TikTok offers no shortage of viral challenges designed to help users stay in shape. While some are relatively harmless, like the “tabletop challenge,” others worry health experts who say they might not be safe for the average user. The latest of these to go viral is the TikTok “75 Hard” fitness challenge, a workout regimen that claims to strengthen users’ “mental toughness” as well as their muscles.
The 75 Hard Challenge
75 Hard is the brainchild of motivational speaker Andy Frisella, who first described the program on his podcast in March 2019. More than a fitness program, Frisella said the main goal of 75 Hard was to improve mental toughness.
“I’ve spent more than 20 years figuring out how to master mental toughness and I’m putting everything I’ve learned into a program I call 75HARD,” Frisella wrote at the time, according to Cosmopolitan.
It wasn’t until May 2020 that 75 Hard found viral fame on TikTok, thanks to 22-year-old user Rylee Ollearis.
“I decided to post on TikTok for my five followers at the time… ‘Hey guys, I’m doing this crazy challenge, this crazy program,” Ollearis told Good Morning America. “And the video started to blow up.”
Since then, Ollearis’ first 75 Hard video has been viewed over 4 million times and has gained over 750 thousand likes.
75 Hard is essentially a set of rules that participants are to follow for 75 straight days without fail.
Choose a diet and follow it every day.
The program doesn’t include a specific diet, but does mandate that whichever one you choose, you follow it every day. “Cheat days” and drinking alcohol are not allowed.
Two workouts a day.
The workouts must last 45 minutes, but can be something as simple and easy as going for a walk.
Drink four liters of water per day.
The rest of the rules vary depending on who you ask. Many versions of the challenge ask participants to take a 5-minute cold shower every day, or to read 10 pages of a non-fiction book, or even to perform a random act of kindness. One rule that is always present, however, is that participants must take progress photos every day.
Is It Safe?
As with any physically-oriented viral challenge, the big question is whether or not its safe. While Ollearis and many others have raved about the results they achieved, some health experts are concerned that such a gung-ho workout routine might not be right for everyone, partially due to the lack of specific workout guidelines.
“The workout plan is so nonspecific that you’re at great risk of injury,” dietitian Albert R. Matheny told Cosmopolitan.
Emergency physician Dr. Robert Glatter agreed. “I think the routine puts a lot of strain on your body, particularly your kidneys,” he told Good Morning America. “The risks include muscle breakdown.”
Other experts have questioned the strict dieting aspect of 75 Hard, citing both physical and psychological ill-effects.
“When there’s no flexibility and you’re not allowed any of the things we associate with social eating, that can be really harmful to people,” dietician Sophia Medlin told Yahoo.
“Diets that severely restrict food often result in the creation of a negative relationship between individuals and how they nourish themselves,” agreed social worker and therapist Ayana Ali to Cosmopolitan. Ali said prohibiting certain foods could lead to more intense cravings. When you finally give in, “you will likely overindulge and subsequently drown in guilt and shame for having consumed so much of it,” she said.
“Extremely restrictive eating means you may never actually learn healthy eating habits or honor your body’s desires,” Ali added.
A Self-Esteem Killer?
The program’s strong emphasis on daily progress pictures has also drawn some criticism.
“That level of self-surveillance is really harmful to people and leads to disordered eating and eating disorders,” said Medlin. “It makes people who look more like the before photo feel worse about themselves, and people who have the after photo compare themselves to something that isn’t sustainable.”
Still, users like Ollearis who are fans of the challenge contend that it’s not about aggressive exercise and dieting so much as resilience.
“It’s not about the after pictures,” Ollearis said. “It’s a mental toughness challenge to see if you can push yourself to the limit… The program was created to build confidence, to build grit, to build mental toughness.”
Responding to a request for comment from Good Morning America, TikTok urged caution for those trying out the 75 Hard challenge.
“We encourage people to use good judgement before trying new fitness routines and will remove content that promotes dangerous behaviors to lose weight or eating habits that are likely to cause health issues,” the company’s statement read. “We want our community to feel comfortable and confident to be exactly who they are.”
Frisella reportedly did not answer a Good Morning America request for comment.