The notoriously tough fitness programme has gone viral on social media, sparking over two billion views, but there are expert-backed reasons why you might want to skip it, says Liz Connor.
If you use social media, chances are you've seen the hashtag #75HardChallenge doing the rounds, accompanied by daily progress photos, motivational quotes, and impressive before-and-after transformations. But what exactly is the 75 Hard Challenge, why is it sparking controversy, and should you consider taking it on
Billing itself as a ‘transformative mental toughness program’, the 75 Hard Challenge is a viral fitness and self-development program created by entrepreneur and podcaster Andy Frisella.
In its simplest terms, it requires you to follow a strict daily routine for 75 consecutive days. Here's what this challenge typically entails:
Two 45-minute workouts: You're expected to work out twice daily, with one workout taking place outdoors, no matter the weather conditions.
Stick to a diet: It can be a diet of your choosing, but it must be structured and health-orientated. No alcohol or cheat days are allowed.
Drink a gallon of water per day: You’re asked to up your water intake to stay hydrated (and enjoy all the benefits that come with it).
Read 10 pages of a non-fiction book: You’ll need to read this amount as a minimum every day, preferably from a self-development title.
Take a daily progress photo: This helps track your physical changes.
No excuses: Missing any of these daily tasks means starting the challenge over from day one.
Scroll through Instagram and you’ll see some pretty incredible 75-day body transformations, but the success of this challenge seems to hinge on a few key factors: your commitment, your fitness objectives, and how seamlessly it fits into your daily life.
"With two daily workouts, a structured diet plan, and upping your water intake, you're more than likely to witness some physical fitness gains during the challenge," says personal trainer James Dabbs, personal trainer and founder of Dabbs Fitness. Whether you're looking to drop pounds or bulk up, it's got potential. However, Dabbs notes that it's intentionally built to be a beast, and not everyone finds the challenge sustainable for the full 75-day period.
That being said, there are some handy hacks that can make it more manageable. Instead of hitting two intense 45-minute workouts every day, some social media users prefer combining them into a single, more doable one-hour session, along with a lighter workout. This can help you to steer clear of overtraining and make the challenge less intimidating.
If you’re not a bookworm, there are also cheats for conquering 10 pages of daily reading. Instead of carving out specific reading slots, you could plug into an audiobook during your daily commute to make the most of otherwise dead time.
Over on TikTok, there's also a buzz around the ‘Soft Challenge,’ a more flexible take on the original program. While the 75 Hard Challenge is known for its unyielding daily demands, the 75 Soft Challenge lets you complete just one 45-minute workout each day, allows for the occasional beer or glass of wine, and doesn't slam the reset button if you miss a day.
Essentially, the challenge can be taken at its word or serve as an adaptable framework, and it's about finding the right balance between the rules and your lifestyle, all while improving your physical health, mental wellbeing and personal growth.
Since 75 Hard is so rigid, some experts have warned that it poses a potential risk of burnout and injury. Recovery from training is fast becoming recognised as one of the most important aspects of training, but this challenge doesn't give you any rest days. When you exercise, your muscles develop microscopic tears, and it's during periods of rest that they’re able to repair and grow stronger. Without a decent chunk of time to recover, you might push yourself too hard and end up with a sprain, strain or tear.
There have also been some pretty worrying news reports of people experiencing health issues related to excessive water consumption. Earlier this year, one Canadian TikToker was hospitalised after drinking the mandated daily gallon of water left her feeling unwell.
Consuming too much H20 isn’t great for us; it can lead to hyponatremia, a condition where the sodium levels in your blood become diluted. According to government health organisations, most people only need about 1.5 to 2.5 litres of fluid a day. If you're physically active, you'll naturally require slightly more, but moderation is key.
And finally, 75 Hard could also push people into a cycle of unhealthy yo-yo dieting. Quick diets and intense workouts can give you rapid results like shedding weight and getting fitter. But let's be real - they're hard to stick with for the long term. In fact, a study in the Annual Review on Nutrition showed that about 80% of people who intentionally lose less than 10% of their body weight end up gaining it back within a year. So, once the challenge is over, if you return to your regular habits, you might see that the weight comes back fast, and you're back to square one.
From the '12-3-30' routine to the plank challenge, fitness trends are nothing new, and it's no surprise they gain popularity. Our brains are naturally inclined toward achievement and progress. It's a fact backed by neuroscience: the ventral striatum, a key brain region for processing rewards, lights up more when we accomplish something through hard work compared to something easy. This quirk of our psychology is what scientists call ‘The Effort Paradox’.
This psychological effect neatly applies to extreme fitness challenges. Despite their demanding, sweaty, and sometimes painful nature, they offer a big sense of personal achievement. The tougher the challenge, the more our brain rewards us with a surge of dopamine, a feel-good chemical. So, when a challenge is more challenging, the satisfaction we feel upon completing it is even greater.
Psychologist Dr Becky Spelman, founder of The Private Therapy Clinic, sheds further light on this: "Challenges like 75 Hard provide a clear and structured goal, giving us a sense of purpose and direction - something our brains appreciate." Having a daily checklist also aligns with our brain's natural habit-forming tendency.
Research from Duke University found that habits drive about 40% of our daily behaviours, thanks to the release of dopamine, which reinforces behaviour and increases the likelihood of repetition in the future.
Spelman continues, "There’s also a sense of taking control over our health, which can feel very good, and sharing updates and selfies on social media creates a feeling of community and support, which can keep us motivated."
That said, it's important to recognise that there can be unhealthy aspects to our attraction to these challenges, and 75 Hard’s strict nature may not be suitable for everyone.
If you feel that following diet rules, rigid exercise routines, and taking progress photos might have negative effects on you, it's wise to reconsider. Spelman advises, "Exercise addiction, as well as eating disorders, are real concerns. If the challenge takes over your life, starts negatively affecting other aspects of your wellbeing, or leads to unhealthy behaviours, it may signal an unhealthy obsession. In such cases, it's vital to reevaluate your fitness goals and opt for a balanced approach rather than extreme workout challenges."
Lastly, while 75 Hard can bring a fresh edge to your typical fitness routine, it's not the only path to a six-pack. As Dabbs smartly puts it, "You don't need an overly strict challenge to improve your health and fitness, and I’m not a big fan of these extreme challenges. Simply focusing on enhancing your diet, exercising regularly, and staying hydrated can yield positive results."
He recommends scaling back to three weekly workouts, incorporating daily walks, and maintaining a balanced diet that allows you to enjoy various foods, including occasional treats. "This way, you can lead a well-rounded lifestyle without feeling tied to a strict routine."
Words: Liz Connor
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