I tried TikTok’s cosy cardio trend to heal my relationship with exercise

Doing squats in a bathrobe while listening to jazz? Sign me up!

Hero image in post
photo: Licorice Pizza, MGM Studios
Hero image in post
photo: Licorice Pizza, MGM Studios

Doing squats in a bathrobe while listening to jazz? Sign me up!

By Darshita Goyal24 Aug 2023
10 mins read time
10 mins read time

I grew up believing that exercise was the enemy. Something about wearing workout clothes that feel a little too tight on me no matter what size I buy, and entering a space with floor to ceiling mirrors and harsh, anxiety-inducing fluorescent lighting has kept me one foot in and ten steps out. The thought of seeing a hench trainer in a tank top yelling at me to do 10 more burpees gives me literal chills. Enter: cosy cardio, a TikTok trend with over 2.5 million views that promises to be the antithesis to the “no pain, no gain” ideology.

Feel good TikToker Hope Zuckerbrow started doing cosy cardio to fix her relationship with exercise. Here the goal isn’t to lose weight or to get washboard abs in 2 weeks (looking at you Chloe Ting), it’s to enjoy movement for the sake of pleasure, not as a means to an end. In a video with 1.6 million views, Zuckerbrow takes viewers through her routine. She makes a protein coffee in a sparkly sipper, lights sweet smelling scented candles and switches on a sky lamp that fills the room with a calming pink glow. Then she gets onto her walking pad (a portable treadmill) and starts pacing while switching between shows to watch on Netflix, for 45 minutes.

On some days, she swaps the walking pad for a yoga mat, reads instead of watching TV, or wears a bathrobe instead of a baggy tee - there’s no right or wrong way to do cosy cardio, as long as the routine approaches working out with gentleness and makes you feel at peace, you’re on the right track. The core is to identify what cosiness means to you, and to subsequently curate a workout around that feeling.

Now this sounds like a routine I can get behind. There’s no rules, no before-and-after photos and no calorie count to meet. The bed is three steps away so in case I change my mind midway, I don’t have to explain anything to anyone. There’s no fees involved either and the people who are advocating for this trend look more like me and less like models on a runway. It’s almost too good to be true and that’s why I had to try it.

While Zuckerbrow’s videos serve as a great inspiration board, I’m customising my workouts for maximum cose. For a week, every day - wait, let’s not set me up for failure - at least every alternate day, I’ll think about what form of movement feels cosy and comforting for me and log in the journey. The ginormous question remains: can cosy cardio fix my relationship with exercise? Stay tuned.

Day one: the sunny picnic stroll (16.08.23)

At post-work drinks a couple weeks ago, I found myself seated between runners, and was filled with envy that I had nothing to contribute to the conversation, big fat nada. So for my first day of cosy cardio, I’m going for a little run in the park. Cute names are important for my process so let’s call this workout ~ the sunny picnic stroll ~ As much as I hate sports bras, I know my boobs cannot survive the jiggling without support so that’s a non-negotiable. But the rest of the fit has to be cosy: my oversized Garfield nightshirt with tiny black shorts to avoid any peeps, frilly lace socks and pink shoes. I swapped the shoelaces for ribbons to add some drama, and carried a little picnic basket with hummus and flatbread so I have something to look forward to. Before I left the house, I spritzed some lavender face mist and added a touch of lip gloss. Today I’m that girl who runs in the park with dewy skin, ribbons and bows.

Total time: 25 minutes (5 intervals of 1.5 minutes running and 2 minutes walking + cool down)

Three words: excited, exhausted, jelly

Day two: the bolly dance party (17.08.23)

I know I agreed to alternate days and maybe it’s beginner’s luck but I woke up and decided it’s a good second day for cosy cardio. It’s 7am and I have to start getting ready for work in 40 minutes so the goal is to keep it cosy enough for comfort but wild enough to wake me up, basically a Bollywood dance party. I picked a nostalgic Y2K playlist on Spotify cheekily called “you are my soniya” (you’re my lover), plugged in my earphones and cranked up the volume. After warming up to the first song and stretching out of bed, I lit my previously untouched Le Labo Santal candle and put on a black sequined skirt under the aforementioned Garfield nightshirt. Skipped the shoes because no one needs sweaty feet in the morning and switched off the lights to avoid catching any awkward glimpses in the mirror.

Total time: 35 minutes

Three words: dreamy, happy, late

" I never thought I could be someone who enjoys a show while exercising and it felt really good to surprise myself and stay on track with the weekly goal"

Day three: the you can do this yoga (19.08.23)

When I tried to work out yesterday to complete a grand old hattrick, I thought about the new-ish tattoo on my foot, a little over three weeks old now. The artist told me to avoid exercise for a bit and on closer look, the ink was looking a little blue. In reality, my brain (more than my body) was tired and was presenting me with a bag of excuses, a process I’m all too familiar with. Terrified of going down the prickly path of avoidance and denial, and never returning to cosy cardio, I decided to call it a rest day - I’m still on track, I’m doing good.

It’s Saturday today so I can work out at any time, maybe 2pm sounds fun. One of the blessings of cosy cardio is that there’s no fixed time, so I never have to plan my day around the workout. It’s a lazy day and I want the routine to be low-lift so let’s play Lofi Girl on YouTube and do some yoga. Instead of counting how many Surya Namaskars I can do, I decide to pick tarot cards between reps - usually I do a reading of seven cards so let’s start with that. I don’t have a sunset lamp but it’s bright outside and the sunlight’s pouring onto my yoga mat. I placed some crystals around me and started the routine with deep breaths before escalating into the sun salutations.

Total time: 30 minutes (meditation + 7 Surya Namaskars + 4 reps of planks for unmeasured time)

Three words: powerful, hot, light

Day four: the new episode rendezvous (20.08.23)

There’s a new episode of Only Murders In The Building waiting for me on Disney+ but instead of diving in at breakfast, I reserved it for cosy cardio time. Around 4pm, I perched my laptop upon three fluffy pillows on the bed to ensure it’s at the perfect angle and hit play. Unlike previous days, I didn’t have a routine in mind for today so I decided to freestyle it and just move where my body takes me. When Oliver Putnam (played by Martin Short) dreamt of a sequence in his imaginary play, I twirled along dramatically becoming one with the scene. On slower moments when fleeting dialogue was good enough to keep up, I did jumping jacks and squats, other times I briskly walked on the spot, imagining a hot pink walking pad under my feet and not my dreary carpet.

Total time: 40 minutes (an indescribable medley of movements)

Three words: who is she?! (I wish this was about the murder mystery in the show but it’s actually from me to me, I never thought I could be someone who enjoys a show while exercising and it felt really good to surprise myself and stay on track with the weekly goal)

Day five: the “she’s a journo” walk (21.08.23)

Every evening my grandmother would get on the stationary exercise bike for 45 minutes and read her magazines while cycling. After her knee surgery, daily exercise was mandatory for her but I always admired how she read stories to keep her entertained. Today, I’m going to do the same. Whenever I feel clued out of the pop culture world, I speed read several stories from writers I follow on Twitter to catch up. This time, I decided to go on a walk in the park while reading articles and scrolling on TikTok. Look at me being hyper productive.

Total time: 10 minutes (walking and reading is not for me, my vertigo kicked in, I got nauseous and had to lie down in the grass to feel better)

Three words: at least I tried

Day six: the “I want it that way” workout (22.08.23)

Yesterday was a disaster: my laptop stopped working, my meal prep went bad and my cosy cardio was a flop. So today, we’re playing it safe with a home workout set to sufi music and Frank Sinatra. Through lockdown, I was terrorised by Chloe Ting workouts, everyone swore by them but her music was too loud and her instructions too piercing. To truly rejig my relationship with exercise, I decided to do Ting’s 20 minute video on YouTube except this time, it’s on my terms. The video is on mute and instead of doing three or four reps for 45 seconds each, I’ll take it as it comes, perhaps I’ll take a break in between and scroll on TikTok. Let’s go!

Total Time: 35 minutes (the 20 minute set with breaks to breathe and just chill)

Three words: burn, breathe, woo

Day seven: the final countdown (23.08.23)

So I realise this routine is prematurely titled - even though the experiment on cosy cardio ends today I am (desperately) hoping to continue working out after it’s over as well. Honestly, the plan is already a success in my eyes; I can’t remember the last time I worked out for a whole week. The only question now is, was I regular because the work outs were mindful and fun, or was it because I was writing about them on a deadline? I want to believe it’s at least a 60-40 split between the two but I guess only time will tell. What I do know for certain though is that I’ve never looked forward to working out before cosy cardio.

As a planner, I like how in-control and airy-fairy this trend makes me feel - anything and everything is a workout and I feel good about my body while doing it. I don’t have to wear clothes that make me feel too big or be stuck in front of mirrors that trigger my body dysmorphia. I can make the plans feral or tame and really aestheticise the routine with special candles, sparkly water bottles, warm lights and soothing music. Most importantly, I’m not running to the weighing scale after every workout or being extra careful with what I eat, and I think that’s a big step towards healing my relationship with movement.

So for the final (documented) workout I decided to go all out. I made a beetroot and spinach smoothie - don’t hate it till you taste it - borrowed my flatmate’s disco lights, wore my best little black dress with tattered rainbow stockings and beaded earrings, and let my hair down. It’s the dance party of my dreams with tunes from Gen Z pop queens Olivia Rodrigo and Addison Rae. It’s a good idea right?

Total time: 50 minutes (a true dance party)

Three words: liberated, stronger, happy