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The Medical Minute: 75 Hard, 75 Soft and how to keep your fitness resolutions

The calendar just flipped to 2024, so cue the ads: “Now’s your chance to drop weight, get ripped and let your fitness flag fly!”

Gyms fill. Shoppers empty the diet food sections at your grocery store. And good luck finding a rice cake or a free treadmill at the gym before spring.

Among the more popular life-change regimens this season is the 75 Hard Challenge. Launched by Andy Frisella in 2019, the high-intensity, food, fitness and brain challenge, has gone viral on places like TikTok. The program’s website says it’s “not a fitness challenge. 75 Hard is a transformative mental toughness program.”

75 Hard requires six commitments you must complete every day for 75 days.

  • Two 45-minute workouts. One must be outside.
  • Adhering to a diet. You can pick the diet, but you can’t cheat.
  • Reading 10 pages of a self-help or educational book.
  • Drinking a gallon of water.
  • Taking a progress picture.

The website recommends speaking with a doctor before taking on the challenge, a suggestion Brei Hummer-Bair, a clinical exercise physiologist and human resource technologist at Penn State College of Medicine, agrees with.

Before starting any new exercise plan you should check in with a doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough, Hummer-Bair said. Then, build a plan that’s right for you.

And that plan might not be 75 Hard, she said. “75 Hard is just that,” she said. “It’s very stringent, and it’s not something most people are going to want to stick to.”

Hummer-Bair offered her perspective on exercise and nutrition and how a toned-down version of 75 Hard might be a better fit for some people who want to get off the New Year’s treadmill and improve their health for life.

What’s so hard about 75 Hard?

75 Hard emphasizes positive goals ― exercise, nutrition and mental activity ― but the intensity might be wrong for you.

Take, for example, the requirement of two 45-minute workouts per day. “Most people can’t even do one 45-minute session a day,” Hummer-Bair said, “let alone two.”

At the same time, there’s no built-in rest period – no time to recover – for two and a half months. For 75 days straight, participants must work out every single day. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week, Hummer-Bair said. Moderate activity, she said, is an exercise that allows you to maintain a conversation with someone while performing it. Working too hard can put undue strain on your body.

“You always need to have some rest days built in,” she said. “It’s imperative to our bodies. If you’re someone who works out a lot and you’re looking for something extra, I would say go ahead and increase to a sixth day. But I would never recommend more than six days a week for anyone.”

Hummer-Bair also would not recommend the diet aspect of the regimen to clients. “I don’t even like the word diet,” she said. Fad diets might work in the short term, but before long the participant falls back into old habits and whatever goals they’d achieved go away.

“If I was going to recommend something, I would definitely not say to do 75 Hard,” she said. “Especially if they’re not active and not following any kind of a diet, because it’s really setting most people up for failure.”

Is there an alternative?

While the intensity of 75 Hard might be too much, the goals are worth exploring. Billed as a “beginner-friendly” version of 75 Hard, a less-intense version called 75 Soft has also been popping up online.

Its basic tenets:

  • Incorporate healthy foods into what you eat, and, if you imbibe, only drink alcohol on social occasions.
  • Drop the number of workouts to one 45-minute session per day, with one day a week for active recovery.
  • Drink three liters of water each day.
  • Read 10 pages of any book each day.

“It’s a little more realistic for people,” Hummer-Bair said. By lowering the temperature a few degrees, you increase your chances of developing longer-lasting habits.

For example, choosing to read 10 pages of any book is helpful because it stimulates brain activity without forcing yourself to read something you might not necessarily want to read, Hummer-Bair said. “It’s just using your brain a little differently than maybe you would at work all day,” she said.

Rather than testing your will power and denying yourself with a stringent diet, the 75 Soft program suggests doing your best and making healthier choices ― something that’s easier for people to manage for the long haul.

What if you’re starting at Level 0? Where should you start if you want to be healthier?

If your doctor says it’s safe for you to get started with exercise, “it’s always important to taper it,” Hummer-Bair said. “Start with a lower dose and build up from there.”

Start with just 15 minutes a day, five days a week. That might not sound like much, but starting with too much too soon can result in injury.

Try it for four weeks. “It helps you build up the strength and the stamina for where you want to go,” she said. Then build up to 20 minutes, 25 minutes and 30 minutes, five days a week.

Hummer-Bair suggests cardiovascular exercise as a good place to start. Walk. Ride a bike. Use an elliptical machine. “Those are movements we’re used to already,” she said, and that can also prevent injury.

“Adding strength training is important, but it’s not as important when we’re first starting,” she said. Once you’re comfortable with the cardiovascular exercise, start adding in the strength training. But that should only be one to two days per week.

Try searching for low-impact or easy body-weight exercises on the internet for ideas to mix it up.

Then, build on it from there.

Going from zero to 60 creates a speed that’s hard to maintain, she said.

You can hurt yourself or burn out and next year find yourself searching for the next challenge that will change your life forever.

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The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature produced by Penn State Health. Articles feature the expertise of faculty, physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

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