You’ve probably heard the saying, “It takes 21 days to form a habit.” Unfortunately it’s not quite that easy — research shows that habit formation, on average, actually takes around 66 days.
Still, you have to start somewhere, and a 30-day fitness challenge might sound like a great way to kick off a healthy new habit. The internet is abuzz with Pinterest-worthy versions of these routines, from the 30-Day Abs Challenge to the 30-Day Squat Challenge to the 30-Day Plank Challenge to the…well, you get the idea.
But do they actually work (as in, are they worth a month of your life)? Here’s what you need to know.
Will You See Results From a 30-Day Fitness Challenge?
Yes — but they might not be the type of results you’re looking for.
“If your goal is to work up to 250 consecutive bodyweight squats, then you shouldn’t expect much in the way of muscle growth, for example,” says Trevor Thieme, CSCS, Openfit’s Senior Fitness and Nutrition Content Manager. “That’s because what you’re training in that kind of challenge is muscle endurance, which focuses on the smaller ‘Type I’ fibers, rather than muscle strength, which focuses on the the larger ‘Type II’ fibers that have greater growth potential.”
In other words, doing endless bodyweight squats will make you really good at doing endless bodyweight squats—and perhaps climbing stairs and doing anything that requires pressing with one or both legs—but you likely won’t get the perfectly-sculpted booty you were expecting. And while a 30-day abs challenge can strengthen your core, it takes proper nutrition and loads of high-intensity exercise for you to lose sufficient body fat to reveal what you’re really after: a six pack.
“That’s why most challenges—especially highly focused ones like abs or squat challenges—aren’t substitutes for a well-designed training plan; they should be completed in addition to one,” says Thieme. “So choose your challenge wisely, making sure that you can integrate it easily into your existing program or that it really can stand alone, as might be the case if the goal is to, say, complete 30 workouts and recovery sessions in 30 days.”
Can You Build Muscle With a 30-Day Challenge?
The short answer is yes — but as previously mentioned, most aren’t intended to replace a comprehensive strength training program. “They’re supplemental—an extra challenge that can help boost workout motivation and consistency,” explains Thieme. “They likely won’t produce significant results on their own—you simply can’t create the kind of physical stress that optimizes hypertrophy (i.e., muscle growth) in a few minutes a day.”
But everything hinges on the structure and objective of the challenge. “There are so many different kinds of 30-day challenges out there that it’s hard to give a blanket statement that applies to all of them,” says Thieme. “You really have to look at each one individually to determine its effectiveness and whether it complements your larger fitness goals.”
Is It Okay to Train the Same Muscles Every Day?
In the context of a 30-day challenge, yes. And the reason is that you likely won’t be training those muscles exclusively every day—the challenge will be layered on top of and integrated into your existing exercise routine. “Doing squats every day for a month is okay as long as you account for that challenge in your training plan by, say, dialing back the amount of leg work you typically do,” says Thieme.
When not doing a challenge, you likely won’t want to target the same muscles in the same way every day — or simply work out every day, for that matter. “Recovery is an essential (and often overlooked) element in training programs,” says Thieme, adding that if you never take rest/recovery days, you might actually see a decrease in fitness gains and workout performance. “Your muscles don’t grow during workouts, they grow between them. If you never allow them enough time to repair and recover, you’ll shortchange your results and increase your risk of injury.”
What Happens After the 30-Day Challenge Is Over?
Make no mistake: muscle and strength gains have limited shelf lives. Unless you continue to train after you complete a 30-day challenge, any results you achieved will start to decline significantly after about three weeks. But you’ll likely be doing your challenge in addition to your regular training plan, so ceasing exercise isn’t really an issue.
“A 30-day fitness challenge is a great way to encourage people to get moving and keep them motivated for that short amount of time,” says Vane Padula, NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. “However, the key to weight loss and physical fitness is consistency. The 30-day challenges will only be effective long-term if you remain physically active once the challenge is completed.”
Our advice: Choose another challenge. And then another. And then another one after that. “No matter what your ultimate fitness goals are, you’ll achieve them faster if you keep challenging yourself,” says Thieme. “That’s what fuels motivation, which in turn fuels consistency and results.”