There has been quite the uprising of “30 Day Challenge” takers over the past while and I must say I’m happy to see so many people taking charge of their physical fitness. It’s great how such a simple system has grown in popularity and influenced the public’s desire to become fit. Too bad there’s no substantial benefit to this “system”. Don’t worry though, A for effort, right?
A 2013 article in the Huffington Post on the topic – written by Personal Trainer, Kathleen Trotter – states “The trick to successfully adopting a healthier lifestyle long-term is to find a ‘recipe for success’ that works for your individual body”. I can’t agree more with this statement. So, I’ve decided to dive a little bit deeper into why these 30 Day Challenges aren’t an optimal solution for achieving safe and effective physical fitness.
The claims sound promising with gimmicky catch phrases like “tone up and boost your leg and butt muscles”, “build up your core muscle strength” and my personal favourite, “tone up and boost your core muscles to the max”. With these catch-all phrases and claims, it’s easy to understand how the population can become tricked into thinking they’ll end up looking like the professional models on the website, who most likely, don’t participate in these challenges themselves.
On day one you are expected to complete 50 body-weight squats. By day fifteen it’s 140 and by day 30 it’s 250. We need to take something very important into consideration; the average sedentary individual will not be capable of performing even close to 50 squats with optimal form. Every time you complete one of these squats with improper technique, you are reinforcing an improper movement pattern within your nervous system. By day 30, that’s 3,295 improper movement patterns. What about the squat demo video on their website? After spending a mere 20 seconds analyzing the video, it was clear that they do not understand how the human body works.
Performing a squat seems pretty straight forward and it can be, given that the person understands proper mechanics and how the human body works. Several protocols must be in place in order to maximize the benefits of the squat, otherwise, you’ll end up doing more harm than good. The main flaw I see with novice squatters is a simple load ordering error – the same error present in their squat demo video – where the squatter initiates the movement with their knees first. We know that any joint(s) loaded first are also loaded maximally, that being said, it is very important to initiate the movement using the hips first. If we begin the movement with the knees first, we experience excess shearing forces within the knee, doing harm to the intricate structures within.
TRAINING EFFECT & ADAPTATION
Sadly, performing 50 to 250 body-weight squats on a daily basis will not yield the desired effect of most challenge takers. “Toning” – a misused term that I’ll save for another time – or muscle definition, can only be achieved once the individual has become physically leaner and has achieved a low enough body fat percentage. The misconception of using higher repetitions and a lighter load in order to achieve muscle definition has been present in the industry for some time. The harsh truth is that it is simply untrue and incorrect.
What about their claim of “boosting strength”? Yes, it is possible to become “stronger” at a certain movement over a 30 day period. However, given the frequency and higher repetitions of the movement, and that the majority of challenge takers are novice trainees, this bout of increased relative strength and endurance can be attributed to none other than neuromuscular efficiency. In short, the nervous system has become more efficient at the required muscle recruitment (yes, even if it’s an improper movement pattern). Although they may feel stronger and have the capability to perform more repetitions, it is not a true indication of increased muscular strength/endurance.
So, what can you expect to achieve by taking the 30 day squat challenge? Not an awful lot. In my professional opinion there are more appropriate options than taking a 30 day challenge that one, only lasts one month, two, may cause degenerative issues and improper movement patterns and three, provides a sub-optimal, minuscule training effect and adaptation response.