start with the why question. Why did you decide to develop the Gorilla Workout?
RH: Well, I guess the impetus of all of it was that I'm actually a professional web developer, and at the time I was a web designer, and I actually just wanted to get into the app development field.
It was also a time where I was feeling out of shape, and I didn't really know exactly what to do but I knew that I didn't really want to go to the gym. I wanted something I could do at home.
I started really getting into body weight exercises and fitness and doing stuff without equipment, and at that time I was making up my own programs, and I thought it would be cool to make an app that does something a little more regimented than what I was doing.
So I ended up working with an accredited personal trainer and putting together the way the app flow would work, and we wrote this program to help people do the same thing that I did because it worked out really well for me.
How did you and the trainer decide how to order the exercises and how to group them?
For the most part, you want to focus on antagonistic muscle groups. If you're looking at a single day's workout, if you're targeting the upper body that day, usually what we would do is say that your first exercise would be something for the anterior chain. Something for your chest, or pushing exercises. Maybe the next exercise would be pulling, or something for your back.
So one day you do pushups first, then supermans second. First you're working on a push movement, and then the supermans are a pulling or a back movement. That's how a day is organized.
As far as how we planned out the entire program, it's essentially upper body one day, lower body the next day.
At the time we had thought "do we want to build in rest days?" Do we want to have it that regimented? I really wanted the app to be flexible to anybody's schedule, so we definitely encourage people to rest, and we state that in the app, but we didn't want to say "you have to rest every other day," or you have to rest a specific number of days a week, because everyone is different in how their body reacts and what they need.
We just provide a whole slew of days. If you want to train six out of seven days every week, you can do that. Sometimes we get emails from people saying they're doing two workouts a day. We leave rest days open, but we did try to group the exercises so you wouldn't be working the same muscle groups every day.
So you've gotten a lot of emails from people, then. I was very curious, when I started, because I have a background in yoga and I do a yoga practice in the morning as well as Gorillas in the evening. The Gorilla Workout changed how my body looked. I could see muscle definition on my arms and legs and back, and I was curious if these results were typical. Was it just me, or were you getting a lot of responses like this?
The best part has been getting people's feedback. We don't solicit stories from people, but we do get stories. People leave reviews, or we get emails sent to our support email, people saying "hey, I've lost 30 pounds doing Gorilla Workout, I just wanted to thank you." We've definitely had people say they're seeing more definition and toning.
We also hear people say "this has even helped with how fast I can run a mile." People training for marathons have said stuff like that. This has increased their short-distance cardiovascular endurance. We've received feedback along the whole gamut, from body composition to helping people's cardio.
That is amazing. So here's my next question: I know that I do substitutions often, primarily because I don't have a chin-up bar in my apartment. So whenever the Gorilla Workout assigns me pullups, I do pushups instead. Do you hear about other people doing substitutions, or is everyone else following the directions?
That's actually one of the more common—I don't want to say complaints—that pullups are in the program. Back exercises are very limited as far as the number of exercises you can do with just your body weight. The pullup is such an important and instinctual movement. It wasn't something that we wanted to remove.
So people get pullup bars, or they go to the park and use something there. We do have people email and ask "what should I do instead?" We typically recommend that if you can't get a pullup bar, you should get the kind that you put in your doorjamb.
You can also use resistance bands to do something similar. You lock your bands in a doorjamb and pull down in a motion that's similar to a pullup.
Unfortunately, other than the pullup, there really is no body weight equivalent to work your lats and your back in such an efficient manner. It's something that's hard to replace.
That's good to know. If you're like me, and you're motivated enough to exercise, but you're not motivated enough to go on Amazon Prime and order a pullup bar that'll show up in two days, maybe this will motivate people to actually do it!
And now I have to ask: since you're doing a workout at home, what should you watch out for in terms of potential injury?
If something happens while you're doing an exercise and you feel some kind of pain, usually that's a sign. If you feel something like that, you should immediately stop and assess "is this something that's really bad?"
We'll get people that get really bad muscle soreness after their first few Gorilla Workouts, especially if they're new to training or have never trained before. The muscle soreness that you feel is pretty intense. That's something that gets better over time, but people will feel that muscle soreness and wonder "did I injure myself, because this is terrible!"
But there is a different feeling between muscle soreness and actual injury. It's important to know the difference between the two. You have to learn the difference between "my muscle is sore" and "I pulled something."
That brings up a key point. When I started the Gorilla Workout, I had an exercise background, so I already knew what I was doing and I was able to start right away with the Level 3 Workouts. I feel like this may have helped me see results more quickly, not to mention that the whole thing was easier because I already knew how to do 50 pushups in a row.
But let's say you're brand new, and you're having some struggle with it. I've heard that from some of my friends as well; they've started on Level 1 and they're struggling.
How would you motivate them to keep going?
In your case, coming from a friend, I think you would be the best person to motivate other people. Motivation from friends is always one of the best ways to keep going. Find a workout partner, someone who will do it with you, maybe someone who can guide you.
Also, honestly, resting sometimes can be enough. It sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes if people are very, very into "I have to do this, I have to meet this fitness goal," you can get into a place where you're overtrained or overexerted. Taking three to five days off and coming back, you might be surprised that you're stronger.
I think the best way to stay motivated is to do the Gorilla Workout with someone. Find someone to do it with you. Keep each other accountable.
We have people who email us and say that they do it with their friends, or moms will say "I do this during the day with my kids." That's really rewarding to hear.
It's also fun to share it on Twitter. That's how I heard about it; a friend tweeting "I completed Gorilla Workout 1, 2, 3, whatever." And I was all "Well, I can do that! I wanna do what you're doing!"
Social sharing is great for us and it's great for users as well. As soon as you make the decision to say "I'm going to tell all of my friends that I just completed Day 1 of Level 1 of Gorilla Workout," you're making yourself accountable.
If you're ready to make yourself accountable, you can get the Gorilla Workout on iTunes or Google Play. Heckr LLC also just released Gorilla Weight Lifting for people who are interested in building strength with weights, currently available on iTunes.