Challenges have become a big thing lately.

They can be healthy challenges (like the Ab Challenge I offer, which you can download HERE) or harmless ones like the mannequin challenge, where participants freeze in position for no reason other than to appear on YouTube under “people with too much time on their hands.”  

Then we have the ridiculously nonsensical, dangerous, and downright deadly challenges.

Case in point: the cinnamon challenge, which gained popularity a year or so ago. The goal was to gulp down a teaspoon of cinnamon. It sounds harmless but is totally not. It landed some people in the hospital when they inhaled the spice.

Who thinks of this stuff?

This type of thing makes me wonder if I’ve become the most sane person on earth. If you’re a reader of this blog you’ll know the level of insanity of which I speak.

More recently, something far worse has people literally setting fire to their GI tract. I’m talking about the Paqui Carolina Reaper One-Chip Challenge.

A single chip. But this is no ordinary chip, my friend, but one made from The Hottest Pepper known to mankind personkind: the Carolina Reaper. 

To give you an idea of the hotness of this pepper, consider that the jalapeno pepper – no slacker itself – contains between 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), the official pepper heat rating.

The Carolina Reaper clocks in at between 1,150,000 and 2,200,000 SHU, only a small step below US Grade police pepper spray. (The ghost pepper, previously thought of as the hottest pepper, is right behind the Reaper at between 855,000 and 1.5k SHU.)

I have personal rules against eating anything that in any way mimics a weapon designed to break up a mass riot.

But maybe that’s just me.

Apparently eating even a small, oyster cracker size bite of this chip is like sticking a flaming torch down your gullet. Only more painful. Nothing stops the pain, which starts like a small flicker and rapidly progresses to “I’m going to die” within seconds.

Many radio and TV personalities took the challenge live on the air. Big mistake.

Some hosts ended up vomiting and others simply writhed in pain and left for the day to presumably soak their entire head in a bucket of ice.

One station host on a channel I frequent claims it permanently ruined his vocal cords. Since he sings and creates jingles as the executive producer of the show, it’s an action I’m sure he regrets.

As someone who can’t tolerate anything on a menu with a red pepper icon next to it, I can’t even begin to relate.

Burning esophaguses aside, challenges done right can be great to get you moving again or in helping you kick up results a notch.

A worthwhile challenge, on the other hand, is one in which you push yourself in a healthy way. It should not involve:

  1. Choking on a powdery substance until you can’t breathe
  2. Burning out your esophagus and every bodily organ down to and including your rectum
  3. Involve paramedics, a trip to the ER, or the last rites

A good challenge takes your out of your current comfort zone. I say “current” because that zone moves around when you start working out.

You may start with comfort zone level “couch,” so doing a set of five push-ups takes you above and beyond your zone.

After you’ve worked out for awhile and become stronger, your comfort zone may increase to 20 or 30 push-ups, so doing 50 is your Big Challenge.

Getting outside your comfort zone means you won’t be happy doing it because it’s uncomfortable.

Yup, it can hurt at first, but in a good way. You need to be uncomfortable to make progress. Period.

The good news? Eventually that new level becomes comfortable.

Then guess what? Yup! Time to be miserable again.

It’s what you do when you want to see results. Truth be told, no one says you ever have to leave the couch. 

If you don’t mind people paying an entry fee and walking through your house to gape at The Amazing Couch Woman (“part human, part sofa cushion!”), that’s totally your call.

I’ll assume that’s not your goal.

So here are a few ways to up the ante – and, subsequently — the results of any program. They’re also excellent ways to get yourself off a plateau.

 

1. Eliminate breaks

Instead of doing a single exercise at a time, plan mini circuits to keep your heart rate up and turn a resistance training workout into a cardiovascular one. For example, pick a lower body exercise, upper body exercise and ab or core move and do one after the other. Only then do you stop and take a 60 second break, or however long you need. Then repeat.

These interval-style workouts — along with #3 below — stimulate your body to continue burning calories after you’ve finished your workout through a process called EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. Simply put, as your body returns to its pre-workout status, you’re burning additional calories above and beyond sitting-on-the-couch mode. 

You get the most bang for your buck. How many more calories you burn depends on the intensity of your workout, the length of time, and your fitness level. Still, every little bit counts.

2. Slow down

This sounds counterintuitive to #1, but the two actually go hand-in-hand.

Using momentum is one of the biggest mistakes I see at the gym. You have two basic parts to each exercise movement: the eccentric or stretch phase, and the contraction or concentric phase. Using momentum takes away half the benefits of the exercise by eliminating the stretch phase.

For example, if you’re doing a biceps curl and bring the dumbbells up and then drop them quickly down before your next repetition you’re cheating yourself out of half the benefits. Same goes for chest presses or any other exercise. Slowing down your movements make the exercise feel harder, too.

Strive for a 2+ second upward contraction phase followed by a 4+ second downward or stretch phase and you’re about right. This also forces you to focus on the movement.

3. Add intervals to your cardio

It’s fine to do long, endurance cardio sessions of 30 to 60 minutes, but to really kick things up a notch you also want to include a couple sessions of intervals to your workout mixed in with the long form version.

Here’s a good one to try:

Use cardio of your choice, be it walking, running, rowing, biking, or elliptical trainer:

Warm-up: 5 minutes easy pace, cardio of your choice, then:

  1. 30 seconds easy pace
  2. 20 seconds moderately hard pace
  3. 10 seconds as fast as you can go (adjust according to your fitness level)
  4. Repeat FIVE or more times without stopping (fewer if you’re a newbie)
  5. Cool down by walking around for two minutes and stretch

NOW YOU… Which of these three tactics do you do or will you try this week?

This entire routine takes only 12 minutes, making it great for time-crunched days. You can add one or two more rounds if you’re up for more of a challenge. Or you’re a superhero.

Other posts you may enjoy:

3 Ways to instantly turn any exercise into a core challenge

How to get the scale unstuck

3 Things you MUST be willing to do to make real progress (hint: most people are not)

Your Ageless Body Coach,