Challenging the Facebook Challenges
We’re currently watching, or hearing of, people around Fb doing certain fitness challenges.
You will probably have seen them too. Or maybe you're even doing one now.
They're certainly not a new thing and they're often set up to raise awareness or funds for really good causes. But, with lots of people stuck at home over the past few months, lockdown seems to have brought out a new flurry of fitness challenges, especially on Facebook.
We don't want to be party poopers. But we're pretty sure we're not the only Soft Tissue Therapists - or other Injury Rehab professionals - and Fitness Instructors out there, who see these challenges as, well, challenging!
And, sadly, we're aware we're not the only ones working in Injury Rehab who get contacted by past clients who have re-injured themselves. Or new clients with minor musculoskeletal soft tissue (muscles/tendons/ligaments/fascia) injuries....
....experienced as a result of taking up one of these challenges!
We don't have anything against the challenges in and of themselves. In fact anything that motivates people to do more exercise is a good thing in most cases.
But some challenges are better (where 'better' means: having a lower risk for injury) than others.
One in particular that is proving to be particularly effective at seeing people either injuring themselves, or re-aggravating their previous injuries, is the 25 press-ups for 25 days Challenge currently doing the rounds on Facebook!
We've seen two different varieties, and in our opinion one holds decidedly less injury-risk than the other. We'll tell you more, and why, in a minute.
The main issues with any of these challenges - from our professional perspective - are that:
they often get passed from one to another via a friend
the recipient can easily feel pressurised to do the challenge even if they don't really want for fear of what people might think of them if they don't
they might not be suitable for your particular individual fitness or health level - but unless you're a fitness instructor, or someone used to a regular guided fitness or sports training programme - how do you know this?
they don't take account of your current fitness or training level
they rarely come with instructions for how to perform the 'form' safely
they aren't likely to include all the modifications (options) necessary to suit all levels
they aren't usually accompanied by exercises for whole-body support training (e.g. in the case of press-ups, what if your shoulders aren't currently strong enough for the job? Or what if you have a pelvic floor issue?)
they don't generally tell you what to do if something hurts (we'd hope that common sense would tell most people to stop if something hurts - but that old, out-dated 'no pain, no gain' myth is, unfortunately, still alive and kicking in many circles)
they don't provide support, back-up or anywhere to go if you injure yourself
a challenge is a challenge, right? Which, to many people, means completing it. Full stop. Whatever. Regardless of what happens along the way.
Even with of these considerations aside, as we said, there are two versions of the 25 Press-Ups for 25 Days Challenge that we're seeing on Fb at the moment.
Version 1: Do 25 Press-Ups. Every day. For 25 days.
Version 2: 25 Day Press-Up Challenge: Day 1: 1 Press-Up; Day 2: 2 Press-Ups; Day 3: 3 Press-Ups. Etc. etc. All the way up to Day 25: 25 Press-Ups.
The first one is is the equivalent of deciding to run a 10k (or marathon, depending on how fit you are to start with) without doing any training runs, or whole-body support or 'cross-training'.
There's no build-up, or progression to the 'set', or number of repetitions. There's no build-up to repeating this set for this number of days.
And there are no rest days in between.
Rest days are vital in any exercise programme as it is actually during these periods when our body adapts to the loads we're putting them under. They provide the essential 'repair and recovery' time our bodies require.
If we were purely interested in filling our clinic spaces with injured people, of course we'd be fully endorsing Version 1!
But we're not.
ISRM Soft Tissue Therapists (along with anyone working in Injury Rehabilitation 'worth their salt') would always rather educate and empower their clients, or anyone else, to promote awareness and practice of 'Prehab not Rehab', than be treating clients with injuries.
We want you to be able to enjoy being active, exercising safely at the right level for you, without getting injured.
(And most of us have had the opportunity to experience how an injury can really take the enjoyment out of exercise, activity, or indeed life!).
Summary: It's hard for us to like Version 1 of this type of challenge!
It's fine if you're in the high level fitness/athlete/high performance training category and your 25 press-ups a day for 25 days is part of your usual pre-training warm up.
(Although we'd have to question whether it's exactly a challenge for you in this case!)
If you're not, then Version 2 is better. Because:
you're less likely to experience injury as you're building up strength gradually (i.e. your body has a chance to adapt to the increased loads you are putting it under)
you're less likely to experience injury as you're more likely to notice if something hurts (before it's actually injured)
you'll be working at a level that gives you more control and less fatigue (optimal form decreases as fatigue increases; and this brings its own increased injury risk)
you're more likely to maintain motivation because it feels good (rather than being too much of a struggle, or maybe causing muscle aches and soreness, at the beginning)
you're more likely to finish the challenge because your goal increased a little bit every day
if you finish the challenge (safely, uninjured) you're going to have gained strength and endurance. And hopefully you feel good both physically and mentally at this stage. Which means you are more likely to continue enjoying exercising after the challenge (which most of us would agree is always a good thing?)
So by all means engage in these challenges. If you genuinely want to - and aren't led in to it by peer pressure, or ego - that is.
Ideally, we'd advise going with Version 2.
If you have a health condition, old injury, or are over 69, we'd always recommend checking in with your health professional whether the exercise/fitness challenge is suitable for you.
Also, find out - before you start, not as the result of an injury! - what you need to find out about 'form', as well as relevant modifications. Seek out a trusted professional source if you're not sure what you're doing.
(As Fitness Instructors/Soft Tissue Therapists, we often find ourselves watching some worrying form - we try not to call these 'accidents waiting to happen' because we prefer to practice positive thinking, but to be honest, some of them are just scary! - as people go about posting their Press-Up (or other) Challenge videos. And on occasion, it's these very same people who we get calling up to make a clinic appointment because they have an injury.)
Listen to - and be guided by - your body and how it feels.
Don't feel embarrassed or ashamed to stop if you need to. (Choosing to stop because it's best for your body right now, is not the same as 'giving up'!).
We seriously don't want to be party poopers, like we said.
But we seriously want you to have fun with your fitness challenges.
And we are pretty sure injuries aren't ever really fun.
Have fun! Feel good! And stay safe, So you can enjoy your challenge and celebrate your success!