I’ll be honest, I am a woman of extremes. I’ve run two marathons, and I’ve been known to set my alarm for 3 a.m. to “get some extra work done” when getting up at 7 a.m. would suffice. That’s probably why I was intrigued by the 75 Hard Challenge. It’s big on TikTok — the hashtag #75hard has over 34.4 million views on that platform alone. It’s billed as a way to “build mental toughness.” But in my experience, that’s often code for “make money off an extreme program by dangling desirable, pie-in-the-sky results, such as ‘making huge strides in your career’ and ‘feeling confident.'”
The truth is, there are a lot of ways this program can be harmful — one expert I spoke to called it downright “dangerous.” But it is, in fact, “a thing” and there’s certainly a draw people like me who love to push their limits. So I wanted to talk to experts about why this could prove problematic in the hands of the wrong person, and offer some safer alternatives that promote wellness in a less, well, ~extreme~ way.
To complete the challenge, Andy Frisella, a motivational speaker, author, and the owner of a supplement company, asks you to follow these five rules for 75 days straight. If you slip on any one of them, even once, you have to start over from day one. These are the cornerstones of the challenge, as laid out by Frisella (we’ll get to what the experts think of all this later):
1. You must follow a diet. Any diet. Frisella isn’t a dietician or licensed clinical therapist, and he recommends consulting a “trainer or a consultant” about the food program you choose. But, he says, you can’t have a single cheat meal, and you can’t have any alcohol.
2. You must drink a gallon of water a day.
3. You must do two, 45-minute workouts a day, and one of them has to be outside. (On the podcast Real AF, Frisella says there are “obviously scenarios [in which] you shouldn’t go outside,” including hurricanes and flash floods.)
4. You must read 10 pages of nonfiction a day. “This is not entertainment, this is not Harry Potter time!” Frisella says/yells on his podcast Real AF. You can’t listen to an audiobook, and it has to be a book you can “learn from.”
5. Finally, you have to take photos of yourself every single day.
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If you finish the challenge, there are multiple post-challenge “phases” that include following the same five steps for 30-day periods, but which tack on taking five-minute cold showers daily and performing random acts of kindness.
Frisella did not respond to Refinery29’s request for comment.
Some folks online have tried the challenge and loved it. Rylee Jade, a 22-year-old fitness trainer in Indiana, is on day 61 of 75 Hard. She says that she began the challenge this spring. She’s adopted a vegan diet (yes, she misses cheese), and has read several books that inspired her, especially Iron Cowboy — Redefine Impossible by James Lawrence.
“I was in a rut with quarantine, and I was struggling through my workouts, not giving it my all, as I normally would,” she says of life before #75Hard. “I’ve always struggled with a lack of confidence within myself, and I’ve always worked with a coach or worked with a team, or had somebody telling me what to do for a majority of my life.” She wanted to prove to herself that she was “strong enough to do this myself.” While she loves the program, “it’s not for everybody,” she admits of 75 Hard.
“Some people love challenges,” notes Barbie Boules, RDN, founder of Barbie Boules Longevity Wellness. “They can be exciting and fun and give you something to do, especially right now.” She says the people who do Ironman races and marathons for fun (guilty) may be drawn to 75 Hard. Rylee gets this mentality. She’s done a push-up challenge and trained for a half marathon. She also swore off eating Jimmy John’s for 30 days straight months before trying 75 Hard. (“That was a hard one,” she laughs now.)
But many other people should avoid challenges like 75 Hard, Boules cautions. “If you have a disordered relationship with food in any way, shape, or form — or whether that’s orthorexia, bulimia, or a disordered relationship with exercise — or tend to lean towards obsessive behavior at all, I would advise against this,” she says.
Of course, some young people on TikTok who are trying something like this out for the first time may have these tendencies and not yet know it, simply because of age and experience. That’s why Boules says people may want to take some of the more do-able principles within the challenge and make one of them a goal.
As for the other specific rules? Our experts had some thoughts on each pillar of The 75 Hard Challenge.
Rule one: Diet
“I’m not a fan of any diet,” says Kati Morton, a therapist specializing in eating disorders, an author, and a mental health YouTuber. “For my folks who already struggle with eating disorder behavior, this could be a catalyst to throw us back into it.” Many diets are restrictive, unsustainable, and even unhealthy — for everyone. And really: Our bodies are too precious.
While 75 Hard leaves it up to the person to pick an eating plan to follow, Boules says that may lead people to try one that’s dangerous or restrictive: keto (which Boules calls “pure shit”) or Whole 30, say.
If you want to do this, Morton recommends choosing intuitive eating as your “diet.” It involves listening to your body, and eating exactly what it craves — and exactly how much of it — at any given moment. Or, you know… Skip rule one.
Rule 2: Drink a gallon of water
Drinking water has tons of benefits. But — there’s a big ol’ “but.” “Four liters is a ludicrous amount of water,” Boules says. “This is way too generalized and could be a dangerous amount for some people.” Instead, she recommends taking half your body weight and drinking that many ounces of water. Someone who weighs, say, 150 pounds should drink about 75 ounces of water — not the 128 ounces that are in a gallon.
You’ll need more if you’re sweating a lot during workouts, adds Vanessa Rissetto, RD, the co-founder of Culina Health. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends adding 12 ounces of water to your daily intake for every 30 minutes that you plan to work out.
(If you’re always craving water, it can even be a sign of a larger health problem.)
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Rule 3: Exercise twice a day
Rylee, who says she was already very active when she started 75 Hard, counts active rest such as yoga as one of her two workouts. Boules is a fan of that strategy, and recommends considering stretching, yoga, and walking forms of exercise (if you’re hellbent on trying 75 Hard). She says that using that approach, exercising twice a day a day may be do-able for many people — but she adds that pushing too hard from the get go can be dangerous. “You might even get injured,” she says. Plus, research shows that rest days are essential for recovery. The American Council on Exercise recommends them. Plus, this is a fairly punishing way to think about exercise, and it might be enough to turn someone off from working out long term. At the end of the day, exercise should be something you do because you enjoy it, because it releases endorphins, and makes you feel good.
Worth noting: It’s ridiculous to tell someone to workout in conditions that are dangerous. Don’t prioritize fitness over your life. If there’s a thunderstorm or it’s insanely hot… Keep it indoors.
Rule 4: Read 10 pages of nonfiction a day
None of the experts could find real fault in this tip, and Boules even said that reading 10 pages each day could be a good start on forming a habit. But she notes we can also learn a lot from reading fiction or listening to audiobooks.
Rylee’s tip for challengers: Don’t leave your reading until late at night. “I’ve heard of people falling asleep during it and having to restart all over.”
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Rule 5: Take transformation photos
Boules notes that progress photos can be “extremely triggering for some people,” and warns that it puts the emphasis on appearance, rather than health, which can lead folks down the wrong road.
Morton goes so far as to say that this rule contradicts Frisella’s whole claim that this challenge is about mental toughness, and “not a trendy fitness challenge,” as he proclaims. “If it were really about that kind of growth, he’d have people journal every day and then see how their mood has improved,” she says.
For Rylee’s part, she says she feels “so good” after 61-odd days of the challenge, but adds that she probably won’t continue on with Frisella’s next recommended “phase” after the 75 days are over. “I’m so happy I’m finishing, but for my next step, I think I want more balance in my life,” she says. “I might do a 30 day challenged based more on mindfulness instead.”
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