If you’ve seen the 12-3-30 workout or 25-7-2 workout challenges, chances are you’ll also have come across the 75 Hard Challenge. It’s had two billion views to date under the hashtag #75HardChallenge, but don’t be fooled by its popularity.
For those who aren’t familiar, the 75-day plan was created by motivational speaker, podcaster, author and supplement company owner Andy Frisella back in 2019 as a ‘transformative mental toughness program’.
You should consult your GP or other health care professional before attempting the 75 Hard Challenge.
On his website, he writes: ‘75 HARD is the only program that can permanently change your life…from your way of thinking, to the level of discipline you approach every single task in front of you with.’ The website also claims that more than 100,000 people have ‘completely changed their lives’ thanks to the programme. Sounds pretty impressive, right?
Truth be told, the challenge isn’t backed up by science (read on for an example), and many argue that the hardcore routine is unsustainable, restrictive and potentially dangerous. It’s only with access to and 24-7 guidance from the experts that I decided to give it a go and find out the truth, so that you guys don’t have to. Here’s what happened.
Content warning: overexercise and restrictive eating mentioned.
The 75 Hard Challenge rules
The 75 Hard Challenge is made up of six ‘non-negotiable rules’ which have to be completed for 75 days straight:
- Stick to a diet, any diet
- Absolutely no alcohol or cheat meals are allowed (it doesn’t specify what counts as a cheat meal)
- Complete two 45-minute workouts per day (one of them has to be outside, no matter the weather)
- Drink 4.5 litres of water each day
- Take a daily progress photo
- Read 10 pages of inspirational non-fiction each day
Think that’s a lot? There’s more. If you don’t manage to complete these six tasks every day, you have to start back at day one. Frisella acknowledges it might seem intense but if you get through it, he claims you’ll ‘come out on the other side as ‘the hardest, most disciplined version of yourself.’
75 Hard Challenge benefits
Shooting for all of the above rules is definitely not suitable for everyone (more on that later), but there are some rewards to be reaped from a few, as well as the notion of implementing a routine for 75 days (so long as it’s nowhere near as gruelling).
- It could help you develop healthy habits.
‘It will give you a sense of direction and structure,’ Alex Parren, a nutritionist at Superzeros, tells us. ‘The rule about reading non-fiction, for example, could encourage you to carve out time in your day to boost your knowledge as well as helping to reduce stress and screen time.’
- Your fitness levels will improve.
‘Following a good nutrition and exercise programme for 75 days (albeit not as intense as this one) will certainly improve your fitness and weight management,’ adds Eleanor Thrupp, a nutritional therapist at Innermost, ‘Drinking as much water as you can (not necessarily as much as 4.5L, however) will also keep you hydrated and help you feel more energised throughout the day.’
Unlike other more prescriptive challenges, there’s an element of choice with the 75 Hard Challenge, says fourfive ambassador and celeb PT Jenny Francis-Townson. ‘You choose the diet that suits you, you choose the exercises and you choose the books to read. This makes it more personal to you, which is a good thing.’ As we always say, every body is individual.
75 Hard Challenge risks
Despite glowing reports from the TikTok world, all of the experts I spoke to for this feature agree that the risks outweigh the benefits with the 75 Hard Challenge. Here’s why:
- Scientific evidence is lacking.
‘Frisella doesn’t provide scientific evidence for how the components in the programme develop or prove mental toughness, so it’s really a collection of arbitrary rules to follow each day,’ says psychologist and eating disorder specialist Rachel Evans.
Parren agrees, highlighting the ‘drinking 4.5 litres of water a day’ rule. ‘A person’s water intake should be tailored to their own unique needs including their body weight, muscle mass, how much they exercise, the climate and how much they sweat,’ he says. ‘For many people, drinking 4.5 litres is way too much and could have negative physiological consequences.’
- The 75 Hard Challenge could potentially put you at risk of injury.
The fact that the 75 Hard Challenge doesn’t include any rest days is a huge no-no, says personal trainer Hannah Lewin. ‘Rest and recovery is a vital part of progress and to not include it in the programme is incredibly irresponsible in my opinion,’ she says. Going ham without any rest days will also put you at a much higher risk of injury.
Plus, because the fitness rule is open to interpretation – you can choose what workouts you do, some might go overboard with exercise and aim for routines which are unsafe. There’s no mention of warm ups or cool downs either, which also increases the risk of injury.
- The 75 Hard Challenge could harm your relationship with food.
‘We know most diets that restrict calorie intake and list “good” and “bad” foods are unsustainable in the long term,’ says Evans. And, like the fitness rule, the programme doesn’t specify which “diet” to follow. ‘This is an issue because it might lead some people to drastically reduce their calorie intake or cut out a whole food group,’ says Evans. ‘This could be dangerous for their health, especially if they’ve increased the amount of exercise they’re doing as part of the challenge.’
- Your mental health may suffer.
For Sarah Cannon, psychological wellbeing practitioner at Living Well UK, the mental health implications of pursuing the 75 Hard Challenge are concerning. ‘It plays into all or nothing thinking – either you’re mentally tough or you’re failing, there’s no middle ground,’ she tells Women’s Health. ‘If you can’t keep up with the intensity of the challenge, you might feel like you’re not good enough, and it could have a detrimental impact on your self-worth.’
And don’t get us started on taking daily ‘progress pictures’. ‘This level of self-surveillance and comparison could result in poor self-esteem and body image, which is ironic considering the challenge is supposed to increase your self-worth,’ registered nutritionist Kirsten Oddy tells Women’s Health.
Who should avoid the 75 Hard Challenge?
Anyone who thinks they might be triggered by implementing diet rules, rigid exercise habits and taking progress photos, says Evans. If you’ve previously dealt with an eating disorder, body dysmorphia or exercise addiction, it most definitely isn’t for you.
Lewin also stresses that those with existing injuries or health conditions should consult a medical professional before embarking on the challenge.
With all this in mind, I approached the 75 Hard Challenge with caution, vowing to listen to my body and not push myself too far, and always abiding by the experts’ advice. Take note, and please do not try this at home.
5 things I learnt from attempting the 75 Hard Challenge
1. Too much of a good thing does exist when it comes to exercise
The first and most blatant thing that came from me doing the 75 Hard Challenge was just how important rest days are. Even though one of my daily 45-minutes workouts was a walk in the park, after three weeks of zero days off, my body was struggling and I started to suffer with knee pain and sore Achilles tendons. I was also exhausted.
Francis-Townson says this isn’t surprising. ‘A lack of rest means that our muscles don’t have time to repair and inflammation doesn’t have time to go down, resulting in pain and injuries.’
Lewin concurs that overexercising will do you more harm than good, making the very valid point that if you’re too sore or fatigued to do a workout to the best of your ability, it kind of defeats the point of doing a challenge in the first place.
So after three weeks, I decided to cut down on the amount of intense HIIT workouts I was doing (from five a week, down to two a week) and stuck to more low impact workouts like yoga and Pilates. Although this helped, I still found exercising every single day was overkill, so after about four weeks I started to give myself one rest day a week. I don’t believe you should force yourself to work out if you’re not feeling it, and despite the fact I’ve always exercised regularly, I knew it wasn’t doing me any favours.
Here’s how weeks one and three compared.
- Week 1:
- Monday: F45 class
- Tuesday: F45 class
- Wednesday: 5K run
- Thursday: F45 class
- Friday: F45 class
- Saturday: F45 class
- Sunday: 5K run
- Week 3:
- Monday: 1 hour Yoga class
- Tuesday: 45 min Pilates YouTube video
- Wednesday: Walk/jog
- Thursday: Yoga YouTube video
- Friday: F45 class
- Saturday: Pilates YouTube video
- Sunday: F45 class
If you are thinking about attempting the 75 Hard Challenge, Parren strongly advises seeking guidance from a qualified fitness professional to ensure your workout schedule is safe and effective.
2. Diets don’t work
I’m not one for diets. I’ll admit I’ve previously been sucked in by diet culture, cutting out carbs and denying myself ‘naughty’ foods (does anyone actually know what that means?) but now, I’m in a place where I firmly believe you should eat in a way that brings you joy.
For the purpose of this challenge, though, my interpretation of a ‘diet’ was to go dairy-free for its duration. My thinking was that dairy doesn’t always agree with me (I’ve had stomach issues from having too much in the past) so ditching it for 75 days might actually be beneficial. Plus, there are so many great alternatives these days (big up dairy-free Ben & Jerry’s), so I didn’t find it too tricky.
The real struggle on the nutrition side of things was the ‘no cheat meals’ rule. I’d say 80% of my diet is made up of ‘healthy’ food – I eat plenty of fruit and veg, I make sure I get enough protein and I’m mindful of my fibre intake.
At the same time, I love pizza, burgers and doughnuts, and while the rules don’t specify exactly what qualifies as a ‘cheat meal’, I’m not sure these would be approved of, and avoiding them was tough. My boyfriend and I like to eat out on the weekends, so we either had to go to ‘healthy’ restaurants or I had to opt for superfood salads while he devoured pizza, garlic bread and brownies. Not the one.
Come week four, I could not stop thinking about sweet food. I tried to satisfy my cravings with 85% dark chocolate but it definitely didn’t cut the mustard. As soon as the challenge came to an end, I went overboard with all the foods I had denied myself. This is to be expected, says Evans. ‘Having food that’s off-limits can often make you crave it more and you’re likely to overeat those foods when given the opportunity.’
Cannon isn’t a fan of cheat meals either. ‘The use of the phrase “cheat meal” assigns morality to food,’ she explains. ‘If we go ‘off track’ and eat a food we’ve told ourselves we can’t have, this can lead to feelings of guilt and shame, and may even lead to cycles of overeating and restriction.’
A balanced diet has room for all the foods you enjoy, the experts argue, and I couldn’t agree more.
3. Giving up alcohol can be really empowering
One aspect of the 75 Hard Challenge I did find beneficial was ditching booze. I’m not a huge drinker but I do enjoy a few cocktails on a Friday night and for me, drinking is an inevitable part of socialising, so I didn’t have much faith that I’d manage 75 days T total. Once I got started, though, it was surprisingly easy and enjoyable.
I found I had more energy for my workouts, I was sleeping well, and I felt less anxious about the little things. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn I could handle social situations without the crutch of a drink. Instead, I opted for alcohol-free beer, or I mixed myself a non-alcohol gin (big up Pentire for that) and tonic. It’s not something I’ll continue with because I prefer the taste of real alcohol, but it was an eye-opening experience to know that I can enjoy social events just as much without it, and I’m glad I did it.
4. You’ve got to listen to your body and find what works for you
Unsurprisingly, a fair few of the rules didn’t work for me. For instance, taking progress photos was very triggering so I cut them out after week one, drinking 4.5 litres of water was way too much (I managed 2 litres on average), and who really has time to work out for 90 minutes every day (I racked up around half of that)?
I didn’t like how all-encompassing it was, either. Life is about balance, but with the 75 Hard Challenge, it’s easy to neglect other important areas of your life like relationships, hobbies and socialising. Plus, the fact you have to start from scratch if you miss a day is, frankly, ludicrous. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t slip up every now and then, and that doesn’t warrant a punishment.
‘It’s setting individuals up to fail as life is unpredictable and can often get in the way of best-made plans,’ says Cannon. ‘You’ll begin to view your success only through completing these strict rules created by someone else, instead of what is of real value and importance to you.’ In other words, making some positive lifestyle changes is all well and good but following a set of rules laid out by someone who doesn’t actually know anything about you isn’t the best way to go about it.
Evans adds: ‘It’s a much better idea to tune in to how you’re feeling and decide what would benefit your mental and physical health on any given day.’
Lewin’s recommendations? Take some time to think about your own routine and what your personal aims are. ‘Once you’ve assessed this, get the advice of a qualified professional who can help you with a plan to get there.’ As we always say, you’re much more likely to stick to something if it suits your lifestyle.
5. ‘Healthy’ habits aren’t so healthy if they’re impacting your mental health
On paper, I was the epitome of “health” during the challenge. I was exercising a lot, eating as much nutritious food as I could, drinking plenty of water and forgoing alcohol. If I posted progress photos, you might have even seen some physical change but mentally, the challenge was taking its toll, and that’s what’s important.
I was super busy with work and had various things going on in my personal life, so trying to follow all six rules every single day was draining.
‘We have to consider at what point health-enhancing behaviours actually become unhealthy,’ says Evans. ‘If someone is stressing over completing the tasks each day and their mental or physical health has been negatively impacted, then it’s a red flag that what they’re doing is no longer healthy.’
He’s right, and with this advice in mind, on day 50, I decided enough was enough and quit the challenge. Do I feel guilty for not completing the 75 days? Not at all. The challenge was no longer serving me, and that certainly doesn’t make me a failure, nor would it you.
I can confirm I wouldn’t recommend the 75 Hard Challenge. Who knew? Granted, I am taking some positives away from the experience like reading more and drinking less but that’s as far as it goes. There are plenty more effective, less extreme ways of challenging yourself and working on your health and fitness.
‘Ultimately, you must be kind to yourself and recognise that you can work towards your goals with what you have available to you at the time. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing. Progress over perfection,’ says Cannon. Say it louder.
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with an eating disorder, contact Beat, the UK-based charity who hope to end the pain and suffering caused by eating disorders.
T: 0808 801 0677
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