The 30-Day Ab Challenge: A Reflection

ab-workoutLast week I celebrated the completion of the 30-Day Ab Challenge. If you’re considering whether or not to give it a go, wondering what the hell it even is or have finished it yourself and want to hear someone else’s view, here’s my experience, shared in a heartfelt interview… with myself.

So why did you decide to do the 30 day ab challenge?

I like to exercise, but I’m not an ardent enthusiast who sticks to a daily regime. Of course this means that after a spurt of a week or two of embracing the notion of regular exercise, I end up back at square one. Binge eating Nutella on the sofa at 10pm and thinking that tomorrow is the day I’ll exercise again, until something else comes along.

It had been hyped up at the time, and shared on Facebook by a multitude of my friends. Admittedly I haven’t seen the posts of too many people who can put their hand up to having completed it, but I figured if others can do it then so can I.

Did you investigate it at all?

Yes, but not until halfway through the second week, when after looking at yourself in the mirror and seeing only minor differences (as well as really struggling with motivation, particularly during the working week) you decide to read other peoples experiences. It appeared, first of all, that only a minority of the people who undertook the challenge actually finished it – but those that did certainly provided plenty of inspiration.

There was another type of thread as well, and even posts in the positive threads, coming from people who claimed to be PT’s or fitness experts saying that the challenge provides no benefits and multiple detriments. The example that stuck with me was putting a top-of-the-line engine in an ’86 Corrolla. Sure it might give it more power in one specific part, but unless you’re tooling the rest of the car as well, you’re going to burn it out.

Wow, it's been a while since we've cleaned the ceiling..

Wow, it’s been a while since we’ve cleaned the ceiling..

I understood the argument, but it didn’t stop me. In the last week motivation was high, the line was visible, so I thought “fuck it” and continued. Besides, how do I know it wasn’t some evil Personal Trainer conspiracy they started because if people exercise at home they won’t make money anymore?

Were you worried?

Not really, no, even though I could have used it as justification to stop. My core has been incredibly weak for a long time. I’ve had recurring back problems for the better part of a decade – which I attribute to my previous job. Upon physio consultations a few years back I was told I have ‘short hamstrings’ which just complicate the situation further.

The times that I have exercised regularly have seen my back improve immeasurably, and it was the same in the ab challenge. Sure you feel the burn while you’re doing it, but feeling the strength in your core from something as simple as getting up from a chair without using your arms for support invigorates you. It might be small but it’s a tangible result. It’s the simple things.

When I started to realise that, for myself, this wasn’t about getting a 6-pack so much as it was just about getting stronger in the weakest part of my body, motivation never became an issue again.

Do you have a six-pack or what? 

Sure I do, it’s just under a layer of fat.

That was another of the things I read, criticising the challenge – that there’s no point doing this to get a six-pack if you’ve got a gut. I got a two-pack, sure, and a press on my stomach is now met with a never-before experienced solidity, but I’m still not going to go walking down the street without a shirt on anytime soon.

Was it all worth it?

Ab-solutely (see what I did there?), for multiple reasons.

For the large number of people like myself who don’t have a gym membership and exercise sporadically, we’re our own worst enemies when it comes to consistency and motivation. Whether it’s a long day at work, dinner at the parents or whatever, there are excuses you can think of to try and ‘skip’ that particular day’s outline, but let’s be real. The whole thing, even on the final day, only takes 20 minutes max. If you don’t have 20 minutes in your day then your time management skills are horrible. It’s quick, and the incremental increases still make sure it adds up without you really noticing. After the first week you’ll look at Day 30 and think “how the FUCK am I supposed to plank for 2 minutes? This shit is killing me!”. Two weeks later when you GET to day 30 and you DO plank for 2 minutes the pride and self-satisfaction is immense – and you know what? You deserve to feel it! God knows I did.

The good thing about the format is that by the end of it you’re barely recognising that you’re exercising, in some way, shape or form, every single day. It’s hard to stay motivated when you do this over the course of a week, but after a month you don’t realise how easy exercise has become.

So you’ve kept it up?

Yes. As well as maintaining sets that match the ab challenge (although I tend to stay away from Day 30), I’ve embraced cardio and running – because hey, once I DO lose the fat I’m going to have a killer six-pack – but also because the other parts of my body need exercise. Funnily enough the motivation has been ridiculously easy to maintain – but I mean, if you’ve put in this much hard work for this long (and yes, you realise that 30 days IS in fact a long time) you’d be a fool to let it slip.

Any advice for anyone considering giving it a go?

Some. Don’t lose hope is the biggest one I guess. There will be times during the experience where you wonder if it’s worth it, don’t want to do it or have no idea how you’ll ever get to the finish. Once you do that day’s set you’ll feel good again and ready for the next day. Getting started is the hardest part – not just with the month long process but on a fair few days.

If you’re worried about your motivation, another suggestion I can make is to do it with someone. My partner and I helped each other through the experience, and it worked well. When one of us was unmotivated there was a decent chance that the other person wouldn’t be, and we’d use that. Positive encouragement after a particularly rough day can make the seemingly impossible far easier than you ever thought.

A great piece of advice given to me was to shake it off, as well. Don’t just go straight from sit-ups into crunches, get up, wave your extremities around a bit and then get back into it – particularly if you’re feeling a burn from any of the exercises specifically.

Much like people say with treadmills and cross trainers and such, having the TV or some music on helps too – particularly during the plank. I found that I could plank much easier for an extended period of time if I didn’t have a clock in front of me, and even quicker if something was on the TV. When there’s only you and a stopwatch, and all you have to do is count the seconds, it can almost seem impossible. That being said, it works for some people.

So would you recommend it? 

Sure. It did me no damage, got me back into being motivated enough to exercise regularly, helped with my core strength and subsequently my weak back, and there was an insurmountable feeling of accomplishment at the end of it – something I’ve personally never stuck with an exercise routine long enough to feel. Well, I have once, but that was years ago. What have you got to lose? Absolutely nothing.
I’m not saying that you SHOULD go out and do it. The idea won’t appeal to everyone, sure, but if you want to exercise, struggle with motivation and would absolutely love something you can do from the comfort of your loungeroom floor, the 30 day ab challenge might be a good place to start. It was for me.

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