Whether you want to tackle your next fitness feat or simply shake up your routine, workout challenges can be a welcome boost to your exercise plan, motivating you in new and engaging ways. You can improve your running distance, master a dance routine, increase your cycling speed, or develop flexibility.
But how do you pick the right workout challenge for yourself? We asked the experts.
Meet the Expert
What to Consider Before Selecting a Challenge
Workout challenges are very often about forming a habit that stands the test of time—a discipline that is unique to each individual. In fact, a study by the University College London involving 96 volunteers found a huge disparity of 18 to 254 days for a new habit to stick. This finding suggests that our personality may be a determining factor in selecting our challenge, and therefore, no challenge is perfect for everyone.
“Before signing up for a challenge, make sure that it aligns with your values and goals,” says Alo Moves fitness instructor and certified personal trainer Roxie Jones. “It's important to be realistic, timely, and specific when it comes to goal setting, and remember that even a short session can be efficient in improving cardio endurance and even strength.”
It’s also key to avoid the "all or nothing mentality," according to Joyce Shulman, co-founder and CEO at 99 Walks. “When undertaking a virtual workout challenge, I suggest setting what we call ‘Goldilocks Goals:’” challenging enough for a sense of satisfaction, yet still achievable.
And in terms of duration, fitness expert Alex Isaly says that “for most people, a short-term challenge (two to four weeks) is easier to fit into a busy schedule, and, psychologically, more manageable to complete.”
But with busy schedules and long to-do lists, Isaly recognizes that time may just be the swaying decision-maker on what type of challenge you can slot into your day. “Although the length of your chosen program may be short, the commitment to the weekly activities may outweigh the benefits of the short term duration,” he points out.
If you are still unsure, ask yourself what it is you really want to achieve. “The workout may be challenging a modality—such as cycling, HIIT, or running—or, if it’s weight loss, then perhaps opting for a strength or endurance challenge is your best bet,” says Isaly.
Are Workout Challenges Suitable for Beginners?
If you’ve been wanting to dip your toe in the fitness water for a while, a workout challenge may well spur you into action. But as with any new endeavor, it’s best to walk before you can run, and opt for workouts aligned to your abilities. “If it’s possible, make sure that the host leading the challenge knows that you're new,” suggests Jones. Or, in the case of an online challenge, that it accommodates to your level. “It’s also motivating for someone new that is slowly getting into training to start with shorter workouts to better pace yourself.”
Aside from this, workout challenges steer you on the right track. “Experiencing a fitness workout or a new modality for the first time can be a bit overwhelming, and so participating in a guided challenge will give you the direction you need, build confidence, and provide some measure of accountability to staying active,” explains Isaly.
What Are the Benefits of Workout Challenges?
Alongside the obvious benefits of a workout challenge (not least of which is basking in self-satisfaction), sticking to a new routine may act as the catalyst to kick-starting a long-term regime. And as Shulman notes: “Challenging yourself to step out of your comfort zone is great for your confidence, and changing-up your workouts keeps boredom at bay.”
As our confidence blossoms from achieving these milestones, we’re able to push ourselves in new and exciting directions. In doing so, we’re bringing balance and harmony to the entire body. “Some challenges are a welcome break for overused muscles, and engage others that have had some downtime for a while.” In sticking to the same routine day in and day out, we’re more likely to hit a fitness plateau–when the body adjusts to workout demands with a lack of continued results.
“When it comes to working out, most people have a tendency to repeat the same workouts week after week with little to no change, resulting in fitness goal shortcomings,” explains Isaly. “By injecting new life into workout regimens for short periods of time, you will experience much quicker results!” Taking a break from the ‘same old’ workouts, re-sparking your motivation, and bringing about a whole new set of results? That’s a win-win right there.
Should You Alter Your Nutrition During a Workout Challenge?
Depending on the nature of the challenge, dietary tweaks may be required to better fuel our bodies for varying intensities and demands. Think about it: if you’re training to run a marathon, your nutritional intake will vary considerably as opposed to simply mastering a handstand.
“Altering your nutrition depends on so many factors, including your goals and what your eating habits look like now, but ultimately, there is absolutely no one-size-fits-all for either fitness or nutrition,” shares Shulman. Instead, she suggests marrying to any fitness challenge three changes (or additions) of drinking more water, eating more vegetables, and being mindful of your sugar intake. Certain sugars are crucial to specific workout performances, such as glucose, found in carbohydrate-heavy foods. As the main source of fuel for the brain and body to function together, deriving this form of energy from a variety of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can elevate our workouts.
Similarly, strength-focused routines may require you to consume additional protein to repair your muscles, and even a hike in calories to sufficiently refuel. However, it would be sensible to discuss such changes with a qualified nutritionist who can devise a personalized plan.
5 Workout Challenges to Try
Ready to jump in? Here’s a selection of workout challenges to rev you up.
The 4 Week Alo Moves Challenge
With four week programs featuring five weekly classes, Alo Moves’ month long challenges cater to five tracks: Get Fit, Go With The Flow, Float & Fly, Connect to Calm, and Find What Moves You. As a go-to guide across fitness genres, simply select your style and follow the weekly calendar to elevate your skills or reach a fitness milestone.
Megan Roup's Sculpt Society Challenge
Cult-favorite fitness trainer Megan Roup partnered with supplement brand The Nue Co. to transformer her her ‘Dance. Sculpt. Sweat. Repeat’ mantra into a month-long challenge of workouts (some live on the app) split into a specific focus week to week.
Cassey Ho is perhaps the Pilates instructor and ‘fitrepeneur’ who paved the way for so many others with her bubbling variety of Blogilates YouTube videos. Having flourished into a global brand, Blogilates offers challenges to keep you busy every month of the year. From a "21-Day Tone Calendar" featuring 21-minute workouts for 21 days to a "7-Day Glute Challenge," there’s a challenge for every fitness goal.
Le Sweat Programs by Charlee Atkins
These six-week programs, designed and led by New York City-based trainer Charlee Atkins, allow you the flexibility to pick how many rest and workout days you want to slot into your week. The sessions are a blend of fitness skills including strength, Tabata, and yoga, to push your body to move in new ways.
CycleBar GO's The Ultimate CycleBar Riding Xperience
This virtual three-week program is specifically designed for CycleBar GO community newbies to experience three of the brand's most popular class categories. Available in the CycleBar app under the ‘GO’ programs tab, classes are streamed nationally via a live studio setting. Three new classes are offered each week for a fast, efficient, and fun way to master your endurance on the bike.
Lally P, van Jaarsveld CHM, Potts HWW, Wardle J. How Are Habits Formed: Modelling Habit Formation in the Real World? European Journal of Social Psychology. 2009;40(6):998-1009. doi:10.1002/ejsp.674