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5 Things to Know Before You Attempt a Fitness Challenge

Why You Should Sign Up for a Fitness Challenge

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If you're looking to take your workouts up a notch, fitness challenges are a great way to give yourself the kick in the butt you need. From offering thirty-day unlimited packages to inviting members to stick to a three-class-a-week minimum, gyms and boutique studios offer all sorts of short-term programs geared toward maximizing results. And the proof is on social media—challenge plans and transformation photos are blowing up newsfeeds. So if you've been thinking about joining a challenge—and you totally should (we'd suggest starting with our 30-Day Summer Slim Down Challenge with the Tone It Up Girls)—here are five things to know in order to make sure you complete it (and get the most bang for your buck!).

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Plan Your Social Life Around Your Challenge (Really, Though)

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"One of the most important things to do when prepping for a fitness challenge is to plan ahead and, as much as you can, schedule the rest of your life around your workouts," says Amanda Freeman, founder and CEO of SLT, which offers seasonal in-studio challenges. While that may sound a little extreme to some, this is a short-term endeavor, and you'll have to make it a priority if you want to stick to it and see results. "That means mapping out your workout times in advance and coordinating your social plans around them," says Freeman. Translation? Don't schedule that boozy brunch with your girlfriends during your fitness challenge, and take a rain check on that dessert tasting event for charity (even if it does sound delicious). (Better yet, make your friends join you for the challenge! Here's Why Having a Fitness Buddy Is the Best Thing Ever.)

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Book All of Your Classes Before You Start

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The second most important thing is to go ahead and schedule those workouts—all of them—right after you sign up. "Signing up for your classes in advance (and paying for them) means you will not want to waste the money, so you will be much more likely to stick to your good intentions and show up," says Freeman. (See: The 8 Stages of Talking Yourself Into Working Out.) If you're still worried about accountability, nix the nighttime classes and go for a.m. workout sessions instead: "As the day goes on, we tend to feel busier, so we're more likely to bail," Freeman says.

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Don't Go On a Crazy-Strict Diet

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A common mistake people make during a fitness challenge is to go balls-to-the-wall and try an extreme diet along with the workouts. But by that second round of burpees, you'll find out quickly why slashing too many calories is only going to be counter-productive. "Eating healthy is always important, but making sure you have enough fuel to perform optimally will be key to your success," says Tanya Becker, co-founder and chief creative officer of Physique57, which offers in-studio and online challenges. Instead of starving your body, feed it with clean, healthy meals. What does that mean, exactly? "Avoid alcohol, processed foods, and sugar," says Becker. If you're unsure of how many calories you need, try an online calculator to ballpark it based on your height, weight, and activity level.

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Find a Support System

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Recruiting a friend to join you on the challenge is a great way to give yourself extra motivation and accountability. But since most people end up embarking on fitness challenges solo, many studios encourage members to connect with one another on social media. "We have a very supportive online community. They share their challenges and successes," says Becker. Don't be shy! If your studio offers a hashtag to coincide with the challenge, post your progress on Instagram and use it. You might make some friends in the process, and at the very least you'll feel encouraged to keep working at it when you can scroll through the photos of other women out there with you.

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Let Go and Trust the Process

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Now that you've done the prep work, it's time to shut off your mind and any "I can't do this" talk. It's going to feel hard. It's going to be uncomfortable. You're going to think you can't do something, whether it's the entire challenge or just one more rep. But remember that these programs are designed to get you out of your comfort zone and give you the results you weren't getting on your own. "You are how you move," says Tracy Anderson, who offers body type-specific challenges through her Metamorphosis DVD series. If you stick to what's easy and comfortable, you won't see change—and nobody knows that better than your instructor. "Before creating this program I was prepared to navigate through all of the roadblocks and stand by the people doing it," Anderson says. So when it gets tough and you want to quit, just remember that it's supposed to be hard, but it will be worth it. All you have to do is keep showing up. (Check out these Morning Mantras That Will Inspire You to Get Up and Slay Your Workout.)

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Steamed Eggplant

A Korean staple, this sweet-salty-spicy eggplant recipe is also easy make it at home. Look for lavender Korean eggplants, or remove the peel if you use a Western variety eggplant.

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Photo: Maangchi

Soy and Sesame Spinach

This side dish tastes great cold or at room temperature, and perfectly pairs the freshness of spinach with earthy sesame oil and soy sauce.

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Photo: Sam Horine

Mixed Rice Bowl with Beef (Bibimbap)

Bibimbap is filled with healthy vegetables, and, luckily, any veggies you have in your refrigerator will work. The cooking process happens quickly, so gather your ingredients before you begin.

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Photo: Jean Cazals