I know what you’re thinking — the words “cozy” and “cardio” are polar opposites, and there’s no way the two could be combined into a cushy way to get your daily exercise.
That’s exactly what I thought when I first heard of the new trend, too. Cardio isn’t cozy! It’s sweaty, breathless, exhilarating, exhausting, and about as far away from “cozy” as you can possibly get. How could an adjective I use to describe lounging in my pajamas and re-watching The Office be applied to the heart-pounding activities I do to stay in shape?
Eager to find out, I did a bit of research into cozy cardio and decided to give it a go. Keep in mind that what’s right for me may not be right for you — as with all things exercise, be sure to check with a medical professional before beginning any new fitness regimen.
What is cozy cardio?
First introduced in a now-viral TikTok, content creator Hope Zuckerbrow coined the term “cozy cardio” to describe her early-morning exercise routine: she awakes before sunrise, prepares an iced protein coffee, lights a few scented candles in a darkened room, finds a television show or movie she’d like to watch, then hops on a treadmill for 40 minutes. By the end of her session, she’s walked 2.65 kilometers and burned almost 170 calories (I’ll point out here that calorie counts on most pieces of cardio equipment are woefully inaccurate, but the number of calories you burn isn’t really the focus — more on that below).
In a follow up TikTok, Zuckerbrow further explained the cozy cardio trend. “I want cozy cardio to be a movement for women to reclaim their relationships with exercise,” she said. “Cozy cardio was started to help heal my own relationship with exercise but it quickly turned into a form of meditational self-love. It’s meant to take the pressure off. It’s meant to help you enjoy movement again. It’s meant to teach you that you’re worth setting time aside for. Your body deserves it, but your mind does more.”
She adds that while she enjoys walking on her treadmill, she’s also been known to do a 30-minute workout on her living room floor. “Cozy looks different for everyone, but my version looks like ambiance lighting, the flicker of a candle, the taste of my favorite protein coffee, or the comfort of the show I’m binging. I just applied that to my exercise.”
Here’s what happened when I gave cozy cardio a go
There’s nothing about my regular cardio routine that would ever be considered “cozy,” so I knew my foray into this trend was going to be a departure from the norm.
Since I don’t have a treadmill, I decided to hop on my spin bike instead. Luckily for me, the timing of this challenge worked out brilliantly — the lights on my Christmas tree provided a beautiful ambiance that perfectly fit the “cozy” bill. I lit a few candles, found a documentary on Max I’ve been waiting to watch, and started to pedal. Here are some things I noticed about my cozy cardio session:
It reminded me a lot of SoulCycle
Before the pandemic, I’d been known to frequent a few SoulCycle classes every now and then. The main thing that always drew me into the studio — the unique ambiance — was nicely recreated in my cozy cardio experience.
The loud music, the even-louder instructor, and the frenetic energy of bodies pedaling to the beat was missing, but you can always turn up the volume of your favorite playlist and get at least one of those aspects back.
I forgot I was exercising
By the time I was about 15 minutes into my 45-minute cozy cardio session, I kind of forgot I was even working out. My breathing was steady and in control, my heart rate was slightly elevated but not distracting, and my attention was focused on the show I was watching.
For someone with a strong exercise aversion, cozy cardio could be a real game changer. All of the “cozy” elements really do wonders to distract you from the fact that you’re currently getting cardiovascular exercise.
The time passed very quickly
When my Apple Watch buzzed indicating that my 45 minutes of cozy cardio was through, I was honestly shocked. If you had asked me in the moment, I would have estimated that 15 or 20 minutes had passed.
Again, this could be pretty groundbreaking for those who hate cardio. Instead of counting every second in utter agony, the minutes fly by while you enjoy your environment.
I realized that I’ve been (unknowingly) recommending it to clients for years
As a personal trainer, I find that a lot of my clients have trouble fitting in exercise on their own. Whether it’s because of a lack of time or motivation, taking 30 minutes for a walk, bike ride, or a few resistance training circuits can be a rather daunting prospect.
A “trick” I’ll often pass along is to save your favorite TV show, podcast episode, or new album release for your exercise session. Not only does it motivate you to get a workout in, but you’ll associate movement with doing something that you enjoy. That seems to be the same kind of thought behind cozy cardio — pairing movement with an enjoyable sensory experience.
The verdict? I can definitely see both the physical and mental benefits of cozy cardio. As creator Hope Zuckerbrow described, the whole experience felt very meditative and self-soothing, which is not how most people would ever describe exercise.
Ultimately though, my personality is better suited to more traditional cardio fare —the sweaty intensity of treadmill runs and elliptical sessions is what keeps my mood balanced. For those who feel differently, cozying up your cardio is a revolutionary way to make it a lifelong habit.
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Jennifer Rizzuto is a freelance writer and certified personal trainer based in Long Island, NY. She covers various fitness-related topics and reviews for Tom's Guide. She also writes sketch comedy and short films, and performs frequently as an actor, singer, and improviser. When she's not writing, working out, or performing, you'll find her trying to convince her husband to get a dog.