The 30-day fitness challenges: bogus or bootylicious?

The new year often brings with it a set of preconceived expectations and motivations to make the next 365 days better spent than the last. Usually, these expectations include resolutions like,“This year, I will get into shape!” Full page spreads in The Globe and Mail advertise local gyms and “Reasons You Should Get In Shape This Year,” below images of perfectly tanned and toned female bodies. Online, on Pinterest and Tumblr, infographics advertise 30-day challenges that can be as specific as “squat for your life” or simply a before and after shot of someone who has successfully completed a 30-day yoga challenge. Are they safe? Are they healthy? Well, that depends on a lot: motivation, the kind of person the participant is, and the goals that he or she sets.

Kim Donaldson, certified personal trainer at Le Gym on the Sir George Williams campus, says, “in a professional environment, [challenges] can be done safely.”

The hardest part of starting anything new is commitment.

“It’s very difficult to adhere to a new exercise program. People generally drop out of physical routines probably 30 days into it,”says  Dr. Lois Baron, retired professor from the department of education at Concordia and volunteer at the Loyola Campus Perform Centre.

Sticking to a motivation, such as a 30-day fitness challenge, is difficult at the best of times. Around the start of a new year, pressure to fit an idealized model that not many people can fit, seems to act as motivation enough to get them into the gym. However, there is very little research available as to whether or not making the motivation a 30-day challenge actually makes the participants of such fitness challenges more likely to continue having healthy habits.

The trick to completing any goal is setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, which stands for goals that are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and time-bound. By this standard, setting a 30-day challenge as a physical goal means that it’s very likely for a participant to complete it.

“You should make both short and long-term goals that are easily measurable and easily achieved,” says Dr. Baron, in support of the S.M.A.R.T. goal system. “Reevaluate at the end of the challenge. Develop other short-term goals. Ask yourself, what level can I continue to pursue physical activity in a healthy way?”

“Challenges are a great way to stay focused and motivated,” says Donaldson. “[They] are necessary to see improvements and gains.”

However, Donaldson also gave this warning: “Increased pain or discomfort means the goal of the challenge may need to be re-evaluated. This doesn’t mean the participant has failed, but a new goal must be set to increase the overall health.”

Health is an important aspect to consider when it comes to physical goals. It’s very easy in Western culture to get wrapped up in the idealized body that’s advertised through the help of photoshop. A lot of people see themselves as having to compete with these apparently perfect figures. If a participant has set a goal to look like women in the magazines and is willing to push through pain despite risk of injury, that’s a sign of an unhealthy goal. However, this doesn’t mean that the challenges are inherently competitive.

“It’s very typical to idealize,” Dr. Baron adds. “But I don’t see it [as competitive]. It can be motivating in a positive way, but sometimes the body image [of advertisements] is not one that many women can attain.”

All in all, 30-day challenges can be completely healthy, but it depends on how the participant views it.

“Nothing is black and white,” says Dr. Baron. When it comes to fitness and challenges, it’s important to understand how one works in a given situation and to listen to what your body tells you.

“Overall health is the most important,” explains Donaldson.

If you’re considering starting to work out to achieve a healthier lifestyle, Concordia is home to two well-equipped and well-staffed facilities on both the SGW campus and the Loyola campus. Fitness classes and term long memberships are available at affordable prices for students. For more information on Concordia’s athletic and recreation facilities, visit:


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