In 2019, a fitness regimen called the 75 Hard Challenge made its debut. It encouraged followers to make dietary, fitness, and mental health changes.
With before-and-after photos jamming Instagram and TikTok, people were enthusiastic about it. But what’s the deal with 75 Hard, and is it right for you? Here’s what you need to know.
75 Hard is a program created by Andy Frisella, an entrepreneur, podcaster, and CEO of the supplement company 1st Phormof the Real. While Frisella is a nutrition, fitness, and weight loss enthusiast, he does not have professional nutrition or exercise science credentials.
However, on Frisella’s website, he clarified that 75 Hard is not a fitness program but a “transformative mental toughness program.” Frisella explained that he decided to create his program after seeing many people start and fail fitness programs. So he wrote his own.
There are six major rules of the program, and you need to do them daily; they’re non-negotiable:
- Choose a diet and stick to it.
- Stick to the diet plan strictly. No alcohol.
- Drink a gallon of water each day.
- Take a daily progress photo.
- Do two 45-minute workouts a day, and one of those has to be done outside, regardless of the weather.
- Read 10 pages a day of a self-improvement book.
Here’s the huge caveat: If you skip a step, you have to start back at day one again.
Frisella didn’t just come up with 75 Hard; he also claimed success with it. He shared before and after pictures on Instagram in June 2019, writing that he was “thankful” for the “perspective” his program helped him gain. He also said he has “a big part of my life back” after going through the program. (Health reached out to Frisella but did not receive a response by the time of publication.)
Many people have created testimonials about the program on social media, sharing that they got in shape and improved their physical and mental health thanks to 75 Hard.
As far as the individual elements of the program, research can weigh in on these three main points: Choose a diet plan and stick with it; drink a gallon of water a day; do two workouts of 45 minutes per day.
Frisella recommended choosing a diet plan and sticking with it. However, while diet plans can result in weight loss initially, the results don’t always last.
A 2020 study published in the British Medical Journal asked participants to report on their results after following a popular diet such as paleo, keto, or the Mediterranean, or an alternative control diet such as counting macros. The researchers found that most participants experienced weight loss but these desired effects disappeared after a year.
Another one of the 75 Hard requirements is to consume a gallon of water each day. According to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, a gallon of water a day just exceeds adequate daily fluid intake which is about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women (one gallon equals 16 cups).
Of course, during exercise, you should replace water lost through sweating. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), hydration is a key part of any exercise regimen. Water regulates your body temperature, lubricates your joints, and helps transport nutrients for energy. If you’re dehydrated, you may feel tired and have muscle cramps, dizziness, or other serious symptoms.
In terms of quantity, ACE recommends the following:
- Drink 17 to 20 ounces of water two to three hours before you start exercising.
- Drink seven to 10 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise.
- Drink eight ounces of water no more than 30 minutes after you exercise
The 75 Hard Challenge recommends exercising twice a day for 45 minutes each time, which comes to exercising 90 minutes a day.
A 2020 study found that working out can help us lose weight, in part by remodeling appetite hormones. But to benefit, we most likely have to burn at least 3,000 calories a week. In the study, that meant working out six days a week for up to an hour, or around 300 minutes a week.
Reactions from fitness and nutrition pros Health spoke to were mixed. “It’s really simple and straightforward,” Albert Matheny, RD, CSCS, co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab, Promix Nutrition, and ARENA, told Health. “People tend to be more compliant when there are only a few rules.”
But Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet, told Health that the program “seems extremely difficult to do. One needs to ask themselves, ‘Do I really want a program that labels itself as “hard?”‘ Because a healthy lifestyle shouldn’t have to be hard.”
Doug Sklar, a certified personal trainer and founder of PhilanthroFIT in New York City, is also wary of the program. “While mental strength challenges can certainly be beneficial, it’s an important distinction here because, as it pertains to fitness and nutrition, there is virtually no guidance in a program that requires two workouts per day,” said Sklar. “Exercising incorrectly—poor form, inappropriate intensity, not accounting for rest days—over an extended period of time can be harmful.”
In fact, a study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found a 144 percent increase in all workout-related injuries in the years 2012 through 2016 compared with 2007 through 2011.
While two-a-day workouts seem like a lot, Matheny said there’s “nothing inherently wrong” with exercising that much. However, Matheny recommended being aware of your own fitness level before you dive in, and adjusting your workout accordingly. “If you haven’t worked out before, don’t do two HIIT classes a day,” said Matheny. “Even walking for 45 minutes twice a day is great.”
Sklar pointed out that programs like this are “targeted towards beginners,” and 90 minutes of exercise can be a lot for those who don’t work out much or at all. “Even though it’s presented as a mental toughness program, the accompanying pictures are mostly testimonial style ‘transformation’ photos,” said Sklar. “As a result, this presents as a fitness program. While there are benefits to mental strength training, there are safer and highly effective ways to create a lifestyle change that is sustainable.”
Experts generally agreed that an alcohol-free lifestyle and a set eating plan are good for most people. But Matheny said that his “favorite” part of the program is the requirement that followers exercise outside at least once daily. “People, in general, are really soft in different areas of life—physically and mentally,” said Matheny. “This challenges that.”
Overall, experts said that whether a program like this would work for everyone depends on several factors, including your personality type and your fitness level going into it. “This program may work for some, but they might be, extremely, type A or like having a ‘drill sergeant’ living with them,” said Gans. “But there is no denying if you stick to a diet, eliminate cheat meals, and forgo alcohol, you will probably lose weight.” But, Gans added, “I’m curious about what happens after the 75 days.”
According to the experts that Health spoke to, there are things to love and leave about the 75 Hard Challenge.
- A healthy lifestyle should be sustainable
- Without guidance, injuries may occur
- 90 minutes of exercise a day could be a lot for a beginner
- Results depend on personality and fitness level
Ultimately, like all fitness regimens, one size fits all does not apply. The best fitness plan for you will depend on your goals, current fitness level, and lifestyle.