For the most of my adult life I’ve lived by trying to follow a set of routines. One would enter my rotation, stay there as long as I deemed necessary, and then get replaced by another. Repeated enough, this cycle transformed me into a creature of habit. And while there was nothing necessarily wrong with spending my days by following patterns, there was this lack of purpose- partial emptiness – caused by the absence of challenge.
Challenges, as opposed to routines, give you a stronger purpose, an end goal in mind, usually associated with raising the bar couple of inches higher. And it is in this respect that they outweigh routines. Routines, existing solely, without any way to measure their effectiveness in the future, usually end up making your life monotonous. Predictably, boredom kicks in and off the habits go.
Fitness, being a very tangible analogy of almost every other aspect of self-improvement in life, was the first area where I’ve tried to prove this principle.
Why choosing a fitness challenge?
I’ve long felt the need to explain this concept, and give it the extended treatment it deserves.
In order to dramatically improve your fitness, there is this exceedingly difficult habit process you need to develop. And my layman research into forming and maintaining habits gave me the theoretical understanding of the role a challenge can play in the process.
A challenge provides the necessary backbone- the proper framework- on which habits slowly develop and stick. It goes without saying then, that having some fight to strive for in the future is way better than just unceremoniously dumping one routine after another in your schedule.
Having a fitness challenge, say a marathon, it takes the mind off the process of preparation, off the process of forming habits. Focusing on the challenge, and solely on the challenge, in principle, you go through the process of forming habits without really paying attention. And shifting your focus away from the habit itself, usually allows the habit to better sink within your subconscious mind. Having a fitness challenge is a very wise alternative because:
- It forms discipline on its own, without you having to give too much thought in the process.
- It improves your focus and renders you immune to wining about the setbacks.
- It puts you in great physical condition and makes you lose weight or build muscle without you having to study rocket science.
- It is fun and takes your mind off the journey, thus cutting down heavily on frustration.
What you need to know when choosing a fitness challenge
Not much really. Just paint a vague picture in your mind of the type of fitness challenge that excites you- Strength, endurance, speed, or a combination of these? What winds up your clock?
No doubt, this might take you a while, since all options seem really hard to grasp. Oh, yes, I haven’t said that yet- in order for this fitness challenge to work its magic, it needs to be something you cannot even imagine accomplishing at the present moment. I will give you a list of options bellow, but now just try and let your fantasy roam wild for a while. I’ll be here waiting.
Past experiences can offer little clue to wisdom here, so if you are afraid of trying an endeavor you’ve once failed at, put it right back on your list.
As long as you see yourself excited about the challenge, and it is something you are far from capable of doing at this moment, you are set.
The challenge and routine dynamic
Though the challenge is going to give you unmeasurable drive, preparation for it demands routines. However, unlike building and following your own set of routines, I will point to a far more sophisticated system to take in mind.
The challenge will represent the highest step in the journey, and though you will always strive towards it, all the steps leading there will be routine-formed.
Let me draw you an example.
If the challenge is going to be a 300 miles bike cruise, the routine is not going to be made of just you cycling on your own time and schedule. The routine- and this is the crucial aspect of it- is going to be planned upfront and treated almost the same as the challenge.
You will decide over what you will need to do day in and day out, or every weekend, or however you deem fit- and then treat that activity as the challenge itself.
So, if you decide that you will need to ride 30 miles each weekend, then the moment your behind touches the saddle, imagine that you are starting the 300 miles ride.
Following such line of thinking, you will hardly ever focus on the preparation and the habit itself, but instead enjoy the process by treating it as the challenge itself. Thus, all frustration that comes along with the routine aspect is likely to subside. For much of the time routines give birth to frustration solely because we fail to associate them with a stronger purpose.
The list of challenges
5K race for speed
Completing a 5K race, though intimidating for some, is not that hard of a task. When not being put against the clock, miles stretch indefinitely and what was meant to be a race can easily become a jog within your comfort zone. I don’t see a challenge here.
The goal, if you want this to be your challenge, is to lower the numbers time wise. So, if you are struggling to even complete the length of the race, aim somewhere between 25-27 minutes.
If you are already within this frame, the goal is to lower that number to somewhere close to 3 minutes. If you are faster however, then try and run a sub 20 minute 5K. Now that is a challenge.
If you are more about endurance than speed, this is your game. I’ve personally met many people who felt confident enough that running this distance is not that big of a deal. The epilogue says that most of them are usually wrong.
A half marathon, you see, if you don’t have any previous running experience, is very close to running an actual full scale marathon. The same way a seasoned runner feels when he is trying to complete the last couple of miles while running a marathon, the novice would experience as well in his last miles when running half the distance.
If you are not running for the clock, and you have some decent training, then this might become tenfold easier. Therefore your ambition should aim somewhere between completing the thing, and shaving off couple of minutes from the time you first succeeded doing so. That is the challenge- complete the distance while still in training, measure the time, and then try to speed up for three or four minutes during the actual event. This means that you will have to complete the distance even in your early-to-mid stages of training.
Run Forrest, run!
Irrespective of the fact on whether or not you’ve completed a 5K race or a half marathon, you can start preparing for this one.
A marathon, unlike the previous two challenges, is a bird of another feather. It requires a whole different set of abilities, and tests your metal more than anything else. If the previous two required somewhat of a mix between endurance power and speed, this one rests on endurance entirely. You will have to do a lot of running before you try to go the distance.
Depending on your current fitness level, and physique of course, you might want to schedule your marathon event somewhere between six months to a full year upfront.
Moving to another ball game here guys and gals; the first time I tried to complete this challenge I was certain and quite confident in myself that it will be easy. I mean how many days one usually needs before he can hit the mark? Five, six, a week…?
It turns out it takes more, way more. Especially if you are a beginner in fitness and cannot even do twenty of them.
As for training, there are pyramid systems to try, day to day progression, or simply just varying different numbers till you feel confident enough to try the hundredth. Noticeably easier when compared to the ones above, it is still a perfect challenge.
The Insanity workout
My pick from the pack; this is the workout that transformed my life. No, seriously.
It is a 60 day program designed to test your limits, and torture you into becoming the fittest version of yourself.
Each day, you do a 45-60 minute workout and Sunday you are allowed to rest. This goes on for nine weeks- nine unforgettable weeks. Remember how navy seals return forever changed from the training. Now draw a parallel here. After Insanity you perceive the word discipline and thus will power rather differently.
There is now a shorter, more effective variant of the Insanity workout called Insanity Max 30. You can find out more in this Insanity Max 30 review.
Or do you love dancing? If so, you would love the Cize workout.
You can stream all these workouts on Beachbody On Demand, a fitness streaming service which we reviewed in this Beachbody On Demand review.
A Spartan race
Probably my second pick- a perfect innuendo in holistic fitness, and advanced levels of physical preparedness.
In order to be able to complete a Spartan race, you will need to train diligently for the bigger part of a year. That’s right- the point is to complete the race standing, not crawling through the finish line.
The preparation would include all forms of exercise, and you will have to work on every aspect of your fitness in order not to neglect something that might, and probably will, later on fail on you during the race.
A very long bike cruise
For this one I cannot give you a specific distance and time needed to complete the stretch of it. However, if biking appeals more than anything else, make it challenging by taking the number of miles that you can ride today and multiplying it by ten. That’s the number you will be chasing, and training for. The goal? – complete it in one day.
Yeah, right. You can close this tab now, sure. But bear with me. Completing a triathlon this big is going to transform you as a person. Not to mention your body.
The preparation though, is another story entirely. You will have your life dedicated to this pursuit in the following year or two, and go either swimming biking or running whenever you get the chance. And you will if you train, a lot.
Let the seriousness of this challenge run proportional to how little I have to say about it. If you are crazy enough, or dedicated enough to make this reality, you will find the resources and close this tab immediately and get your hands around the planning aspect of it.
How to prepare for some of these challenges?
Running will set the base for most of these endeavors, and you will be wise to start rather early regardless of the type of challenge you’ve chosen. Stretch, warm your muscles and make sure to start small and then progress gradually.
The routine part? Set a certain number of days per week, and then add either miles or minutes into the equation. Never break schedule.
Play a sport
Every weekend, or twice per week, get your buddies together and organize a match. In what, you ask? You tell me- basketball is my first pick, but you can play soccer, football, volleyball… Anything really.
Sports have a way on working your body as a whole and improving almost every aspect of your fitness. Cardio, balance, coordination, agility, strength, endurance, power… You name it.
Make sure to stick to the schedule. This is the routine part of it. Two times per week, or once, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the fact that you cannot miss a single day.
A bike ride every weekend
We mentioned this earlier while giving examples, and it applies perfectly.
Take your bike and go conquering distance every day you can. If you want to make it into a routine, well, set the weekend or any other number of days and never miss a ride.
The P90 Workout
A perfect introduction to holistic fitness and something that everyone can do; the P90 workout will improve various aspects of your fitness, and prepare you for almost all physical endeavors.
It is a perfect preparation for something like the Insanity workout, and even the Spartan race for that matter.
Swimming, running, biking, and even the training for a triathlon will be much easier when you successfully complete this program. Here is a P90 review. For the ladies, a similar program is the 21 Day Fix, you can read more in this 21 Day Fix review.
A gym routine
Much needed for your training if you were to prepare for an event like the Spartan race. You will need strength most of all, and whatever lack of endurance exercises you have in your routine, you can make up with running for speed. Longer distances, fast pace.
The routine part? Set a number of days per week where you train in the gym, and then device a routine and stick with it.
Fitness challenges give meaning to your routines, and thus transform your habits by giving you more of a purpose to stick with them. Setting forth a challenge of this kind, it will be fun seeing your discipline, will power, and overall determination improved. It will be an interesting journey leading to your transformation. Both mental and physical, as well as emotional.