I tried a free 12-week YouTube workout plan, and the results were surprising

Having a workout program to stick to turned fitness into a habit rather than a chore and I’ve never felt fitter

Fit&Well writer Jessica performs jumping squats
(Image credit: Future)

There’s never been a period where I’ve stopped exercising altogether but like most people, I do go through lulls where I’m either bored or unmotivated by my usual training. It’s really hard to stay on track with anything if you don’t set goals, even if they are small and don’t seem that notable. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love a challenge. For example, I always enjoy getting into a pair of the best running shoes for women and seeing how far my legs will take me. But since my days competing in athletics as a teen, I like to keep my training pretty laid back. I’ve also never set myself competitive targets in the gym when I work out with weights. So I thought it was about time I commit to a challenge and signed myself up for a 12-week workout program.

The internet is saturated with fitness programs for people to sign up for but more often than not, they come at a price. As the cost of living has increased, my spending habits have decreased, and therefore finding a suitable fitness program that was free was essential for me. 

After doing some research I found a 12-week program led by certified personal trainer, Heather Roberston, that is designed to build lean muscle and burn fat. The workouts were shared daily to YouTube, all they required were a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells. I even had access to a food plan and a Facebook group where others were taking part in the same program - and I didn’t spend a penny. Here’s what happened to me when I embarked on a 12-week free workout program. 

I developed consistency with working out

You’d think someone who’s a morning person and loves being active would have nailed routine. This isn’t always the case for me.

Back when I was a student, I had the luxury of going for a 3pm run if I fancied or I could go to the gym at 10pm and not worry about feeling exhausted the next morning. Fast forward to having a full-time job and my flexibility and energy around exercise had shrunk, so I don’t always get around to working out every day. 

The workouts in the 12-week program never took any more than 45 minutes and I only had to train five days a week, taking two rest days per week as well. Fearing that I wouldn't be fit enough to progress through the different phases of the program if I missed a workout or two, I set a time to complete the workouts each day. For me this was in between finishing work and dinner, so six o’clock.

Building in this routine to my life surprisingly worked for me from the beginning through to the end. According to research published in the Obesity journal, working out at the same time is key to building a habit of working out. Plus it’s more to do with opting for the same time rather than deliberating over whether or not morning, afternoon or evening is more effective. 

I didn’t realize how challenging home workouts are

Before the pandemic, I certainly overlooked home workouts. I always thought to be at the top of your game fitness-wise, you had to either be outside doing something high-impact and fast-paced or at the gym shifting some serious weight such as learning how to deadlift properly with a heavily loaded barbell.

Turns out I was wrong. On day one, I was sweating within ten minutes of the first bodyweight workout and even in the final weeks, as I had developed much better strength and endurance, I still struggled to complete sets of weighted squats in the HIIT sessions.

When I first began the program I hadn’t yet bought myself any weights. I just used some wine bottles instead and was surprised at how challenging I found completing repetitions of certain moves, such as lunges and plank pull-throughs with my own body weight and ‘DIY weights’. I underestimated how effective no-equipment and minimal equipment workouts at home can be. I now carry some of the best resistance bands with me whenever I travel as I’ve learned how easy it is to work out from a bedroom or living room. 

I built muscle and definition across my body

I didn’t have a set goal or image of what I wanted my body to look like going into the workout program but I knew I wanted to come out noticing some kind of change. 

The combination of different styles of training including cardio with ab workouts, HIIT, Tabata, and sessions that were dedicated to isolating different muscle groups gradually transformed my body. I started to notice definitions as the weeks went by, especially in my core, quads, and upper body. 

HIIT has a good reputation for its ability to torch body fat fast. This study published in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal found that people who completed three sessions a week of high-intensity exercise lost more body fat than those who did five sessions of lower-intensity exercise a week.

With the addition of weights and pushing my muscles to fatigue, I was able to increase strength and muscle mass throughout the program. I finished the twelve weeks not only looking fitter but also feeling stronger in other activities like running and hiking.

Jessica Downey

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her career in journalism began in local news and she holds a Masters in journalism. Jessica has previously written for Runners World, penning news and features on fitness, sportswear and nutrition. 

When she isn't writing up news and features for Fit&Well covering topics ranging from muscle building, to yoga, to female health and so on, she will be outdoors somewhere, testing out the latest fitness equipment and accessories to help others find top products for their own fitness journeys. Her testing pairs up nicely with her love for running. She recently branched out to running 10Ks and is trying to improve her time before moving on to larger races. Jessica also enjoys building on her strength in the gym and is a believer in health and wellness beginning in the kitchen. She shares all of this on her running Instagram account @jessrunshere which she uses for accountability and for connecting with like-minded fitness lovers.