the self challenge

Posted on May 11, 2007


Self ChallengeSome time back I referred to this Challenge, and it’s high time I elaborated on my remarks there.

The Self Challenge, run by Self magazine, is a three-month program designed for fitness beginners or those coming back from a significant layoff and who want to improve their physical condition. It’s covered in the magazine extensively, but you don’t need the magazine to participate.

It has three components: cardio, strength, and food. Each section has logs and suggestions (menus, workouts, etc) as well as very useful articles appropriate for each stage of the plan. Exercises have video and picture demonstrations, so you can always see what you should be doing.

While it officially began in March, you’re still able to sign up online until June 14th, and I encourage you to do so. The tools provided as well as the community support are too valuable to be overlooked, and they’re all free. You’ll find it is rather chick-centric, and all calorie burns and nutritional advice are calculated for a woman of average height and weight; men, your calorie needs will be greater and your calorie burn rate will be slightly different (higher, unless you’re very short and light).

The single best feature is that they’ve done all the planning for you. You don’t have to sit down and think “am I ready for pyramids yet, or superslow training” because a whole team of experts have already worked these issues out when designing the program, which increases in intensity gradually over the course of the ninety days. But if you’re an iconoclast, you can still use the workout logs and other tools, simply putting in whatever you did INSTEAD of their suggested workouts. The plan is solid and cautious; you would be hard-pressed to injure yourself on this plan. You will not develop a body that can knock Giselle off the runway or Brad out of Angelina‘s life within the ninety days, but you will almost certainly improve your cardiovascular health, your strength, endurance, body composition (ie you’ll lose fat), blood pressure, cholesteral, and immune response.

Yes, you will; get tested now and then again at the end of the program, because the single best reinforcement is proof of your achievement. In fact, if you don’t have benchmarks for these, make an appointment and get them tested. Tell your doctor you’re thinking about going on a fitness plan and changing your diet and listen to what he says. Write down the benchmarks for comparison later; the best part of medical markers is unlike the scale, they very seldom mislead but refer directly to the true state of your body. I speak as one who worked out for a solid year and was bummed that I’d only lost 16 pounds. Then I went shopping for clothes and realized that I’d dropped eight sizes! D’oh!

The Self Challenge provides many tools including an easy to use (even retroactively: fill in last month’s workouts!) workout log with an extensive database of calorie burns for various activities. You can download MP3playlists for exercise motivation; tunes make the miles go by faster if they’re the right tempo. As well, there’s a huge list of easy recipies that deliver maximum taste and nutrition for reasonable calories. Here’s an example:


Makes 6 slices1/2 cup instant plain polenta
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
1/4 cup diced red and/or green bell pepper
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup prepared marinara sauce
10 slices reduced-fat pepperoni
1/3 cup seeded and diced tomato
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat (part skim) mozzarella

Preheat oven to 450°. For crust, bring 2 1/4 cups water to a boil. Whisk in polenta and salt. Reduce heat and whisk 3 to 5 minutes or until thick. Pour into a 9″ pie plate or cake tin, cover with plastic wrap and put in fridge to chill to room temperature. Meanwhile, sauté onion and pepper with oil in a nonstick skillet until onion is soft, about 2 minutes. Pour marinara sauce over crust. Add onion, pepper, pepperoni, tomato, and oregano; salt and pepper to taste. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle cheese on top and cook 2 more minutes or until cheese melts. Cut into 6 slices; serve immediately.

97 calories per slice
3 g fat (1 g saturated)
13 g carbs
5 g protein

Once you sign up, they will automatically send you an email update weekly, or you may choose daily reminders instead; that’s entirely up to you. I haven’t noticed a whack of spam resulting: I have three spams, which is the same number as I had before I signed up a week ago. As well as email support, they have a forum, and you can sign up to be paired with an exercise buddy, something which many people find very motivating; after all, suddenly you’re accountable to another person, and they to you. You’re not alone, and you do have a responsibility.

Just a side note: yes, they have spiffy prizes. No, you cannot win them unless you are a legal resident of the US. Dayum!

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