Sunday Sweat Talk {The Problem With Online Fitness Challenges}

Time for our Sunday Sweat Talk date!

Sunday Sweat Talk

Let’s talk about…

The problem with online fitness challenges

It seems like online fitness challenges are popping up EVERYWHERE lately. You guys know what I mean. How many times a day do you scroll through your Facebook feed and see images promoting a 31 day squat challenge, a 150 pushups challenge, or a plank a day contest? While I 100% believe in and support fitness challenges to motivate and make exercise more fun for some, a lot of the challenges I see online make me nervous.

The ones that make me the most nervous are the really high rep challenges because I do not believe that training in an extremely high rep range every single day is going to help anyone reach their fitness goals.

In my training, I was taught to design programs with a rep range of anywhere between 1-20 repetitions of an exercise, depending on the client’s goal. I was taught that if you are looking to improve:

  • Maximum strength — then you should choose a weight load or exercise variation that only allows you to execute between 1-8 reps before hitting failure (3-5 sets w/around a 2 minute rest time).
  • Muscular hypertrophy (size and definition) — then you should aim for 8-12 reps with a bit lighter of a load than if training for max strength (2-4 sets w/around a minute rest time).
  • Muscular endurance — then you should choose a lighter load and aim for the 12-20 reps (1-3 sets with little rest time). Note, I will argue that 12-15 reps is just fine, and even 15-20 is too high.

I’m all for metabolic conditioning workouts, AMRAP circuits, and timed circuits, but only if they are properly planned by someone who knows what they are talking about and challenge different muscles on different days. And not every day.

Maybe now you understand why I get scared when I see something like this floating around on Pinterest.

squat challenge

Really? 250 squats on day 1? Yikes. Extreme is an understatement!

It’s just scary because the average person doesn’t know any better. They’ll just jump right in.

In my opinion, participating in something like this can result in some pretty bad things. First, there’s the chance of getting an overuse injury or re-aggravating an old injury. I know that any time I do too many pushups, my rotator cuff problems from the past tend to creep up again in my right shoulder. High rep workouts also can lead to muscular imbalances. For example, someone who puts this much time and effort into squatting is likely only focusing on quad work without engaging the posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes). What can happen then? Bad knees, lordosis of the spine, the list goes on. It’s just not worth it. Plus, how is doing 500 of any movement allowing you enough time at the gym to improve on other training areas, whether it be cardio, flexibility, or just working on strengthening another part of the body? Who wants to only be good at squats and nothing else?

One thing that I do get a lot of questions on is the “plank a day” concept. I do believe that it’s safe to plank daily. I also think it’s okay to work on your “plank to fatigue” times. I do this, but I don’t do it daily. I probably work on my plank to fatigue time once a week at most, but usually bi-weekly. What makes me nervous about plank a day challenges are the ones that have you doing a VERY lengthy plank every single day with no rest days in between. I think it is more beneficial to vary the type of plank you’re doing instead of simply adding more and more time to it each day.

Elbow plank with alternating leg lifts

Also, while holding a plank in good form is a great way to improve your anterior core strength, you want to make sure you also work on opposing muscle groups. It’s similar to neglecting the hamstrings if overworking quads. You don’t want to neglect your backside if planking too much. My suggestion to anyone participating in a plank a day challenge is to also set aside the time for perfecting something like bridging technique.

If you are going to participate in an online fitness challenge, I highly encourage you to just make sure you know where the workout is coming from. So what if the image or graphic has a website or a hashtag on it? That doesn’t mean anything. Often the image, despite having a website listed, will also have a picture of someone executing the movement. Half the time, that picture depicts incorrect form.

plank challenge

Nobody should ever hold a plank like this girl.

Just do your due diligence. Know who designed the challenge and what their qualifications are. Be wary of high rep and time workouts. Don’t trust a workout that has you working the same exercise day after day. If something doesn’t feel right, stop.

You want to feel 100% confident that you are participating in something that is going to help you, not hurt you down the line.

Time to talk!

What do you guys think? Have you ever participated in an online fitness challenge? What’s your opinion on high rep workouts? Feel free to also use this as an opportunity to comment with anything fitness related from your week.

Did you miss an earlier Sunday Sweat Talk post?

Since this rant post got kind of long, I’ll check back in with my weekly workout log a little later. Have fun at any Super Bowl festivities you may be attending or hosting tonight. If you’re feeling up for it, you can even try my Super Bowl workout during the game!

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41 thoughts on “Sunday Sweat Talk {The Problem With Online Fitness Challenges}

  1. Great post, Athena! Yikes, that squat challenge scares me… easy way to end up with IT band syndrome really quickly!! I agree with you that some challenges can be great, but the ones with super high reps are often dangerous for most people. And that girl’s form in the plank challenge? Eek!

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  2. So true!! I did the squat challenge in July, but built up to 250. Starting with that is suicide! Whoever comes up with these challenges needs to ensure that they aren’t recommending unhealthy things to people. Great post.

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  3. Totally agree! I had a Doctor that I work with challenge me to the 500 squat challenge, and I’ve NEVER seen a squat as bad as he did. He just went full force into the squats, awful form, with such pressure on the knees that I feared he’d hurt himself. I quickly said I didn’t want to do the challenge and so he stopped as well but made me VERY nervous!

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  4. I don’t do many challenges because they get in the way of my normal workouts. When I do decide to participate in one I’m pretty particular about what all is involved for some of the reasons you talked about here.

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    • I haven’t participated in many either, Kim – I just like to host them on my blog. But when I have hosted in the past, it’s all via a sign up where I can email out links to exercise direction or send pictures of me doing the moves as a how to. I find that if I sign up for them, I tend to not do them because I’d rather just do my own stuff!

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  5. I am iffy about Challenges, mostly because I’m so hard on myself and if I don’t finish (ie: burpee and pushup challenge), I kind of tend to beat myself up over it. Also, I tend to get turned off from the idea of doing something because it’s part of a challenge, however! I have enjoyed your challenges because they aren’t repetitive like a daily squat or plank challenge. I liked my burpee and pushup challenge since it was just once a week and could be completed so many ways. Good information to share with people because I think most novice (maybe even seasoned) people will think those challenges are great and then end up injuring themselves.

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    • Yes – definitely liked that yours was once a week because that would be way too many pushups and burpees to do every day. I do want to try it (at least one or two times) once my ankle is feeling 100% and my upper body isn’t as sore from every heavier weight workout I’ve been doing lately. I think even though you are hard on yourself about challenges, you’ve done well with mine (april arms, fall into fitness) in the past.

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  6. Thank you for posting this. I’m always suspect of Yoga pose challenges where they offer NO actual information about how to complete the pose or sequences leading up to the pose. Poses are not stand alone normally you lead up to them. I’ve never walked into a practice and busted out a camel pose cold. That plank is horrible I’ve never seen that image before. Nothing like killing your lower back, for a :30 plank. I usually steer away from challenges.

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    • Hi Renee, thanks for commenting. I actually never even considered yoga challenges when writing this post, but certainly the same concept applies. I definitely wouldn’t want to just go into a more advanced yoga post without being warmed up first. Recipe for disaster!

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  7. Thank you for posting this!! I had even fallen for the squat challenge that was going around. I was mesmerized by the idea of having a big beautiful booty like the girl in the picture knowing that that was not how she got that butt.

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  8. So I totally wanted to respond to you on this post after I read it!!

    My friends and I did the 30 day plank challenge for Janaury, actually that exact one that you posted in here. We all are pretty fit, workout regularly, and do weightlifting, running, spinning, core training, plyos, etc…so we thought, wow what a good idea, who doesn’t want to improve their plank. And I like that it made me stronger in my plank, but I totally get what you mean about including workouts that strengthen the other muscles you use to do it.

    Besides our lower backs hurting at the 2.5-3 minute mark, all of our shoulders hurt from holding, and it wasn’t even that our core was giving out, all the pain was in our shoulders….so the challenge almost doesn’t prepare you to increase time like it does in that calendar. And I would really like to know who can SUCCESSFULLY do a 5 minute plank after that challenge, all of us did it…but we would press it up to our hands, or do some side planking to give our shoulders a rest. I think the challenge really taught us all mind over matter…bc its not that someone can’t do it, its do I want to do this….

    Anyways, I was excited to read your expert advice on the challenges and what you said about your muscles needing recovery time, I enjoyed your rant because I couldn’t agree more! And to add to your rant….this girl who is a friend of a friend is doing a 50 push up per day challenge for her new years resolution, and I think its an awful idea, but she thinks its going to really improve her arm strength and look! aghhhh!!! that’s not good at all! But, some people you just can’t give advice to! eek!!!

    Alright, well Happy Monday!

    On Sun, Feb 2, 2014 at 8:00 AM, Fitness & Feta

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    • Hi Lisa, wow thank you for sharing that story and your experience with the 30 day plank challenge. It goes to show that if you focus only on improving one area (in this case, core), you may be neglecting other areas. Perhaps some shoulder and upper body work was what you guys needed to complement the planks. Good call in switching it up to side planks, etc. Happy Monday!

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  9. I totally agree! I’ve thought this myself when I’ve seen these. The online fitness challenges that I do like are the ones where people get together as a group and work on their own health and fitness goals while giving each other accountability and support and a place to share information and ask questions.

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  10. I totally agree, it’s important to vary rep ranges, intensity and also make sure there are modifications for various fitness levels.

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    • Most definitely. When I’ve hosted my January Abs, April Arms, and Fall Into Fitness challenges in 2013, I made a point to send out plans that included both beginner and advanced options of the exercises. It definitely is more time intensive on my part as the owner of the challenge, but it’s worth it to know I won’t be hurting someone.

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  11. Totally agree! I hate seeing all these challenges out there that don’t actually help anyone improve their level of fitness, lose weight or meet goals. It’s a sad scam from someone who wants pinterest traffic.

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