Are six week health challenges dead?

Brian Alexander is chief inspiration officer at CrossFit Illumine, CrossFit Illumine North, an affiliate located outside of Chicago. As a coach and business mentor at Two Brain Business, Alexander is passionate about building sustainable strategies that take affiliates to the next level. Follow CrossFit Illumine on Twitter and Instagram to learn more.


When fitness challenges entered the CrossFit scene two years ago, I was just as excited as any affiliate owner. The promise of gaining 50 new members each month seemed like magic, but in the end, our revolving door of clients proved to be a curse.

On one hand, we convinced many people to give CrossFit Illumine a shot. But just because we were good at getting people to try CrossFit doesn’t mean they stuck around.  

We had a few amazing members stay after our six-week challenges — many of whom are still there today —  but they were in the minority.  

What happened to the rest of our members?

I probably won’t ever know for sure. But the truth is, many clients left because we failed them. And I take 100 percent of the blame because I realize now that most health challenges fail for three reasons:

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Nutrition, weight loss, wellness.

1. Building health habits takes longer than six weeks.  

No, you won't lose 20 pounds in six weeks — at least not safely and you won't keep it off.

Why? Because six weeks isn’t enough time to make a lasting change.

In fact, research suggests that it takes over 60 days to build a new habit — especially when it comes to losing weight, improving your diet or starting a new workout routine.

Not to mention, most people physically can't lose 20 pounds of fat in six weeks. What they will lose is water weight and muscle.

When you lose muscle, your body burns fewer calories. When you burn fewer calories, you gain the weight back — plus more.

Just look at The Biggest Loser. During the show, contestants shed hundreds of pounds and undergo dramatic transformations. But afterwards, many contestants gain most — if not all — of their weight back.

It’s the proverbial roller coaster of death.

The truth is, it takes much longer than six weeks to make a sustainable lifestyle change. Achieving results requires a long-term psychological commitment that most challenges can’t provide.

2. Most health challenges are too generic. 

Most people come to us to solve a problem — whether it’s losing weight, gaining muscle or becoming a better athlete.Each of those clients have different needs, and there’s no silver bullet that will work for everyone. That’s why most challenges are too generic to for people looking to get fit in a meaningful way.  

To help people get results, stop trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. You need to build a program tailored to each person’s unique needs and goals to help them reach their full potential.So before starting anyone on a program, we ask them a series of questions that allow us to build the perfect solution, including:

  • Do you prefer group or personal training?
  • How much accountability do you feel you need to succeed?
  • Where have you failed in the past and what is one thing that could have prevented it?
  • Do you do well with a blueprint to follow when it comes to nutrition or do you feel you would be better off with direction and accountability?

When given the choice, most people opt for one-on-one attention and personal accountability. Give them that choice and watch your clients thrive.

3. Some challenges are just a bait and switch.

Many challenges are advertised as free — as long as you meet the unrealistic (and usually unhealthy) goals they set for you.

That’s because there’s a strategic touchpoint halfway through the challenge where organizers say you’re off track. BUT if you sign up for 12 months contract, they will apply your deposit from the challenge to your membership.

It sounds like a bait and switch to me.

A better alternative to six-week fitness challenges

When I look back at our challenges, I realize I should’ve designed a solution for each member’s unique problems. And there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to that.

So I decided to architect a better way.  We ditched six-week challenges and changed our strategy to the Illumine First 100-Day Journey. This is the strategic way we onboard all new clients in an ultra-prescriptive way.

Unlike traditional health challenges, everyone who joins our gym receives a unique prescription of one-on-one personal training, group classes and nutrition coaching over the course of their first 100 days —  followed by a goal session to plan their next 100-day journey.To really help someone, you have to sit down and listen to what they need.  Ask where they have failed in the past. Ask how much accountability they feel they need to thrive and succeed through their First 100 Days. If you are smart, you’ll shut your mouth, listen and let them talk. They will tell you exactly what they need.   

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