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Why you should avoid “gym challenges”

women carrying rope for fitness outside gym

We are now in 2020, with that comes; a new year, new decade, new me BS. It’s not uncommon to see every gym run a “challenge” in this period. There are even $10,000 prizes for challenge winners. As a gross generalisation it’s very rarely to benefit the client but to increase their own bottom line by capitalising on individuals who are stuck on the hamster wheel of trying every diet under the sun on international diet day (Monday) & feel they need a new year to make an impact to their health.

From the challenges, they are able to produce “amazing” before & after photos of multiple clients. I would be more impressed if they showed me the after photos 1-2 years after the challenge. More times than not, they are back to starting weight or worse. I will explain the mechanism for this later.

WINKfit has never done a challenge, nor will we. Despite the fact this 100% hurts us financially & makes it hard to compete with the big chain gyms that do run this programme. We refuse to partake in the challenge approach for these reasons:

Weight V Fat Loss

Not all but many of these challenges are based off how much weight an individual can lose. This is a poor metric at best. Your weight is simply your relationship with gravity & the earth. The best metric, and the one we use (via DEXA scan) is a decrease in your percentage body fat.

Take for example 2 individuals;

Person A is 27, female, 65kg, 5ft 7in & 30% body fat.
Person B is 27, female, 66kg, 5ft 7in & 23% body fat.

Person B while heavier will look vastly different to person A. 

*PSA – Those bioelectrical impedance machines you stand on & get your percentage body fat are as useful as the number 9 on your microwave.

Injury Risk Increases

These challenges are aimed at anyone who struggles with their weight or has money to pay up front. Inevitably you end up with people who perhaps are a little older and or unconditioned to physical activity participating. Which is totally fine, the injury risk comes when they take on 7 sessions a week of high intensity training, jumping, lifting & conditioning etc that has ZERO periodised programming to it at all.

It’s this blatant disregard for the clients health that makes us uneasy but also leads to the whole programme being…


These challenges range from 8 to 12 weeks, in this time the individual takes an unsustainable approach to losing weight/fat. They drastically cut their calories, usually via a severe restriction of entire categories of foods based upon fear mongering like “Carbs are bad”, “Don’t eat after 7pm” or “Sugar makes you fat”.

This heavy restriction tends to lead to a very real & damaging re-feed period immediately post challenge. They feel they have been ‘so good’ for 12 weeks that they ‘deserve to eat whatever they want as a reward’. Am I hitting any chords yet?

The body’s self defence system

From the first week of the challenge your body has activated its self defence system.

  1. Defend – Prevent further weight loss.
  2. Restore – Increase energy intake, return to set point.
  3. Prevent – Ensure its harder to lose weight in the future.

The nuts & bolts of how each stage works:


With a reduction of fat cell size, there is a reduction of the hormone Leptin (makes you stop eating) and Ghrelin increases (hunger hormone). That’s a problem, I’m sure you can see. A decrease of calories will also see a decrease in your unplanned movement & desire to be active.


Your body becomes very efficient at storing the calories you are consuming. Research shows that weight regain predominately happens at the trunk.


If the calorie intake was too aggressive, too quickly, the rare instance of an increase of fat cell number can happen (as opposed to fat cell size increase). This is strategically done by the body to ensure that in future “famines” (thats what a drastic calorie deficit simulates to the body) will be less likely to happen in the future.

Figure 1. An exert from Layne Norton’s book – Fat Loss Forever

Shows the effect of extreme dieting & aggressive consumption of calories post diet.

With each yo-yo diet, it becomes harder & harder to decrease fat & obviously more disheartening but better for business if you are running these challenges every year or a few times a year.


This is a term I was taught by my former mentor; when you come in, shit all over the place & fly away, much like a crow.

So not to leave you high & dry, here is our alternative;

As you can see above, we teach our clients the science of weight manipulation. We programme using a periodised model with individual percentages to minimise the injury risk & finally we look after the people before the profit.

This is why we refuse to do challenges at the detriment of the clients who entrust us with their health week in & week out. We prefer to teach them sustainable approaches to weight loss that they can execute year round without fear mongering & fad diets.

We don’t do lock in contracts or pseudo-science but we do offer a free week of unlimited sessions if you want to try a gym you’ll actually enjoy.