Your 30-day challenge might not be giving you the results you're looking for.

Downside of 30-day challenges (and what you can do instead)

If you’d like to build a strong, functional body, put a bit of thought into which 30-day challenge you choose, says Tanja Shaw.

If you search for “30 Day Challenge” on the Internet, you’ll quickly realize the popularity of 30-day challenges. There’s a plethora of options, from ab and squat challenges to arm and weight loss challenges.

They all go something like this: Day 1 five reps of exercise X, Y and Z. On Day 2, you do six reps of each exercise. On Day 3 you do seven reps and so on and so on, until by day 30, you’re doing quite a few repetitions of the one to four different exercises. Sometimes there’s a rest day built in: for example, you’ll do six days of an exercise, then take one day of rest.

As a fitness professional and lifestyle coach, I understand the allure of 30-day challenges.  Even though I fiercely promote long-term lifestyle changes, doing a “rest-of-your-life” challenge is not appealing. As humans, we are hardwired to focus on short-term goals.  We love challenges, seeing that there will be an end point, and are able to stay focused. There’s nothing wrong with doing fitness and health challenges; they are a great way to get back to being focused on your health after a bit of a drift, and they can kick start you back to healthy habits.

There are, however, a few downsides.

First, the majority of the popular challenges promote muscular and postural imbalance.  For example, most core challenges include bicycle crunches, sit-ups, leg raises and planks. That sequence of four exercises promotes trunk flexion. And while these can be part of a well-rounded fitness regime, they need to be balanced out with trunk extension exercises, particularly targeting the buttock muscles. Most people sit for long periods of the day and spend most of their time in a position where their trunk is flexed. In this case more hip opening and extension exercises would be most beneficial, not more flexion exercises. 30-Day Push-Up Challenges are also very popular. Likewise, the majority of people need to do a lot more chest opening exercises to strengthen the upper back. Push-ups, while they are a great strength exercise, when not balanced out with other exercises, will augment the posture many people develop from spending a lot of time on the computer or on their smart phones.

If your goal is to build strength, 30-day challenges are also not the most effective way to do it. Muscles get stronger when they recover from strength exercises, and doing the same exercises everyday, or on most days, does not allow the muscles to recover. While your strength will still likely improve during the 30 days, there are better, more effective ways to improve strength.

Finally, a lot of 30-Day Challenges imply that you’ll have washboard abs after the challenge, or a firm, perky butt after doing squats for 30 days. And it’s simply not true.  A well-designed strength program is a fantastic way to build muscle, improve bone density, boost your metabolism, improve your posture, and overall well being. However, it’s not enough to shed body fat for most people. If your goal is fat loss, you will also want to focus on your nutrition and other less talked about lifestyle habits.

So what should you do instead?

As I said at the beginning, I completely understand the attraction of challenges with a definite timeline. And, with a few small tweaks, the popular 30-day challenge can be an effective way to develop strength and a well balance, functional body.  An example of this is the Fit, Vibrant & Strong 30 Day Challenge, available for free at www.ascendfitnesscoaching.com/61.

Here are a few things you can do to change the typical 30-day challenges:

1. Instead of doing just one series of exercises, do two, but on alternate days. For example, do a core challenge exercises (adding in a few hip opening exercises such as the glute bridge) on the odd days, and leg challenge exercises on the even days.

2. Do a 30-Day Activity Challenge: challenge yourself to be active every day for 30 minutes for 30 days. To keep it fresh, make it your goal to try a new activity once per week.

3.  Do a 30-day challenge that incorporates other lifestyle habits, such as 30 days of gratitude, or 30 days of at least five veggies per day.

If you’re looking for a kick-start, a 30-day challenge can do just that. But, if you’d also like to build a strong, functional body, put a bit of thought into which 30-day challenge you choose. You can have it all!

Tanja Shaw is a health and fitness coach, Rotarian, passionate entrepreneur, mom, runner, and owner of Ascend Fitness Inc. and host of the Fit & Vibrant You Podcast. Visit Tanja  at www.ascendfitnesscoaching.com and www.tanjashaw.com.

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