The Internet is full of 30-day fitness challenges, but are they really safe?

  • Nidhi Choksi, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Sep 19, 2015 20:45 IST

Chetna Chakravarthy loves her food. You’ll find the wellness entrepreneur first in the line for gulab jamuns at a wedding. And since she refuses to diet, the only way to maintain her weight is to exercise.

Rather than going to a gym, or run every morning, Chakravarthy chose to sign up for a fitness challenge – one of the many on the Internet. She is now on Day 22 of a 30-day squats challenge.

For someone like Chakravarthy, a fitness challenge appears to be the best way to get moving and stay moving. The Internet challenges provide workout schedules that include plans for squats, planks, abs, push-ups, etc, and supplement them with DIY tutorials. Your motivation comes from social media: you tweet pictures and post updates of your progress.

(Photos: Shutterstock)

But how effective is a time-bound Internet fitness challenge?

Easy does it
The best thing about her challenge, says Chakravarthy, is that it’s convenient and cheap. It doesn’t need you to buy equipment, it doesn’t need a gym membership, and it doesn’t need a fitness instructor. But the easy way out also has some hurdles.

For one, says digital marketer Tanya Siqueira, not every challenge is suited to every person. You must do your research before you sign up. “People have a haphazard approach to these challenges,” she says. “If someone sees a friend doing it, they want to do it too.’”

That was how Siqueira came across these challenges. A friend suggested that she take a four-week-200-push-ups challenge. But Siqueira didn’t jump right in. First, she read about the challenges and watched videos. Next, she analysed their pros and cons. Finally, she selected a suitable plan. “You hear about bad experiences, because people don’t do their research,” she says. Chakravarthy agrees. “First listen to what your body is telling you,” she says.

Online challenges have a lot of faults, says Neeraj Mehta, director of Fitness Alive and technical head of GFFI Fitness Academy. “How do you know which exercise is right for you according to your body type and blood group? These things are never answered,” he says. Plus, no one is there to guide you with correct postures and movements, which means there’s a high risk of injuries.

Also, adds Siqueira, the plans make no mention of vital exercise norms like warm-ups and cool-downs. After she signed up for the challenge, she particularly wanted to focus on her area of weakness: her upper body. But she pulled out just after three days into the programme. “It was too much for my body,” she says.

The flip side
That was clever of Siqueira. Mehta says that pushing your muscles without a personalised plan based on your fitness level is simply asking for trouble. “Not only do you need to see the endurance level of your muscles, but also of your heart,” he explains. “If the heart is unable to sustain the physical challenge, it can even lead to cardiac arrests.”

You should also ask what you want from such a plan. “For example, if you want to lose weight, an exercise challenge by itself can’t help you,” says Chakravarthy. “You’d need to supplement it with a diet plan and other things.”

But one of the biggest positives of an exercise challenge is the motivation it provides. Though she’s struggling to complete her 30-day challenge, Chakravarthy says she’s happy. “My skin feels better, I’ve lost a kilo and my clothes are loose for me now,” she says. If she can’t complete her daily schedule, she does some other form of exercise. “For instance, I have a four-hour salsa workshop today,” she says.

Self-motivation can do wonders. Mehta knows of a person who lost 16 kilos in four weeks, fought hypertension and has marvellous lower body strength after completing a fitness challenge. But he also knows that only eight to 10 per cent of people on these challenges reach their goals.

Siqueira, who feels toned after completing a squats challenge, is in the middle of a crunches challenge. Chakravarthy wants to do a planks next.

If you stop the exercising as abruptly as you started it, however, you’ll get squishier than you were before, says Mehta. “So you need to continue exercising.”

From HT Brunch, September 20
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