Fitness App Challenges

This article was written for workplaces but health and exercise professionals may find excerpts helpful to share with clients. 

For those who struggle to follow through on their exercise routines, using an app could well help them along the way.

First up:  30-day bodyweight challenge apps

30-day bodyweight app and online Challenges often come with names like ‘6 pack in 30 days’ and ’30 days to a better butt’.

They encourage users to do exercises with just their own bodyweight like 25 pushups a day, or an ever-increasing number of squats each day, or a different ab exercise each for 30 day.

The social media ‘click bait’ version often appears as a picture as a picture of a calendar month with an exercise written on to every page.

Similar things exist on the nutritional front and those from that area will like relate just as well to these points.

App 30 day to beach body

Pros:

  1. Pros:
    1. Often free or cheap.
    2. Tasks can be done anywhere with no or little equipment required.
    3. Users don’t have to think about what to do in the way of a workout routine for a whole month.
    4. Users know what they need to do, and they know if they’ve succeeded. They don’t need to check in with someone else for instruction or clarity.
    5. The time frame looks to be a stretch but not so much to be impossible.
    6. Virtual rewards, like badges and points, serve to pat people on the back and make for a visual, shareable sign of achievement.
    7. Sometimes there are online social/group structures to mingle in.
    8. Some come with music, voices, pictures, making them more engaging.
    9. Users get to feel good at the end of every day providing momentum to keep going.

Cons:  

  1. If the user misses a day, they are more likely to stop completely.
  2. It’s easy to cheat.
  3. Rewards and leaderboards, praise and statistics, become meaningless when entrants realise no robust accountability.
  4. They are often designed by app developers and graphic designers, not exercise professionals. Exercises are often wrong, outdated, and dangerous. A classic example for the last few years are the 30-day ab Challenges which require 100 sit-ups a day, for a strong core no less! Yep, exercise professionals give that out all the time…. not ever.
  5. Not great for beginners. For reasons just described at 3.
  6. Not individualized. They may say they are for ‘beginners’ or ‘pear-shaped’ people, but it doesn’t mean they are. They also won’t be individualized for an individual’s posture, form, injuries or health afflictions.  One day.  But not yet.
PT showing how they are better than a fitness app

6. Lack of feedback. Informational feedback adds to safety and effectiveness of any exercise programme and is a key piece to motivation. An app can’t look at a bridge (an exercise common in apps) and say “your left side is holding strong, but the right side is dropping, can you lift your right side up an inch? That’s it.  Feel the difference? That adjustment will save your shoulder from injury. Your form is getting better and better. Great work.” Yeah. Nah. Apps can’t do that yet.

7. Free or very cheap. This means the app is easier for the user to give up on.  It also means the app’s income is likely coming from advertising, pushing the user into a paid-for version, selling user data, or carrying viruses to hack the user’s phone.

8. No equipment, you can do anywhere and by yourself. It all sounds incredibly positive, but unless we’re in lockdown or highly self-motivated these features probably won’t work in someone’s favour.

Who are these apps best for?

Not the beginners they are marketed to.  They are more suited to:-

  • Self-motivated people who like not thinking about what their exercise routine is going to be, and
  • People who have a good grounding in exercise and know the difference between being uncomfortable and over-exertion, DOMs and an injury etc., and know how to adjust the exercises for their body, health status and goals.

What to look for in 30-day challenge apps.

If you’re dead-set on rolling out apps in your workplace.

  1. Look for apps that have been developed in conjunction with a registered, exercise professional or exercise physiologist.  Don’t be fooled by endorsements by celebrities or by stock images of fit people.
  2. Choose apps that are updated regularly (in last month). This helps ensure it is ‘bug’ free and won’t hack people’s phone.
  3. Choose apps with lots of downloads (30,000+) and lots of positive reviews. Neither are full proof evidence of being good and both could be fake, but it puts the odds in the user’s favour.
  4. Look for apps that offer lots of different ways to succeed, for example: ‘Gold’ for doing 30/30 days of activities, ‘Silver’ for doing 25-29 days, ‘Bronze’ for nailing out 15 -24 days. That way if users miss a day or three, they won’t be as likely to stop altogether.
  5. If people have never had any personal fitness coaching/training around exercises, then have a live, local, face to face session with a personal trainer/exercise professional/gym instructor to look over the app programme and adjust the exercises and programme for each user. It may add to the cost in the short term but think of it as a great investment which will put you/them in good stead for all future exercise programmes.
  6. Generally, most professionals would advise against doing the same strength training/resistance exercises every day for 30 days. Shoot for workouts where the activity is different each day (i.e. uses different muscles) and includes rest days, (important physiologically and psychologically) and/or is interspersed with cardiovascular routines in between bodyweight training days.
  7. To ensure everyone sees the Challenge to the end, look for layers in the app (or add them in yourself) that keep users accountable. An app requiring users to post a video doing the exercise or to do it with other app users, or at a certain time every day; would all be examples of layers.
  8. If you’ve picked up a free version with loads of adverts or missing all the cool premium features,  then step up and get the paid version.
  9. If you are going to go for these 30-day simple apps and Challenges, use cardio-based ones (think: walk, cycle, swim) as they will likely be safer for more people and/or have a registered exercise professional provide some additional guidance and motivation.
  10. Finally, if you stop using these types of apps and/or don’ get the results you want, don’t blame yourself.  Much like the infomercial Ab King Pro type stuff, these things are not built with the ingredients they need in them to be a success.  Take it as a sign not to give up on getting fit but to move on to something different.

The future

In the future, there is likely to be more accessible/cheap ways to record your bodyweight training efforts just like how Strava, Apple etc., can record how far and fast we run and cycle.  They may have robust accountability like Apple’s feature with exercise minutes and be able to provide feedback about form and adjusting to suit our energy levels, health etc.,

Advice to personal trainers

Should you recommend apps like this to your clients and share those 30-day Challenge images on social media? Sure, providing you are up for providing individual guidance around the exercises in them. If you don’t layer them with your expertise, I don’t think your clients will:-

  1. be safe,
  2. achieve their goals, and
  3. appreciate how you are different to an app/picture with 30 days of exercises on it and indeed, why you are so much better than both.

And in case you’ve forgotten how awesome what you do is, take a look at these pics and ask yourself if an app could do that.

PTs being personal way better than a fitness app
Fit girl saying yeah nah to apps
Male PT being personal better than App