Do fitness challenges really work?

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.


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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16 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. January 30th, 2012 at 11:00 am

    The challenges on this site have really helped me stay focused on my fitness goals and so has the encouragement from the community.

  2. January 30th, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Absoutley they work. I have done several triathlons and having the goal focuses the working out, and finishing gives you more confidence to do more the next time.

  3. January 30th, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    I have done a yoga challenge as well as two races with Team in Training. I find it breathes new life into my practice to have a goal and to try something new. I’ve kept up with running and I’ve been doing yoga for over a decade.

  4. January 30th, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Fitness challenges work as long as you continue them even after the challenge is over. I stay motivated by starting a new challenge whenever one ends :)

  5. January 31st, 2012 at 6:56 am

    I am fully agree with ur Words!!

  6. January 31st, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Well some people are inspired by challenges rather than doing something for the sake of doing it.

    At the end of the day, it all boils down to whatever it takes to get you working up a sweat

  7. January 31st, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    As a personal trainer, I’ve seen varying degrees of success come out of fitness challenges. The people that seem to be most successful have a not only a desire to get the most out of the challenge, but also a will to find ways to integrate activity and healthy eating into their every days lives. They aren’t looking for a quick fix – they’re looking to create sustainable lifestyle changes. The fitness challenge is just one step – one extra piece of motivation – towards that happier, healthier person they want to be.

  8. February 4th, 2012 at 3:24 am

    I think a slow and steady fitness plan really works. Sure there are the people who want instant results but it takes a lifestyle change. But maybe all people need is a little fitness challenge.

    If people told just one person what they were going to achieve they would be held accountable and wouldn’t want to look like a fool if they didn’t meet their fitness goals. That could be the push we all need! :D

  9. February 10th, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    As far as fitness challenges, I believe it really comes down to the familiar proverb, “different strokes for different folks.” For some personalities, a fitness challenge might be just the inspiration they need to start working out, or notch up their fitness level; Others, like me, are indifferent to such outside challenges. I do better and am more inspired by my personal goals.

    Worksite wellness challenges can easily backfire, and research has shown the bang for the buck in these programs is just not there. It’s not surprising that most people new to fitness, prefer to exercise away from their work colleagues, and keep this area of “incompetence” private–at least initially. These worksite challenges might be nice for morale and esprit the corps in the workplace, but that’s a different matter than fitness.

  10. February 20th, 2012 at 6:30 am

    […] to the floor.You can buy yourself a celebratory T-shirt ($9.50) no matter your scoreEither way, the challenge motivated me to get stronger. And I can take the test again next year to see if I have.Although I’d still […]

  11. February 28th, 2012 at 9:38 am

    […] • Do fitness challenges really work? (Well + Good) […]

  12. February 29th, 2012 at 11:18 am

    If you love fitness challenges, maintaining your workout goals has never been easier. One of our favorite fitness challenges is the Core Fusion challenges put together by Core Fusion co-founders Elisabeth Halfpapp and Fred DeVito at exhale mind body spa. Now that YogaVibes (http://www.yogavibes.com) is filming Fred, Lis and others at the soho location, you can still get your workout on when you can’t make it to the studio. Check out the online Core Fusion classes here: http://www.yogavibes.com/pages/classes-search/?styles%5B%5D=19&duration=&video_instructor=&video_partner=

  13. March 16th, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Stay Motivated. Learn from Others. Connect with other Athletes. Challenge yourself!

    It is a perfect site to set fitness goals and meet them through:
    -Planning games with your friends and other people in your area (and sync them with your everyday calendar)
    -Discover and create groups that match your interest and skills
    -Setting goals and have your network challenge you to improve

    When you can workout with other people or have challenges in your calendar, you are more likely to stick to them and succeed!

    Please check it out! The more people on there the better for finding people in your area with similar interests…and staying motivated!!

    Lets all get fit and healthy together!

    FB: Social Lockerroom

  14. May 23rd, 2012 at 7:38 am

    […] Everyone checks in at the Cleanse America website, which fosters a feeling of guidance and support, kind of like an online fitness challenge. […]

  15. June 14th, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    Checkout these fun fitness challenges http://www.challengeloop.com/ideas/topic/health-fitness

  16. Ben
    March 16th, 2015 at 4:57 am

    Although specialised for UK Universities, Colleges and Schools – we have some good fitness challenges with e-mail instructions every few days, leaderboards and progress tracking.

    All Athletes Fitness Challenges

    What more do you need? Good luck on your fitness challenges everybody. Stay accountable – however you may achieve that!

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