What You Need to Know Before Trying a 30 Day Fitness Challenge

Photo: Getty Images/Hinterhaus Productions

New Years resolutions season is upon us, and every workout studio I've set foot in within the last two weeks—from no-frills gyms to fancy spin boutiques—has had two things in common: a sign boasting a "new year, new you!" mantra (meh), and a call to action challenging its members to 30 days' worth of workouts.

Based on a number of past conversations with fitness pros, I've always been under the impression that rest days and recovery workouts are an integral part of any training regimen—even celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels insists that her clients take at least one day off per week. Which had me wondering: Is it actually a good idea to force your body to the gym for 30 days straight?

"It depends on what you are doing," says Alonzo Wilson, founder and director of training at NYC's Tone House. "Are you trying to run every day or run 26 miles a day? Lift weights every day or do the elliptical every day? The exercises you're planning to do for 30 days changes the the risk." 

"The exercises you're planning to do for 30 days changes the the risk." —Alonzo Wilson

If your personal goal is simply to workout every day for a month, be sure to organize your week in a way that mixes up your modalities so that your body isn't experiencing the same strain day in and day out. "If you change your routine so that certain muscle groups get to rest then yes, you can workout every day,"  says Rebecca Grande, personal training manager at Equinox Bryant Park. "Splits between high intensity and low intensity days would be key as well. This will keep your body guessing, keep you healthy, and set you up for better success."

Even if you aren't down to take a full rest day, though, be sure to work active recovery somewhere into your routine. "With the right kind of recovery, most fitness challenges can be completed safely, without a full rest day," says Wilson. "Foam rolling, compression boots and cold tubs post-workout, for example, can help your muscles recover faster before getting back at it the next day." He also points to healthy eating as an important factor in sticking with it. 

As always, however, you need to listen to your body throughout the entire process. "Dehydration, overexertion, and pulling a muscle or getting injured are all risks if you go pedal to the metal from day one and your body isn't used to the exercise you’re doing," says Bethany Lyons, founder and CEO of Lyons Den Power Yoga. "Ease into it and really listen to your body. If you push so hard that you can't walk the next day, you’ll set yourself back. Modify, adapt, and adjust, and as you get stronger, level up your routine and your workouts." 

Oh, and something important to remember: Set smaller goals and benchmarks for yourself, and don't beat yourself up if you miss a day. "If something doesn’t go as planned, just get right back on the saddle the next day," says Lyons. "Having an all-or-nothing mentality and beating yourself up for small setbacks is a goal-crusher for a lot of people." 

And one other way to crush any 30 day challenge safely: "Get out of your comfort zone and try things you know will challenge you," recommends Wilson. "If you know sitting on a bike is comfortable, get off of it! Take a 360-approach to supporting your body through a 30 day challenge: train, recover, fuel, and transform. You'll be shocked at where it will take you." Brb, lacing up my sneakers.

To mix things up this year, try adding some HIIT elliptical training (which can be a lot harder than you might think) and a two-for-one plyo push-up into your routine. 

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