The Most Popular BOD Exercise Program?
There are a whole lot of reviews of the Beachbody on Demand workout program “21 Day Fix” out there because it’s so famous, but this review here is different. Why? Honesty and perspective. First, I’m NOT a Beachbody coach (I’m just a 39-year-old middle school English teacher), meaning I have no financial incentive for you to do the program or not, so I can be honest! VERY honest.
Second, I completed seven (!) Beachbody workout programs from start to finish BEFORE doing “21 Day Fix” with Autumn Calabrese, meaning that this review brings the fresh 2021 perspective of being able to compare the classic “21DF” program with the newest and most popular BOD workouts. This perspective can help you find the best exercise plan for YOUR goals. Oh, and third, I have neon pink and purple leggings and enjoy silly jokes. Now, let’s dive in!
“Best Beachbody Program for Beginners”
When I started my Beachbody binge a year ago, I asked friends which program was the best Beachbody workout for beginners to this online exercise universe. The unanimous answer was: “21 Day Fix!” Stubbornly, I neglected this good advice, and instead dove right into one of the hardest programs on BOD, “6 Weeks of the Work.” Now, I adored “The Work” — and all the new Beachbody workouts I tried after it — but always wondered, “What’s so special about “21 Day Fix” that makes everyone recommend it so highly?”
This month I decided to find out. As of today, I have completed “21 Day Fix: Real Time” in its entirety, including every single bonus workout, taking copious notes along the way to prepare for this article — 12 single spaced notes on a geeky Google Doc, to be exact. What follows is an extremely detailed review of “21 Day Fix,” featuring a hearty comparison of this classic program to every other Beachbody on Demand workout I’ve done, including many recently-released ones.
Why Trust this Workout Review?
As mentioned, I am NOT a Beachbody coach, nor affiliated with the company in any way — I’m just a middle school English teacher and mother of two who delights in working out and writing ridiculously detailed exercise reviews. No one paid me to write this article, and I have no financial stake in whether you do this program or not. Rather, I just get deep joy from helping people find an exercise program which truly fits their preferences and lives.
I was a college athlete (high jump!) and am currently at an intermediate fitness level, but I also struggle with warding off injuries. For yourself, please use common-sense judgement — and even consult a doctor — before starting ANY new fitness program, as your health and safety are important, and any workout can pose a risk if not done in a way that works for your body. That said, a good exercise plan can change your life for the better — so let’s begin this review of “21 Day Fix” to see if it might be a fit!
Overview of “21 Day Fix”
“21 Day Fix” with Autumn Calabrese is one of the all-time most popular Beachbody on Demand workout programs because it’s just 30 minutes (plus a few 10-minute bonus ab videos), every day of the week for three weeks. It’s categorized as a “Beginner” program because it has simpler moves, a medium pace, and clear modifications from Kat for every move, but it could easily be considered Intermediate level if you bump up your weights and push harder.
Going with the “Simple, Not Easy” theme, nearly every workout except for the Yoga and Pilates follows the pattern of 1 minute of work then 30 seconds of rest, with each move repeated twice (usually in groups of two). Equipment needed includes: Dumbbells, resistance loops, and a mat. The program targets the full body, cycling between: Cardio, Lower Body, Upper Body, Total Body, “Dirty 30” (strength), Bonus Abs, Pilates, and Yoga. As is typical with an Autumn Calabrese program, “21 Day Fix” has a special emphasis on arms, abs, and…. glutes.
“21 Day Fix” Original vs. “Real Time” Differences
One of the most confusing things about “21 Day Fix” is that there are TWO versions of it on Beachbody on Demand: “Original” (which was Autumn’s first program, made in 2014 in the days of DVDs) and “Real Time,” which Autumn re-filmed with new moves and progressions in 2019, after she’d already shot “80 Day Obsession” and “Country Heat.” So, which version of “21DF” is better? I tried them both, and there’s a clear answer.
At first, I actually preferred the “Original” version of “21 Day Fix,” because it has music and a more polished, edited “studio” feel versus the live messiness. Soon it became clear, however, why the “Real Time” version is so much more popular: REPEATING VIDEOS STINKS!
Ultimately, the “Real Time” version is superior for your fitness development, because instead of repeating a week of videos three times like the Original version asks you to, “Real Time” has fresh videos for every single workout, and each week’s set PROGRESSES in difficulty. Clearly, “21 Day Fix: Real Time” is better than the Original, so the rest of this review will focus on the “Real Time” version.
Pros of “21 Day Fix:” What I Loved
1. Total body results in just 30 minutes a day for 3 weeks.
I adored that “21 Day Fix” works every muscle group — while taking up just half an hour a day. Though I have a packed life (my kids are throwing things at me as I write this), it was easy to squeeze the videos into my schedule, and I found that the workouts made me feel so good that I was motivated to continue.
“21 Day Fix” is exceptionally well-rounded. Each workout targets a different body area, using varied forms of exercise. In which other workout plan can you hit cardio, weightlifting, pilates, and yoga every week? Unlike programs like “The Prep” which can focus too much on arms for my taste, or “LIIFT4” which leans too much on bilateral (symmetrical) moves, “21 Day Fix” yields FULL-BODY results. Bless Autumn for her focus on abs and glutes, too, because toning those areas sure makes clothes fit nicely…
2. Exercises are simple to follow, and can be modified up or down.
Part of what makes “21 Day Fix” so popular is that it’s effective for a wide range of fitness levels. The moves are classic combinations of squats, lunges, and high knees — simple but worthwhile — that can be modified down by decreasing jumps or weight for beginners, or modified up by increasing weight and speed for advanced exercisers.
The pattern of two times through a set of moves with 1 minute of work and 30 seconds of rest is simple to follow, and calmingly predictable. To keep things fresher amid this structure, each week Autumn changes the order of the workouts, and adds a level of difficulty to the moves — but nothing crazy. Simple is the name of the game. Paired with the reiterated message that what matters is trying, not getting everything perfect immediately, the result is a satisfying feeling each day of “I can do this!“
3. Autumn is an expert at cueing and motivating.
It isn’t easy to work out while simultaneously talking, but Autumn Calabrese has become highly skilled at exercising WHILE explaining: proper form, how to avoid injury, weight amount suggestions, deep thoughts on health and fitness — and a funny stories about her life. Though this “Super Trainer” rubs some people the wrong way (she can be quite intense), I truly appreciated all the information she gave during the program. The “progress, not perfection” ethos felt inclusive and welcoming for all levels, as was the permission to make some side hops shorter for those working out in smaller spaces — like me in my laundry room!
Part of why “21 Day Fix” is such a good program for beginners to Beachbody — or online workouts in general — is that Autumn is extremely clear in her directions. I especially like knowing which dumbbell amounts she selects, so I can try to match her weight choice. A special shout-out goes to the camera crew, too, who are superb at filming angles which show correct body positioning for more confusing moves.
4. Despite the slower pace, less wasted time.
My biggest gripe with Autumn’s other famous workout program, “80 Day Obsession,” was that there would sometimes be long pauses in the action for Autumn to give a speech or catch her breath. Further, because “80DO” featured exercises by number (ex: 15 side lunges), I would often finish before her, and then be awkwardly waiting for her to be done.
In contrast, “21 Day Obsession” avoids both those problems because of the structure of 1 minute of work and 30 seconds of rest. This framework in “21DF” assures that action needs to start by a certain time, and you’ll never finish a move before Autumn because it’s counted by time, not reps. I will speak more about the pacing in the “Cons” section coming up, but for now let’s celebrate the steadier pace of the program as compared to “80DO.”
5. The large cast has fun and can be entertaining to watch.
The cast of “21 Day Fix” has its problems (read on for why), but the reality is that workouts fly by more quickly when you have interpersonal banter to watch on screen. Observing the antics of the many cast members certainly took my mind off burning quads during squat holds! There does seem to be actual rapport between them, weird personal jokes and all.
6. Lower risk of injury than other programs: simpler.
Prior to doing “21 Day Fix,” I’d just finished the new Beachbody program, “30 Day Breakaway,” during which I unfortunately injured my Achilles tendon doing one of the runs. (I learned the hard way that being experienced in weightlifting doesn’t mean a gal can dive into interval sprints with no warm-ups!) Luckily, “21 Day Fix” proved an excellent program for recovery. It’s straightforward, simple, slower-paced, and full of low-impact modifications. By the end of the three weeks with “21DF,” my Achilles was in far better shape than before, yet I was able to maintain my fitness level. (I would also recommend the new Amoila Cesar program, 645 for a first or second Beachbody program, and for injury recovery.)
Problems and Concerns with “21 Day Fix”
A. Starting with “Surrenders,” the hardest move?!
WHY, OH WHYYYY would “21 Day Fix” start both the “Original” and “Real Time” programs — programs which are supposed to be for beginners — with the WORST possible exercise in terms of injury risk?! “Surrenders,” for those who don’t know, is an exercise where you go from kneeling to standing, repeatedly. I’m an experienced athlete, but by golly, I have injured my knees during Surrenders so many times that I now completely steer clear of them, and invite you to do the same. The rest of “21 Day Fix” is fine — but the first move is not.
B. Cast is not very diverse, and can be awkward.
One of my favorite things about the newer Beachbody on Demand programs like “Muscle Burns Fat #mbf” and “6 Weeks of the Work” is that the cast represents a beautiful range of ages, body types, and ages. Unfortunately, “21 Day Fix” doesn’t, really. This is a missed opportunity for a beginner program. One of the most motivating parts of #mbf was seeing the 50 and 60 year olds beat everyone in reps! In contrast, I didn’t find the “21DF” actors as compelling as recent casts, and some of their interactions were strange for my taste. (What was with Cupcake messing up all the ab moves?!)
C. No music or on-screen timers.
Few programs on Beachbody have music besides #mbf and #mbfa, “Morning Meltdown 100,” or the dance ones, and sure enough “21 Day Fix” is just talking, breathing, or silence — unless you use Autumn’s Spotify playlists that come with the materials (which I find cumbersome). Further, despite being very time-based, there are zero on-screen timers in “21DF,” which makes it harder to push the full minute, as it’s often unclear when the time for each move will end.
D. No real rest days.
Yes, “21 Day Fix” has Yoga and Pilates days twice a week, which are easier than the regular workouts, but they’re not really rest days because both are still 30 minutes long and relatively challenging. Hence… “21 Day Fix” has zero rest days for the whole three weeks. Not cool! Human bodies need to rest and reset, and both I and almost everyone I know who did “21DF” ended up adding in at least one true rest day a week — meaning the program ends up taking longer than three weeks.
It’s interesting to me that in many ways, “9 Week Control Freak,” Autumn’s new Beachbody program, is a reaction to problems with “21 Day Fix.” In particular, #9WCF has not one but TWO full rest days a week! This makes me think that both Autumn and BOD have realized the importance of a real body reset. The program “Fire and Flow” also adds in more low-impact and “off” days.
E. Repeated “Bonus 10-Minute Abs” is problematic.
I like a good washboard stomach as much as the next gal, but ten minutes straight of crunches (while on your back) is excessive — and also hurt my neck, no matter how much I followed Autumn’s guidance to support my head by pushing into my hands. I think the BOD staff realized this fault, because after four repetitions of this workout (albeit with new videos each time so you don’t have to repeat the same jokes), Week 3 actually changes up the format so you’re alternating between being in a plank and on your back to take pressure off the neck. That final version is SO much better, and I wish they’d changed it up earlier in the program.
F. The predictable structure becomes repetitive.
I LOVED the first week of “21 Day Fix,” but by Week 3, the format became so predictable (despite the boosted difficulty of each move) that I got restless. Oh, and did I mention the warmup is the same all 21 days (and includes a double repetition)? Again, I can see how Autumn’s new program, “9 Week Control Freak” is a direct response to issues with “21DF” — “9 Week Control Freak” repeats almost nothing, ever, so you’re always on your toes!
G. Too much rest time between moves.
By Week 3, having 30 full seconds between each move felt like way too much rest time for me, and really messed with trying to get that “cleansed” feeling that comes from a good workout where your heart rate stays up for the full half hour. What’s annoying is there’s a “Skip forward 30 seconds” button on the screen, but you can’t really use it because by the time you walk to the computer from the mat, 5 seconds have passed, and you’ll skip right into the middle of the next move if you click it.
Other friends who also have this gripe with “21 Day Fix” being too slow say that they just keep doing the move through the 30 second rest period, then go directly into the new move without rest — but that’s too far in the advanced direction for me. The bottom line is that if you want an intense cardio workout from “21DF,” you need to supplement or alter it.
(2022 edit: If you want a program with fewer pauses — and no impact — Autumn’s new program, “4 Weeks for Every Body” may be a match.)
“21 Day Fix” Results
You will 100% get results from doing “21 Day Fix” as designed, especially in your abs, arms, and glutes — although it’s important to be realistic how much can be accomplished in just three weeks. I took these muscle photos after finishing “21DF,” but please note that I’ve been doing back-to-back Beachbody workout programs for over a year, now, meaning that results from one program have built upon another, and it becomes harder to tell which muscles are from what.
Honestly, the #1 result I got from completing “21 Day Fix” was my body started feeling GOOD again, instead of injured. “21DF” is a really excellent program for recovery (provided you modify accordingly) after a period of too-strenuous exercise. Over the past month with Autumn’s famous program, I’ve been able to maintain my fitness, while toning down the intensity so my body could heal. In this way, “21DF” really does have something to offer all levels.
The “21 Day Fix” Nutrition Plan and Containers
Many people have gotten great results from the nutrition plan by Autumn Calabrese which uses different sizes of containers, paired with meal planning. I did not use this eating plan, however, because I’ve had success with a healthy diet (veggies and whole grains), stopping drinking alcohol, and chugging lots of water. Experiment with what type of nutrition is the best match for YOU. The best advice I can give is to use mindfulness to really listen to what your body needs, and how it reacts to different kinds of fuel.
Pairing “21 Day Fix” with Running, Walking, or Other Cardio
YES, you should supplement “21 Day Fix” with cardio — ideally outdoor walking or jogging — if you want the best results, and also increased happiness. While any exercise is better than none, the reality is that if you’re at a desk most of the day, a half-hour indoor workout on its own (even one as well-rounded as “21DF”) is probably not enough to really get the body to optimal shape. I highly recommend getting into the world of “forest bathing:” easy nature walks to revitalize the soul.
“Doubles” Workouts for “21 Day Fix”
Another way to up the intensity of “21 Day Fix” is to follow Autumn’s optional suggestion to do double workouts (or “Doubles”) by Week 3. You can follow her calendar or verbal explanation to learn which workouts pair with what. Ex: Day 15 “Lower Fix” pairs with the Week 1 “Pilates Fix” video. There are also several official “hybrid calendars” which mesh “21DF” with other programs in configurations sanctioned by the Beachbody fitness experts (who caution against you trying to make your own hybrid and accidentally overtraining).
Equipment Needed for “21 Day Fix”
Because “21 Day Fix” has higher volume and more reps than “80 Day Obsession,” you can get away with lighter weights, though you still need a range of light to heavy. (Note: This section of this article contains some affiliate links which provide a small commission upon purchase at no extra cost to you.) I used 10 pound weights and 15 pound weights most of all, though sometimes used my 20s. I’d recommend you have 5 or 7.5 pound weights for the program, too, especially if you’re just starting out, but I don’t own them yet.
I don’t always love my adjustable dumbbells, but they’re decently compatible with “21 Day Breakaway” because the program features slower lifts like lunges and curtsey squats which don’t tax the adjusting mechanism of my finicky MX55s. In general, however, I find regular weights far more useful than adjustable ones.
2. Resistance Loops and a Squishy Mat
Resistance loops are inexpensive, fun, and effective to use, and I have the set at this link. Meanwhile, for kneeling and core moves, you’ll want a cushioned foam mat like this one to cushion your knees and back.
3. Bonus: A mini trampoline!
Since I’m nursing an injured Achilles and achy knees, I’ve found that doing the bouncy cardio moves on my indoor mini trampoline for adults instead of the mat really cushions the impact — and is a rockin’ good time! To be clear, nowhere in “21 Day Fix” is a trampoline even referenced… this is just my creative twist on certain days of the program.
4. Optional: Workout Clothes
Since developing varicose veins (thank you, double pregnancy), I’m wild about wearing colorful compression socks like this to keep my legs healthy and supported. I wish I’d started doing it years ago. In other workout gear news, my outfit in these photos is from the woman-owned small business, Sunia Yoga, and the photos are thanks to local Boston photographer, Deborah J. Karson. Thank you, ladies!
Workout Details from “21 Day Fix”
Curious about what each of the 8 types of workouts in “21 Day Fix” are like, and how they get harder as the weeks progress? Here are details!
1. Total Body Cardio Fix:
You already know I detest that this workout starts with sinister “Surrenders,” but the rest of it is great. It lives up to both the “total body” and “cardio” promise with easy-to-follow, enjoyable moves. In Week 2, Autumn progresses by introducing a harder move for the second 30 seconds of the minute of work, and by Week 3, all 60 seconds are the harder version.
2. Lower Fix:
Autumn and I both love our leg days! The moves are all the classic lunges and squats that you’d expect, but they work. By Week 2, Autumn adds a 10 second hold (ex: “Hold your squat — time under tension!”) and in Week 3 adds a jump after the hold.
3. Upper Fix:
What I enjoyed about the “Upper Fix” arm days is that you do 5 exercises before the repeat (unlike the other days which have 2 before the repeat), and they also have core and leg work mixed in. Autumn increases the intensity in Week 2 by adding holds, and in Week 3 by staying on one leg longer.
4. Pilates Fix:
I LOVED these Pilates workouts. They’re very low impact, and many are done sitting on the mat, which is relevant to my schedule because you can do them sooner after eating, without waiting to digest so much. Every single move felt like it was shaping my core effectively, and they were fun. Yay, Pilates!
5. Cardio Fix:
While “Total Body Cardio Fix” uses weights, “Cardio Fix” is a different workout which is all about bodyweight jumping moves. Yes — this is the workout you can rock out on a mini trampoline! “Cardio Fix” is so easy to follow that my 7 year old son was able to do it alongside me, panting and laughing the whole time. Bonus points for Autumn having — and complaining about — her cycle the same day as me. Can women synch up through a screen?!
6. Dirty 30:
“Dirty 30” is a tough strength workout, culminating with core work. There are some great moves in these videos which feel effective and excellent in the body. Just watch out for the plank holds at the end!
7. Yoga Fix:
Supporting the well-rounded nature of “21 Day Fix,” the “Yoga Fix” workouts hits all the classic moves like Downward Dog, Tree, Cobra, and so on, giving a thorough and much-needed stretch. My 5-year old daughter did one of these with me, and enjoyed it. Autumn does intensify this workout, too, by adding more challenging yoga moves as the week goes on — to the point that she falls repeatedly in Week 3!
8. BONUS – 10 Minute Fix for Abs:
As previously mentioned, the first four iterations of this put far too much strain on the neck, though I did appreciate the unmistakable burn of progress in my core muscles. Iteration #5 of “Bonus Fix for Abs” is much more comfortable because it alternates back and front positioning to ease neck strain.
How is “21 Day Fix EXTREME” Different?
I’ve just started “21 Day Fix EXTREME,” the three-week program that goes after “21 Day Fix,” and indeed it is more advanced (as labeled) due to harder moves and shorter rest time between exercises. Though I haven’t finished “21DFE” yet — subscribe to know when I complete the program and review — I will say that it’s not different enough yet to be shaking my feeling of ennui from the predictable repetition of “21DF,” and I’m getting a bit annoyed. Do I think “Extreme” is a really solid program that will yield results for most people, though? Yes indeed. I think I’m just impatient that Shaun T’s new program, “Let’s Get Up” (dance!!!!) isn’t out yet…
Who is “21 Day Fix” Best For?
Autumn’s famous “21 Day Fix” is a truly quality exercise program, but it’s not for everyone. Follow this summary guide to decide whether it fulfills your fitness goals.
You SHOULD Consider “21 Day Fix” If:
1. You’re just starting with Beachbody on Demand, and want a solid, welcoming introduction to foundational fitness moves, with clear modifications for how to make exercises more accessible and lower impact.
2. You’re at an intermediate (or even advanced) fitness level, but looking for a slightly easier program to have a more chill fitness month where you still maintain fitness, but take somewhat of a rest from intense programs and even heal from injuries.
3. You want a program with a predictable, easy-to-follow structure, more basic moves, and a sizable amount of rest time between each move.
4. Motivating speeches from a more tough-love (but also goofy) trainer work well for you.
5. You’re looking for full-body workout results in just 30 minutes a day, with a well-rounded mix of weightlifting, cardio, pilates, and yoga.
You Should NOT “21 Day Fix” If:
A. You’re looking for a more intense exercise program with few pauses.
B. You want to be introduced to unique and new styles of exercise beyond basic squats and lunges.
C. You’re not a fan of Autumn Calabrese’s style: tough love motivational words, random jokes and chatting with the cast, and wild laughing.
D. You’d prefer a cast which spans a wide range of demographics.
E. You get bored with repetition and predictable structures.
This “21 Day Fix” Review in Sum
There is a reason that “21 Day Fix” with Autumn Calabrese is so famous: It’s effective, simple to follow, and customizable for a wide range of fitness levels, including beginners. Is it the most thrilling or innovative program on Beachbody on Demand? No, but it will get the job done in just 30 minutes a day, so it’s worth a try if you’re even somewhat tempted. As Autumn says, you always regret the workouts you DON’T do!
What about you? Have you tried “21 Day Fix?” If so, what did you think? If not, does it seem like an at-home workout program that would fit for your exercise goals and desires? Do share!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!