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Do fitness challenges really work?


Fitness challenges are everywhere—at spin and yoga studios, and workplaces. While they can boost motivation in the short run, just how long-lasting are results?

woman crossing finish line

Motivation to work out or train for a race can be hard to muster alone. Hence the popularity of fitness challenges, now offered at all kinds of yoga and fitness studios (and workplaces) that claim to deliver that needed extra dose of get up and go.

But does completing one really lead to sustained health and wellness in the long run?

“The fitness/health/diet process is complex and multifaceted,” says Bill Cole, the founder and president of the Mental Game Coaching Association and author of the forthcoming book The Mental Game Guide To Fitness And Weight Control. “If it was simple, anyone could do it, easily, on their own.”

Since a lot of us can’t, fitness companies try to do it for us, in lots of different ways.

flybarre
The Flybarre Challenge includes 4 classes per weel for 6 weeks. (Photo: Stylecaster.com)

Oliver Ryan, the founder of the online challenge community Social Workout, says that the social aspect of challenges is the key to motivating participants.

“There are huge amounts of evidence that social accountability is enormously motivating,” explains Ryan. “It’s about the public statement of a goal.”

And “goal-setting togetherness” doesn’t just encourage accountability, it also provides support. Team In Training, for instance, built its model of coaching individuals to conquer endurance challenges like triathlons and 100-mile bike rides around this concept—if team members are cheering you on, the challenge just won’t feel as painful.

Zhana Galjasevic, the owner of The Yoga Room, agrees. Galjasevic runs 30-day yoga challenges twice a year, in which, she says, students tend to motivate each other, and a sense of community builds at the studio.

Motivation can also come from regularly taking stock of your progress with someone besides your diary, finds Mahri Relin, one of the instructors who runs six-week Flybarre challenges at Flywheel. Participants are highly motivated by the numbers that measure change in their bodies. “Getting measured every week keeps people accountable to themselves,” says Relin. “They’re disappointing themselves if the numbers aren’t changing.”

But while challenges seem to be successful in motivating individuals to achieve short-term fitness goals, long-term fitness is not a guaranteed result.

How do you sustain the regimen after crossing the challenge finish line? According to Bill Cole, it’s about aligning your personal and social motivations. Accountability starts with you—but a little cheerleading doesn’t hurt. —Lisa Elaine Held

Have you done a fitness or health challenge? How was it? Would you do another one? Tell us in the Comments, below!

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