How to Complete a Fitness Challenge
I’m putting what I learned running marathons to work as I take on the One Punch Man Challenge
As an experienced runner who has run every day for the past two months, I am one for challenges. I do fitness challenges and compete with my friends, but one fitness challenge has been having my number: the One Punch Man challenge. I have run a 2:40 marathon and qualified for the Boston Marathon, but the One Punch Man challenge is more difficult than most of my marathon training.
My friends and I are embarking on the challenge where we have to do 100 days of running 10 kilometers, doing 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, and 100 squats. I am ten days into the challenge, and it’s not easy, but it’s getting easier. The first couple of days, every part of my body was sore, but now, my body is stronger and more ready to handle it. Simply put, I’ve made gains in only a short amount of time.
Doing a fitness challenge is a fun way to build camaraderie, and get yourself very fit in the process. As much as I’ve run, I haven’t had much upper body strength and muscle at all. I’m trying to change that right now through this challenge. According to Dr. Michael Yessis at Runner’s World, runners should strength train because strength training reduces the risk of injury and improves running technique.
A greater goal I have is getting prepared for marathon shape again. I’m a long ways away from where I once was, but having a fitness challenge is developing not only running strength, but upper body strength as well as, and seeing results means more a sense of accomplishment than anything: to be consistently doing 100 push-ups, 100 pull-ups, 100 squats, and a minimum of a 10k run every day.
According to Kristy Crowley at Gymondo, the reason you should do a fitness challenge is that it helps you complete your goals and commit yourself to fitness. So basically, you’re improving yourself in a lot of ways. It’s a good way to stay accountable and help yourself build a new habit and have a support system.
First of all, it’s important to note that exercise is a privilege, it requires a massive expenditure of energy, time, and money. You need food and you need equipment, and people who can worry about exercise usually aren’t the ones who work very physically taxing manual labor jobs. In contrast, when I worked at Amazon, I came home physically exhausted, and the only thing I wanted to do the rest of the night was lay on the couch forever.
Of course, a fitness challenge might not be for everyone. But I personally needed something new during the pandemic for my own sake. I needed to reconnect with some friends during a period of isolation and a lack of social connectedness. I also needed structure to give myself a goal and aim towards improvement.
Here is how I’ve been able to do the One Punch Man challenge through a week.
Break Up the Challenge Into Chunks
Starting out, I’ve had a severe lack of upper body strength. I can’t do more than 30 pushups at a time usually, and I struggle to do more than 30 squats at a time. So I break up the challenge throughout the day. I try to do the challenge throughout the day and start early, usually right after I wake up. Trust me, forcing yourself to do 30 push-ups very early in the morning is a great way to wake up.
The running portion of the challenge is the only thing I do all in one session. Other people might benefit more from breaking up cardio like this into increments.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. And the duration of a fitness challenge means the beginning might be hard, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It gets easier the more consistently you do it.
As a teacher, chunking is a tool we use often for reading long, difficult texts in the classroom. It means breaking up a text into manageable increments. That means in my five-minute break in between teaching classes, I try to do 25 push-ups and about 30 squats. I have had one or two days where I was left with most of the challenge besides the run to do at night, but chunks make it more manageable and honestly give more structure into my own life.
Adapt the Challenge
Most of my friends are not doing the running part of the challenge, though most of us were runners in college. Most of them are trying to change the challenge to the tune of 20 miles a week, and that’s fine. You have to assess where you are in your own fitness, and where you want to be by the end of it.
It’s more than just a photo-op for a before and after picture. It’s more about making exercise and my health more of a priority than it was before. Adapting to the challenge means revolving a part of my now-nonexistent social life around it. The friends who support me through it are people I text every day, who keep me accountable.
But there’s no shame in turning the challenge into one that takes your current goals into account. Part of what makes the ten-kilometer run so instrumental for me is that I’m trying to build my fitness back into marathon shape, and that means a minimum run of ten km helps significantly. Of course, I’ll run more on given days, and I have to run longer runs to run a serious marathon to hit my goals. Currently, however, the One Punch Man challenge is just a stepping stone.
For my particular challenge itself, one YouTuber, Sean Seah, divided the challenge into levels. His starting point was level five, which is 50 push-ups, 50 sit-ups, 50 squats, and a 5km run. He eventually leveled up to level seven (70 push-ups, 70 sit-ups, 70 squats, and a 7km run) and then leveled up to level ten 23 days through the challenge. Building incrementally was the key for Seah to adapt the challenge for himself.
Know Your Purpose
Why did I want to complete a fitness challenge? Well, it’s as simple as needing to do something new. It’s not about the fitness challenge. I also want to build more consistency and routine in my very unstructured life during the pandemic. I found inspiration from Leslie Green at Self:
“Ultimately I learned that fitness challenges are about so much more than just the physical. This was about holding myself accountable, adding variety to my gym time and stepping out of my comfort zone.”
As a former athlete in college, I wanted to rekindle what sports and fitness gave me a long time ago. I also have plenty of excuses for not working out or exercising every single day. Sure, I want to take running a lot less seriously than I did in college, but I wanted to get into shape while taking the rest of my fitness seriously too.
Part of my purpose is also having a fun challenge to do with my friends. They push me, and I push them much like we did in college. We share our progress on social media and with each other, and having that consistent communication has given us structure during a pandemic where structure has largely been broken.
In the beginning, a fitness challenge tends to be really painful. And it never really gets easier. You just get stronger. Every part of my body hurt on the first day of the challenge. Now, every part of my body hurts less. I’m hoping that by the end, it’ll be effortless, but patience is key to any fitness challenge. Expecting overnight rewards from exercise like increased mental health, improved sleep, and overall fitness is a surefire way to get burnt out.
Have it be a fun challenge in your life, but don’t have it be everything. There’s no reason why fitness should be the number one priority in your life, especially above family and relationships. Especially if parts of the challenge take a long time, like running, forcing yourself through everything won’t work. It’s more important to take your time, enjoy the process, and have fun with friends and family.
You won’t get far in any exercise challenge without proper recover, and that means sleeping, hydrating, and eating well. I don’t eat the best, but prioritizing sleep is advantageous to virtually everything, you exercise better, and the exercise feels easier.
“Getting enough sleep can not only give you more drive and strength to maximize your workout, but its effects on concentration, mood, and focus can make you more efficient and better prepared for that workout,” says Dr. Christopher Winter, President of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine
Without proper recovery, improving endurance, and increasing muscle mass won’t allow exercise to deliver the benefits we want it to deliver. Not getting enough sleep will also make exercise feel like a chore that tires and exhausts you throughout the day instead of something that energizes you and improves your mood.
When the body gets enough sleep, it produces growth hormone, according to Winter. Growth hormone when you’re a child means what it sounds like, it helps you grow. However, growth hormone as an adult means helping our body repair and build muscle. According to the CDC, 30% of Americans are not getting the recommended seven to eight hours of recommended sleep a night. Exercise should help people sleep, and in one experiment in Sleep Medicine, people with a self-reported sleep time of fewer than 6.5 hours completed moderate-intensity workouts four times a week for six weeks. At the end of the study, they started getting 75 extra minutes of sleep per night.
Winter says not to do especially high-intensity workouts too close to bedtime. But the simple connection is clear: sleep helps exercise, and exercise helps sleep.
“You can’t have one without the other; both are absolutely essential to you being able to operate at 100 percent — not just in the gym, but in your everyday life, too,” writes Ashley Mateo at Everyday Health.
Have an Accountability and Support System
The people who have helped me most through the One Punch Man challenge are the friends I do the challenge with. They have guided me through times I’ve struggled to do push-ups and sit-ups. We’ve even had Zoom sessions together where we’ve worked out.
According to the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research in Psychology Today, having social support sustains fitness goals and maintain exercise programs. I have had numerous occasions where I don’t feel like running, and someone convinces me to go run with them. However, you have to find the right form of social support. Having people who force and coerce you to exercise, according to the Bronfenbrenner Center, is not conducive, it’s people who are positive and who make you want to do your sets or get you out the door on a run.
Morowatisharifabad et al. in 2019 found in Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences that social support was strongly correlated with physical activity. The authors recommended increased social support for diabetic patients to increase their physical activity.
But it doesn’t take rocket science to know that having more social support helps us exercise more.
Allow room for failure
An all-or-nothing mentality will hurt, not help your goals. If you miss a day or miss an exercise, giving up is not the answer. Come back the next day and try again, since failure is not final in a fitness challenge. Life happens, and maybe extreme weather and a lack of access to a treadmill stops you from doing a run, so giving room for failure is essential to keeping a challenge sustainable.
Consistency is more important than perfection. And I will admit that some of my push-ups and squats may have bad form and some people might not consider them real push-ups or squats. But it’s important to keep a growth mindset more than to keep a perfection mindset, as cliche as that sounds. According to Carol Dweck in the Harvard Business Review,
“Individuals who believe their talents can be developed… worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.”
Have a Goal for After the Challenge
One day, your fitness challenge will be over. And regardless of whether you complete it or don’t complete it, life will have to go on, so what will you do for your fitness after the challenge is over?
Robin Hilmantel at Women’s Health Magazine emphasizes that if your goal is to gain fitness, it’s important not only to complete a challenge but to stay fit. A fitness challenge that brings accountability and a sense of urgency to your health and fitness goals, but according to Chelsea Gentry Polanco at Flywheel Sports:
“I think the biggest mistake or challenge that people face after finishing a challenge is — they’re really excited, they do a challenge, they’re inspired, they made these healthy changes, and as soon it’s over, there’s a loss of momentum…As soon as it’s over, you lose accountability.”
“Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.” — Dwayne Johnson
Overall, a fitness challenge helps you build social support, improve your fitness, and improve your mental health. A challenge is attractive because it helps you stay accountable and set some structure, routine, and consistency for yourself.
To successfully complete a fitness challenge, make sure to break the challenge into chunks, adapt your challenge, find your why, prioritize recovery, and have a goal after the challenge is done.
At the end of my challenge, I hope to have many of the mental and physical benefits, but I also hope to build camaraderie with my friends. Completing a fitness challenge is a stepping stone to an overall healthier and more consistent relationship with exercise.