I Tried the “Joy Workout” to Get Out of a Fitness Rut

Here at A Sweat Life, we know movement and exercise have an undeniable “feel better” effect. So when The New York Times published something called the “Joy Workout,” we were intrigued. 

Developed by Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist who specializes in emotions, the workout consists of six movements meant to “maximize the joy people get from moving their bodies.” 

I was curious to see not only if the workout “worked,” but how I could leverage it to manage my own emotions. Read on to see how the Joy Workout might fit in your life. 

person smiling while doing online workout

Day 1: Getting out of a slump

To be honest, I’d been putting off starting this workout for a while. I’d just moved across the country, and the change had been hard. My desire to workout had been nonexistent, and a workout that was supposed to make me happy? That was an even taller order. 

I was deciding between trying this workout and taking a nap when I pulled it up and saw the workout was eight minutes long. I was intrigued. I could do eight minutes. It was go-time. 

Gentle notes floated from my laptop as I followed instructions from an invisible narrator and mimicked the on screen instructor through six different movements. My immediate thought was…this is…nice

I was surprised at how quickly I was beaming. Not smiling, but beaming — mouth open with genuine delight. The music was pleasant, and the instructor was cheerful and made it easy to go all in.  

It wasn’t really a workout so much as a short dance party with different movements, but it did get my heart rate up. I felt more open, emotionally lighter, and definitely glad I did it. 

Day 2: Warm up to a workout

My first experience with the Joy Workout was so enjoyable, I was actually looking forward to it the next day. An added bonus? Because it was so short, it left me craving additional movement on the first day. 

For my second experience, I decided to try the Joy Workout as a warm up to a longer bodyweight workout. I hadn’t felt the desire to workout in weeks — could the Joy Workout motivate me to do so? 

The second go felt a little different. I knew what I was expecting, so I wasn’t beaming in surprise as I had been the first day. Don’t get me wrong though, I was definitely smiling. It’s pretty difficult not to smile when you’re swaying, shaking, bouncing, and jumping to a beat. 

I was glad to be doing every movement, and by the end I didn’t hesitate continuing with my own workout. The Joy Workout eased me into movement in the most gentle way possible, and by the end I was willing to keep going on my own. A huge win!

Day 3: First thing in the morning

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been a “workout first thing in the morning” person. I’m more of a “drink my tea in silence, take a few hours to fully wake up, and have two meals before working out” type of person. 

But given the workout’s success getting me out of a slump and getting me in the mood for working out, I was very curious to see how it would set the tone for my day. 

Before starting the workout, it was the last thing I wanted to do — even knowing I’d enjoyed it before. I hadn’t slept well, I was supremely grumpy, and I was certainly in no mood to pretend to throw confetti (one of the final moves of the workout). This scenario was the ultimate test of the Joy Workout. I resentfully rolled out my workout mat and hit play. 

To my truly genuine surprise, it still lifted my mood. My favorite movement, sway, felt soothingly good. When it was time to shake, I pretended to shake off my bad mood. The workout helped my stiff body wake up. 

Was I feeling joyful after the eight-minute workout? That’s a stretch. But did I smile during it. And did I feel better having done it? Without a doubt. 

The bottom line: All in all, I highly recommend the Joy Workout. Whether you’re in a bad mood, out of touch with pleasurable movement, or just looking for a little extra joy, we think it’ll add a smile to your day. Let us know how it goes! 

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About Laura Carrillo

Laura is writer covering topics that inspire women to be the happiest, most alive versions of themselves. After unexpectedly finding her love of fitness through strength training, Laura’s always after the satisfaction of one more rep. A native Chicagoan, Laura loves exploring Chicago’s neighborhoods by foot or bike, and she considers the best days to be those that start with a sweaty workout and end curled up with a good book. You can find her work at lauracarrillowriter.com