#75hard Challenge: A great way to boost ‘mental toughness’ or a dangerous fad?

Another day, another TikTok challenge – only this one doesn’t have a catchy tune in the background.

The 75 Hard Challenge is the brainchild of entreprenteur and Real AF podcaster Andy Frisella, who set it up as a ‘transformative mental toughness program’, and all over social media, people are posting their transformation photos.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this is a fitness challenge – after all, most people look dramatically more toned at the end of the 75 days. But Andy insists that this is not a fitness programme.

He writes on his website: ‘Are there physical changes? Yes! But trust me when I say the physical changes you see on the outside are a FRACTION of the results you can earn by completing 75 HARD’.

What is the #75Hard Challenge?

Well, it runs on six very simple, very broad-and-open-to-interpretation rules:

  1. Follow a diet. This can be the diet of your choice but it must be a structured plan designed with a physical improvement in mind.
  2. You must complete two 45-minute workouts each day. One of those workouts MUST be outdoors.
  3. Absolutely NO alcohol or cheat meals.
  4. Take a progress picture every day.
  5. Drink 1 gallon of water.
  6. Read 10 pages of a non-fiction book – audiobooks DO NOT COUNT.

It’s all about zero compromise, zero substitution and if you fail, you’ve got to go back to day one. So that’s 75 days of full commitment with the threat of having to start the whole thing over if you don’t manage to do these six things every day.

It sounds super simple, right? You could, for example, go keto for 75 days or give a plant-based diet a crack. You might start every day by waking up an hour early to read your ten pages before going for a 45-minute walk or run – and finishing with a 45-minute yoga practice. Daily pictures and lots of water (4.5 litres) aren’t that hard either.

But no cheat meals for over two months? Absolutely no booze during the summer? That’s where things start to sound a little tricky.

These six tasks, Andy says, have been designed to develop all of the characteristics you lack in life that have landed you where you are at.

He says: ‘The physical transformations that occur are just the by-product of the mental transformations you will make. You will be tempted to cheat and compromise. You will not be tempted by me … you will be tempted by yourself. You will be tempted to try to change things a little to suit you and your “special lifestyle.” But that right there is the root of every problem in your life.’

Over lockdown, you might have felt out of control, uninspired and a little lost. Those of us who spent a lot of time down the gym have suddenly been cut adrift – plagued by injuries from overdoing it on the running and thrown off course by endless sourdough starters. This kind of programme that allows you to essentially write your own script sounds like the perfect antidote, right?

‘Quick fixes are not sustainable or healthy,’ Sonya Barlow, founder of Like-Minded Females, said.

‘The #75Hard challenge asks for no particular “diet”, though the word “diet” itself has many different definitions. I also believe that setting rules such as “one workout to be done outside” is presumptuous and unsafe. If your area or neighbourhood isn’t the safest, you still have to stick to this and go outside. This is just an example of how it’s not inclusive.’

So what does a fitness professional say about that diet and exercise element?

Hannah Lewin is a female-focused personal trainer who says her main concern is that Andy ‘isn’t qualified’ to write this kind of challenge.

‘The challenge comprises physical and diet-based components, as well as mental elements – and the creator has no qualifications in any of these,’ she says.

‘The requirement to simply “follow a diet” is concerning – there is no specification as to what this is, and the banning of alcohol and cheat meals seems unnecessarily restrictive.

‘We know that there is considerable evidence around diets not working and this rather seems to set people up to fail. The physical element of 2 x 45 minutes a day may not be suitable for those with beginner levels of fitness and I would be concerned that this would be daunting, carry and injury risk and prevent future exercise.

‘It is simply isn’t a sustainable exercise plan.’

And then, of course, you have to consider the fact that we’re supposed to stick to this plan during a global pandemic.

‘The idea that anyone that doesn’t stick to this highly restrictive, unnatural plan for 75 days is somehow not mentally tough is totally derogatory – particularly in the current circumstances,’ Hannah adds.

The thing about wellness is that it’s not supposed to be gruelling. It’s supposed to be nourishing – helping us to form a better relationship with ourselves.

‘This is an extreme form of “doing wellness” that sadly us wellness professionals are seeing far too much of these days,’ explains life coach Jade Ecobichon-Gray, founder of Mindset Matters.

‘Wellness isn’t supposed to hurt, you are not supposed to be at war with yourself. This “go hard or go home” mentality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

‘While you may find yourself sporting abs in 75 days while repeating a bootcamp-style mantra on repeat, wellness professionals too often see the beginnings of restrictive and disordered eating, a heightened and frankly unhealthy need for control over everything and an almost abject terror of missing a workout at the detriment to the genuine enjoyment of social activities and social connection.’

So what is wellness?

Well, Jade says that it’s got almost nothing to do with what our bodies look like. It’s nothing to do with green smoothies or workouts.

‘Wellness requires rest as much as exercise, it requires the ability to sometimes relinquish control as much as the formation of a positive routine, it requires softness and kindness as much as motivation and discipline,’ she says. ‘Nurturing your mind empowers you to identify what wellness looks like to you, not what society tells you it should be.

‘If you feel ready to make a change to your lifestyle, that’s fantastic but please be kind to yourself in the process and remember that you are already worthy just as you are!’

Sonya highlights that as a TikTok trend, the 75 Hard Challenge could potentially be dangerous for younger audiences who are trying to develop a healthy relationship between body, mind and soul.

‘Habits are formed in 66 – 90 days, so this challenge should be done with care,’ Sonya explains. ‘As individuals, we should definitely be drinking water, reading motivational books and exercising. However, we should be executing in a method that is good for our body, livelihood and mental health, rather than following Instagram hashtags.

‘One of the most important processes I take my clients through is why they’re going on a journey – what is the end goal? What impact is to be created? What is the safest and most healthy way to get there?’

Nick Hatter is a leading UK life coach who is qualified in positive psychology and neuro-linguistic programming (a psychological approach used for goal-hitting) who is a little less scathing of the challenge, pointing out that it might have some real benefits.

‘I like the idea of educating yourself and always learning,’ he said

‘Having said this, the self-help market is a little saturated with rules, habits and advice; often the advice goes in one ear, and out the other! Instead, it’s a good idea to consider doing some self-coaching, asking yourself questions such as “Am I running from anything? (eg. fear, resentment, shame)”, “What can I do to improve the quality of my life?” and “What can I accept or change today?”.’

When it comes to taking a photo every day, Nick acknowledges that it’s good to measure progress but says that he’s ‘not sure about doing it daily; people can get frustrated when they don’t see results. It might be better to do it weekly’.

Going booze-free, however, is ‘definitely a good choice!’

‘Alcohol is a depressant, it can often make you feel more anxious or low the next day,’ says Nick. ‘It also loosens inhibitions, which can cause you to reach for junk food (3am pizza or kebab, anyone?), not to mention the extra calories from alcoholic beverages. Furthermore, hangovers make exercise the last thing you want to do!’

If you are trying this kind of programme, he recommends adding two further elements to the proceedings:

  1. Call a few friends every day – we all need to have connection adn belonging and those who feel isolated tend to have worse mental and phsyical health. If you don’t have many friends, make some. Stay in touch via FaceTime/Zoom, join an online community, try virtual meetups and speeddating.
  2. Write a gratitude list every day – research has shown that when we express gratitude, we become more optimistic and feel better about ourselves.

So, should you join the #75HardChallenge? Well, it’s up to you. If you’re looking for routine, you could take inspiration from it and make your own – more flexible – regime… but then it wouldn’t really be the 75 Hard Challenge at all. The whole thing is premised on the idea of having no compromise.

This challenge will work for some people, that’s without doubt. But if you’re one of the thousands who have a history of disordered eating, unhealthy exercise patterns and issues around control, this might just tip you over the edge.

75 days is a long old time and the idea that you’re not allowed even one reprieve is really difficult. It means pushing your body and mind beyond what might be good and natural.

Read ten pages every day – great. Drink a stack of water. Take photos of yourself so that you can feel good and bask in your beauty (you don’t have to take unflattering before and after pictures, just take ones of you feeling good). Eat well and move as much as you can.

But have a serious think about whether it’s going to do more harm than good by following something as all-consuming as the 75 Hard Challenge.