The 75 Hard program has been swirling online for the last several years, but it always seems to spike around the new year when lots of people are looking to prioritize their health. If that’s you, hear this: The 75 Hard program is an extreme, short-term challenge that was not created by a doctor, workout expert, or dietitian. So, before you take all that positive new year energy and dive in, take a closer look at the program’s rules, hear from credentialed experts in fitness and food, then decide for yourself what elements, if any, you want to take from this program to use toward your specific health goals.
What are the rules of 75 Hard?
The program was crafted by Andy Frisella, an entrepreneur, author, and public speaker who calls 75 Hard a “transformative mental toughness program.” The guidelines for the program include elements of fitness, nutrition, and self-development, each of which must be done every single day for 75 days straight.
- Follow any nutrition plan designed for your goals, with zero alcohol and no cheat meals.
- Complete two 45-minute workouts every day, one of which must be outside.
- Drink a gallon of water.
- Read 10 pages of an educational or self-improvement book.
- Take a progress picture.
Oh, and “you have to follow the program with zero compromises,” adds Frisella, leaving no room for error (AKA real life). “It takes a militaristic mindset to complete this program,” says Hannah Davis, CSCS, CPT, owner of and trainer at Body By Hannah.
Does the 75 Hard challenge work—and is it safe?
The first thing that comes to mind about the 75 Hard program, says Davis: “Oh great, another all-or-nothing approach that leads to burnout rather than real sustainable change.” This is one of the biggest red flags experts have with the program—it’s not feasible long term. “The specific principles that this program preaches are things that are not sustainable forever,” says Amanda Holtzer, MS, RD. “That's why it's only for 75 days.” Difficult and intense diets or wellness programs might work in the short term, but what happens after those 75 days when you stop all these extreme habits, asks Holtzer. “All that quote-unquote progress that you've made is going to be undone,” she says.
There’s also the concern of overtraining, which impacts physical and mental fatigue, and increases your risk for injury. 75 Hard demands ninety minutes of exercise a day, which, at 10.5 hours for the week, is more than four times the CDC’s recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise. “I don’t know many people who could commit to this unless they sacrificed sleep or social time, which are both insanely crucial for best health,” says Davis.
“There’s a very high risk of overtraining if you aren’t intentional with your programming. If you notice poor sleep, moodiness, and the inability to recover, you are likely overtraining.” If you’re an older adult who hasn’t had a consistent fitness routine for some time, diving head first into long workouts will not “kickstart your metabolism” as some programs or diets like to claim, says Holtzer.
Overdoing it in the gym and obsessing over arbitrary health standards isn’t just physically tiring but also mentally draining, says Holtzer. “After 75 days of such mental dedication and restrictions, you're gonna be mentally exhausted,” she says. “When you feel such mental fatigue it can do the opposite at the end of the 75 days, when you can adapt a ‘screw it. I finished the 75 days. Now I'm gonna do what I want’ mentality.”
If you don’t complete the program or hit setbacks—you know, because you’re human—you may experience feelings of “failure” that permeate other aspects of your life, says Holtzer. “It perpetuates this attitude of diet culture and living in extremes,” she says. “It’s a very slippery slope. That attitude of feeling like if you don't do one thing [as outlined in the program], that you've ‘failed’ can lead to, in the short term, feelings of disappointment and self-shame. In the long term, it could potentially lead to more intense problems such as disordered thinking about food and your body.”
Speaking of potentially dangerous diet culture myths, the 75 Hard program restricts alcohol and “cheat meals” entirely. While limiting or cutting out alcohol may be an advantageous choice for some, Holtzer says she wouldn’t recommend anyone restrict any food or drink they have been consistently consuming cold turkey. Instead, opt for reducing intake gradually.
What’s more, the sheer nature of calling anything you eat a “cheat meal” is “attaching morality to food,” explains Holtzer. “It's saying X foods are good and Y foods are bad. By telling yourself this is a ‘cheat meal,’ you're only raising it higher on a metaphorical pedestal. The more you restrict a certain food, the more you psychologically want it, the more you crave it.” This garners feelings of deprivation, which can lead to a binging and guilt cycle when you do allow yourself to have certain foods.
The psychological dangers don’t end there. Progress photos, or before-and-after photos, have been coming under fire in recent years as the wellness industry and its consumers have realized the harm these comparison images can do to your self-worth. Are you any less valuable in your first photo than your fifth?
What about 75 Soft?
A modified version of 75 Hard, aptly called 75 Soft, is making rounds online and has four paired-down guidelines:
- Eat well, in general, and avoid alcohol except for social occasions.
- Exercise once for 45 minutes each day, with one day of active recovery each week.
- Drink 3 liters of water daily.
- Read 10 pages of any book each day.
“Does 75 Soft seem better than 75 Hard? Yes,” says Holtzer. “Does 75 Soft seem a bit more attainable than 75 Hard? Yes. Is 75 Soft still a bit too rigid? Also yes.” The bottom line is that while 75 Soft could be a more approachable plan for some, defining goals across activity, diet, and wellness habits for the masses, just isn’t effective, she adds. “Every single person is different—different age, sex, height, weight, job, lifestyle, hormone levels, mental health, physical activity, health goals…the list goes on.”
Davis agrees, adding that 75 Soft is still asking for “perfection,” for 75 days in a row. Instead, think about what healthy habits you can improve upon over time, so you can focus on progress not perfection, she says.
So, what should you do instead of 75 Hard?
Once you peel off the strict diet-culture, gym rat extremes, there are a few foundational principles you can derive from the 75 Hard program that deserve some attention. After all, if your goal is to improve your metabolism, increasing muscle mass and consuming adequate calories will help you do that—no matter your biological or training age, says Holtzer. Here are a few things to keep in mind, whether you want to modify this program (something it’s creator, unsurprisingly, rebukes) or just take some elements from it to focus on.
Personalize your nutrition
75 Hard asks you to follow a nutrition plan that’s specific to your goals, which Holtzer points out as a bright spot. That’s because everything from your age, medical history, and workout routine—not to mention whether you have specific goals, such as weight loss or fat loss—will determine what eating style is best for you. “Ideally, this would be a plan that's created in collaboration between you and a registered dietitian,” she adds.
Find ways to stay active
While two-a-days, as prescribed in 75 Hard, are not going to be realistic for most people, having a goal of simply moving more is a great idea, says Davis. “Is it a walk, a strength training session, restorative yoga, playing in the park with your dog or kids?” Define what fitness looks like for you, and commit to a routine that makes sense for your lifestyle.
Simplify your goals
Instead of tackling one massive challenge that requires you to focus on diet, exercise, and self-development all at once (whew!), it’s much more manageable—and enjoyable—to focus on one element, says Davis. “Generally, by focusing on even just one small practice, other more positive habits develop around it,” she says. Plus, long term wellness habits are those that fit seamlessly into your life, says Holtzer. “We should not be trying to execute these super difficult, super restrictive habits because most people cannot do those things forever,” she adds.
Aim to drink more water
Most people could stand to drink more water every day—just not a gallon, says Holtzer. Think about how much you usually consume, then try drinking 10 more ounces daily, she suggests.
Limit screen time
The 75 Hard program specifically requires reading 10 pages of an educational book every day, which is limited, but the idea has merit. If you’re interested in reading more this year, swapping your scrolling habit for a page-turner is a good place to start. Setting a timer that alerts you when you’ve gone over your screen-time limit or app usage might help create those habits. Check out a few books from the library to have on hand when the desire to scroll strikes.
Don’t fear failure
The strict nature of the 75 Hard program doesn’t allow you to stumble, which is unrealistic and disheartening when it does (because it will) eventually happen. “Expect to falter and be okay with starting over,” says Davis. “The mentality is that you could be starting over for the rest of your life, and that’s actually okay because your health journey is for a lifetime.”