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Buzzed and befuddled by a whirlwind workout

Instructor Tanya Tomlin leads a fast-aced BodyShred class at GoodLife Fitness.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The calorie burn begins even before Jillian Michaels' BodyShred class starts: At 9:20 on a Saturday morning, I find myself jostling for space in a sizeable queue outside the group exercise room at a midtown Toronto GoodLife gym.

At exactly 9:30, near-mayhem ensues as BodyShreders charge the doors, colliding with 8:30's departing BodyPumpers. After a scramble to gather the necessary accoutrements – a yoga mat and two five-pound barbells – my next challenge is finding a spot. Today's class, with roughly 70 participants, is at max capacity.

Clearly I've underestimated the draw of take-no-prisoners trainer Jillian Michaels, who developed the 30-minute full body workout. Or have I? "I think they come for the Jillian factor, but also for the fact that it's an express workout," says instructor Susie Sabapathy, diplomatically.

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Indeed, not a second is wasted in the recently launched class, which will eventually be offered at GoodLife locations across Canada. After a three-minute warm-up, we launch into four sets of intervals: three minutes of strength training, two minutes of cardio and one minute of "active recovery," with a focus on abdominal exercises.

Still with me? Each of the 3-2-1 intervals is broken down into 30-second increments, with a buzzer indicating when it's time to move on to the next exercise. A shrill beep sounds every 20 seconds, prompting Sabapathy to preview the next move.

If you're confused, you can imagine how I felt. As soon as I started, say, doing a set of squats with double arm rows, Sabapathy was previewing the upcoming "rock star" jumps. The preview beep, though subtle, was still enough to break my concentration.

On the bright side, I was quickly drenched in sweat. Also positive: Sabapathy's attitude. While I had half-expected her to tell us to keep going until we "faint, puke or die" – a phrase Michaels once famously uttered on TV's The Biggest Loser – Sabapathy's motivation-speak was from a far kinder school.

Approximately 96 buzzers and beeps later, we proceed to a blessedly buzzer-free three-minute cool down. And at the 30-minute mark, we're out the door, exhausted and, in my case at least, slightly stunned.

Can a decent workout be had in half an hour? So it seems, at least according to a 2012 study showing that 30-minute sweat sessions are as effective for weight loss as hour-long efforts. That said, the frantic pace of BodyShred does have its drawbacks. It's easy to compromise form. I also had to pause more than once just to figure out what the heck was going on. As for the incessant buzzing? To quote Michaels once more, this is a class in which you definitely need "to get comfortable with being uncomfortable."

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