The Fitness Challenge Trap

Fitness Tucson personal TrainersIn the early days of our gym we did a lot to spark up interest, inspire our clientele, and attract new members. A standard recipe for this is to throw down a challenge. Many of us love a good challenge, and a little bit of healthy competition is good, right? I am all for some healthy fun, but something has gone terribly wrong in the fitness industry. Weight loss challenges have become THE form of marketing for many gyms. They play  into the human psyche and are easily able to lure people in.  The Challenge model of fitness has taken over and it is big business. We have been approached numerous times by companies that come in to gyms and take over the marketing and sales by promoting weight loss challenges. They promise to pack your gym with 100s of members……. and they will. Wait Danny, don’t be a Debbie downer, why does everything have to be so negative. If it gets people motivated and moving why hate on it? ……. I can see that thought process, but I also see the side effects of the “challenge driven” fitness market and the shit show it creates.  With nearly 20 years in the industry I have earned my opinion. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to, go challenge yourself up a tree. I know gyms that run occasional challenges and I respect them, but when a business model is completely run around weight loss challenges it should be red flag. We have fallen into the mass marketing of our media and Biggest Loser mindset. Many people have become sheep and don’t even realize it,  sheep don’t realize their surroundings and just follow what the other sheep are doing even if it leads them off a cliff. These companies don’t specialize in fitness or health. They specialize in marketing to the human psyche and they are awesome at it. I had a lady come to me awhile ago, so upset about a challenge she joined at a gym. She put $500 on the line to lose 20lbs and she was so pissed. I asked her why? She said “I don’t even have 20lbs to lose! I am underweight to begin with? Why the hell did I do it?”  I didn’t want to tell her she was a sheep, but the fact is she got sucked in. It happens. People just don’t know what they really want anymore. They look around to see what others are doing, but don’t really know what the hell is going on. It comes down to first understanding what you are truly wanting and why do you want it? Then breaking down the goals and actions.OUTCOME GOALS

When  discussing goals it can be broken down to  Process and Outcome goals. Outcome goals are specific, time anchored (set a date), and very measurable. Outcome goals are things like:

  • I want to lose 30lbs January 1, 2018
  • Fit into size 6 jeans waist again for my high school reunion
  • Squat 500lbs at my powerlifting meet on _________.

It is great to have a specific goal to train for and a date to achieve it by. There is nothing wrong with this unless the goal is not realistic or un-healthy. Many times the goal itself is realistic, but the time table may not be. Losing 20lbs for someone that is overweight is great! Losing 20lbs in 6 weeks for most people is too aggressive and usually a recipe for disappointment or only short term success. For many people 1-2 pounds per week is a recipe for long term success. Unfortunately, when the outcome goal is set into a generalized time frame, it sucks. If our lady above would have just sat down and understood what her goal was and had it defined she wouldn’t have had the frustration.

Sheep just following along because…… That is what they do. (Purchased from Getty Images)


These goals are the “how” you are going to achieve the end product.

Process goals for weight loss could look something like this:

  • Get 8 hours per night of sleep
  • Begin each day with a healthy breakfast
  • Eat 20g of protein with each meal
  • Prepare meals for the week on Sunday night
  • Space meals out every 3 to 5 hours with no grazing 
  • Make a minimum of 4 training sessions per week
  • Walk for 30 minutes every night after dinner

Focusing on these habits is the recipe for success. If you can look at your day and check the process goals off your list you know that you are on track. If you fall short there is an objective maker to know where improvement can be made.   Mastering these behaviors in the long term are the things that change lives. Creating healthy habits, slowly over time IS the answer. Having the time anchored and specific goals is great, but the focus must be on mastering the process rather than paying all the attention to the end goal. The most important part of this is everyone may have a different process. Even more so than mastering the process, learning to enjoy and incorporate them into your life.THE HOW/ WHAT /WHY

So what does this have to do with Weight Loss Challenges? What we have seen is the above scenario becomes reversed. We know the key to success is focusing on the process and NOT becoming obsessed with the outcome. I am sure many of us know what this feels like. You know, the daily weigh-ins or multiple weigh-ins per day because the scale jumped up .3lbs that morning. What happened? Why did the scale go up? I have been doing everything right? This doesn’t make sense? Should I eat less today? Maybe I need to add another cardio session? This is soooo frustrating!! This may seem extreme, but it isn’t.

When we teach people the HOW to train for long term success it is better than teaching people to race after the outcome. 

In many weight loss challenges, the “HOW” to achieve the goal is lost because of the frantic race to achieve the “WHAT/OUTCOME”. Hitting the outcome goal becomes all encompassing which leads to the “WHY” you wanted to achieve the goal in the first place being lost. When that happens, there are big problems..

This is bullshit by the way.

We have seen everything from someone dropping 30lbs in 6 weeks, only to face of the  gain much of it back within 6 months, to individuals getting so upset they aren’t losing weight fast enough to win the challenge and begin to take drastic measures to lose the weight. We have witnessed people water cutting, trying extreme bouts of fasting, wearing sweat suits, or adding a tremendous amount of cardio to burn more calories. It turns into a bit of insanity. 

This is where the WHY comes in.. Why were you doing this in the first place? If its to win at all costs, great, do what you want. If you are  looking to be healthy, lets start focusing on the process and lets see which process is best for you. Most of the challenges set a general process for everyone to follow regardless of the goal. It’s not that every challenge is bad, but it is crucial to always focus on mastering your process and not losing focus of the reason you started in the first place. This goes for any worthwhile goal. Whether its training for a race, lifting at a competition, or losing weight. If you are constantly chasing a number while losing focus on the importance of each training session, or practicing healthy behaviors,  then it is recipe for disaster. The unfortunate part of this is that the Challenge driven fitness market doesn’t offer a nurturing environment for these processes to happen. It is usually about more intensity, calorie, restriction, and more exercise volume to achieve the goal. If you are not losing weight fast enough, then take back to back classes, that should fix it. Many times when the goal is reached, the ability to sustain isn’t. 

Oh! and don’t forget you have to buy the special “challenge supplements” to lose weight $$$. If your coach insists you buy a supplement to lose help lose weight that is the sure sign of a scam. I have been doing this 20 years with a degree in nutrition, and never once have I sold a supplement to help with weight loss. 


Before you get started on your journey, set your recipe for success.

If you know where you want to go, set the directions to get there and get help with it from someone that knows what a successful process looks like. Here are some questions to answer:

What does a successful day look like in achieving my goal?

What does a successful week of training look like?

What does your eating behaviors look like on a daily basis?

How will you plan ahead on your nutrition?

How will I ensure I get adequate amounts of sleep?

Who am I going to be accountable to?

Challenges are fine, but constantly entering weight loss challenges and thinking they are a permanent fix is not the answer. 

If you need help setting up a successful game plan for you, feel free to reach out to us. If you aren’t close to us contact us anyway and we can see how we can help.

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