Fortune Well December 27, 2023
While many fitness professionals would prefer to never look back on the unrealistic or downright ridiculous workout trends swirling on TikTok these days, the viral 3-2-8 method has some merit. Experts aren’t balking at the exercise trend that they say has real benefits—as long you keep some pointers in mind.
The guidelines of the 3-2-8 method include:
Multiple sources point to Natalie Rose, a U.K.-based trainer and barre and Pilates instructor, as being responsible for the virality of the trend. Her fitness-focused TikTok has many posts dedicated to the weekly routine with Rose claiming it can reduce inflammation and build core strength among many other purported benefits including using it as a way to sync your workouts with your menstrual cycle.
While the science of cycle syncing, the concept of optimizing your diet and activity to the phase of your menstrual cycle, is still quite murky, this workout trend holds merit. It mostly comes down to the benefits of the individual activities (strength, Pilates/barre, and walking) as well as the balanced approach to fitness.
While Rose and others on TikTok have anecdotally claimed the weekly workout routine has helped them do everything from lose weight and ease PCOS symptoms, there are lots of other science-backed benefits to the 3-2-8 that are validated.
Five days a week of grueling workouts (think: HIIT, heavy lifting, or long runs) is a recipe for physical and mental fatigue and diminishing results. Instead, the 3-2-8 method prioritizes recovery, variety, and complementary movements.
“It’s such a nice balance,” says Kristie Larson, CSCS, NASM-certified personal trainer, adding that the method helps prevent overtraining and burnout. “You’ve got strength training, which we all need, and we’ve got Pilates or barre that’s going to be [with] lighter weights and less neurologically taxing and really great for stability and mobility,” she says.
Plus, 8,000 daily steps is much more achievable for most people than the typically recommended 10,000, says Larson. However, both numbers are seemingly arbitrary, she adds, citing a recent JAMA Open Network study that indicates 7,000 daily steps as the key benchmark for long term health.
“Strength training is incredibly important for longevity and slowing down rapid decline as we age,” says Larson. “Progressive strength training leads to increased muscle mass and increased bone density,” a big bonus for older women as menopause is a big culprit for declining musculoskeletal health and injury risk.
While barre and Pilates are both low-impact, it’s not uncommon for barre classes to use light weights with very high reps, leaving you feeling more sore than recovered. This is why Larson says if she were to prescribe the 3-2-8 method to her clients, she would lean more so on Pilates for its keen ability to work on smaller stabilizer muscles and core engagement.
Pilates helps to build overall strength, particularly in the core, defines muscles, improves balance and posture, and may also be good for your mental health, says Marisa Fuller, owner of Studio Pilates. Plus, the low-impact nature of Pilates makes it a workout that’s accessible to most any age, she says.
When it comes to the benefits of walking, the list is endless. Daily walks can help boost longevity, improve sleep, and reduce joint pain. Plus, if you add intervals and increase the speed, you’ll grab even more perks.
While, it’s clear there are mind and body benefits to all three activities, it’s the magic of cross-training that makes them even better when combined. “Another thing I like about this method is that it’s reinforcing the idea that one workout isn’t everything,” and “that not every workout has to be intense,” says Larson.
Utilizing Pilates as a means of active recovery from your strength training ensures you’re repairing the necessary muscle damage accrued from previous workouts, explains Larson. “It can help promote blood flow, so that you recover a little bit faster,” she says. “It can help mitigate soreness. The point of active recovery is to help your body repair the damage that’s been done through exercise to actually get the improvement that you’re looking for.”
Pilates is the perfect active recovery workout because not only does it keep your heart rate low, but it also provides deep stretching even some rehabilitating movement patterns, says Fuller. Plus, “since Pilates focuses so heavily on your core activation, it’s been shown that it improves your overall athletic performance,” says Fuller. The core work done during Pilates activates much more than your rectus abdominis in the front of the body, but also your obliques, which help to stabilize your entire center, and glutes, which are the large, powerful muscles responsible for many complex lifts during strength sessions.
The right workouts don’t just make you better at fitness but also at moving pain-free during everyday life, and the 3-2-8 method is rooted in functional fitness.
“When you add Pilates into your cardio and strength training, you will see injury prevention, improved bending and lifting in everyday life, and improved balance and stability,” adds Fuller.
Plus, regular strength training offers less risk of fractures from falls, increased independence, and greater recovery if there is any type of musculoskeletal injury, adds Larson.
Here are a few important details to keep in mind to reap all the advantages of this routine.
Lots of boutique Pilates-esque studios offer very high-intensity classes, sometimes with medium-to-heavy dumbbells, which will end up prolonging your recovery, not aiding it. Opt for traditional mat or reformer Pilates. If you want to try barre during active recovery days, choose a studio or class format that includes ample opportunities to stretch between all that pulsing and muscle contraction.
As balanced as this program seems, it still asks you to complete five workouts a week, which is more than many people may be able to achieve, says Larson. If three days of strength and two days of low-impact work isn’t attainable for your lifestyle, try two strength sessions and one Pilates or barre day on the weekend, for example, she suggests. And don’t be a slave to the step count—aim to walk every day and give yourself grace if you miss the 8,000 mark.
The bottom line? “Be mindful of fitness trends and really think about what’s going to work for you and be realistic for your life,” says Larson. “At the end of the day, that’s going to be the most valuable thing for anyone.”
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