How fitness challenges can have social benefits – Stylist Magazine


Like so many other people, I’ve spent the past few years in a toxic relationship with fitness programs. I’ve stopped and started more than I like to remember, obsessively weighing myself, counting calories and feeling on the brink of tears when the results don’t show up immediately. With every freshly broken challenge, my body confidence has plummeted. The endless cycles of motivation, commitment and failure were exhausting.

During the pandemic, I tried various programmes in the hopes that, once society opened, I’d emerge new and improved – and inundated with compliments. Most of all, however, I  just wanted to be able to say that I’d finished something and that I’d given it my all.

Finally, I decided to enter an online fitness challenge run by the Black-owned brand, Aktive Fitness. I had found their Instagram page at the end of 2020 and was impressed by how representative their client base was. Women of different sizes and shapes, working towards different goals, posted pictures of their exercises, recipes and experiences. Seeing real women talk about the issues that I struggled with made me feel less alone, and the motivation they received from the brand and other members convinced me to buy the programme.

Even then, I left it for six months before finally deciding to commit to the plan in May 2021 (the “winner” of which received a cash prize), because I was so nervous to commit. The thought of disappointing myself again was almost unbearable.

Eventually, I plucked up the courage to join the challenge. From the moment I started, however, it was different. A stipulation of the regime was to regularly upload photos of exercises and food to build confidence and body strength. This accountability was unlike anything I had ever done or tried before. In the past, I’ve hidden away and done my exercises alone, so putting my video camera on and recording myself felt odd. As I set up my phone, propping it up with stones and lay out my yoga mat to begin the first day, I felt empowered. Watching the video back before posting it to the Instagram page I’d created for the challenge, I felt like a thousand eyes were watching me. I knew then that I owed it to myself to see this challenge through.

The second time I posted, I connected with a fellow participant who was also a part of the challenge. She left a comment under one of my posts, complimenting me on my form and that little piece of encouragement was exactly what I needed.  Connecting with people had not been a goal for this challenge, but doing so meant that for the first time, I felt validated in my journey and less alone.

I started to follow other people doing the challenge, determined to give encouragement and support where I could. While this had initially started as a competition, all I wanted to do was give the challenge my best and uplift the other women who were committed to taking charge of their health and fitness. I knew that while competing wouldn’t sustain me through the challenge, creating a support network would. Knowing that I was in such good company also finally enabled me to ditch the scales as a form of progress. 

The high I was riding came to a halt when, halfway through the programme, I fell ill. My body refused to move and I was feverish. I felt the old feelings resurface as I toyed with the idea of simply quitting, once again. It was my newfound community who persuaded me to keep the faith.

Just because I’d hit a roadblock, that didn’t mean that my journey had to finish. As soon as I was well enough, I was welcomed back into the challenge fold with open arms – congratulated for deciding to continue the challenge after a short and much-needed break.

Over the years, I’ve wondered why I struggled to commit and finish a programme. Now I know that I’m the sort of person who needs that sense of community, who thrives off supporting and being supported. Even if I don’t end up winning the challenge’s grand prize, I’ve won a more important trophy – community and confidence. I am grateful that I was able to receive and give encouragement. 



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