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Monday, July 20, 2015

Challenges: Great or Gimmick?

Squat challenge, yoga challenge, push up challenge, core challenge, burpee challenge, running challenge, flossing your teeth challenge.

I'm teasing about the last one, although it's not a bad idea.

Fitness challenges are a series of daily events focusing on improvement a specific movement, typically lasting 30 days and they are H-O-T hot right now.  It doesn't stop at fitness either, popular diet and supplement companies are also jumping on the challenge train.

Social media has provided a wonderful platform for these challenges, utilizing hashtags like #30daysofyoga and #30dayfitnesschallenge to drum up excitement and connect participants for additional support.

Fitness challenges have been a frequent topic of conversation between my colleagues, Jen (Mama Lion Strong) and Lauren (Moms Done Dieting).  Are they just a gimmick or a great way to dip your toe in the fitness waters?  The answer is, just like most things in the fitness world, it depends.

Here are five items to consider before beginning your next challenge.  

Habit forming?  Turns out 21 days to form a habit philosophy is a bit of a myth.  A Study out of London actually concluded that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to turn a task into a habit. In other words, jumping into a 30 day challenge may be a great way to get started with a routine but it may not be long enough to form a habit.  The good news is, you always have the authority to adjust any challenge to meet your needs.  If you feel like you need more time practicing a task for it to become a habit, go for it!

Have a plan for day 31: Arm yourself with a post challenge plan of attack to help ensure that your efforts don't go to waste.  Just like we don't brush our teeth for 30 days, take the next month off, and expect continued dental health, movement and health habits are something to practice consistently, challenge or not.  

Perfect bum in 30 days: Can you expect results upon completion of your challenge?  It depends.  It depends on a lot of factors including, but not limited to:
  • The purpose of the challenge
  • Your strength and conditioning when starting the challenge
  • Your previous experience relevant to the challenge 
  • How consistent you are participating in the challenge
Can you expect to see a shapely bum after 30 days of squats?  Probably not.  Change, especially in body composition, takes time, consistency and lots of patience.  So if you don't look any different post challenge, don't throw in the towel.  Do anything for 30(ish) days and I'm confident you will likely experience important improvements elsewhere, weather it be in mobility, strength or conditioning.  

Mindset matters: If your approach to any challenge is, "I've just gotta get through this." you might want to consider dialing back the task to consist more sustainable actions.  Sure, testing your mental and physical strength with more extreme measures can be fun from time to time.  But if long term, sustainable results are what you're after, you might be better off selecting challenges and activities you can maintain beyond the length of three or four weeks.

One size does not fit all:  Instead of approaching challenges with a "comply or die" attitude, think of them as guides.  Find a move too easy or difficult?  Adjust as needed.  Miss a day?  Pick up where you left off.  You won't end up on fitness challenge jail, I promise.

Are fitness challenges a great idea or a or just a gimmick?  When used appropriately, challenges can be a great way to start or spice up a routine.  In addition to the physical benefits, challenges typically also come with built in community support.  Connect with others following the same challenge to stay accountable and find support.  Just don't be misled into thinking they're an easy cure-all to your fitness challenges.    


Lally, Phillippa, Cornelia H. M. Van Jaarsveld, Henry W. W. Potts, and Jane Wardle. "How Are Habits Formed: Modelling Habit Formation in the Real World." Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. European Journal of Social Psychology 40.6 (2009): 998-1009. Web.

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