How To Burn 232% More Calories Using Workout Challenges

Cardio is boring. I get it.

workout challengesFaced with the prospect of a 60 minute treadmill session or sandpapering off my nipples, bring on the itchy rubdown every time.

In my 12+ years as a personal trainer, I’ve seen countless men and women who plunder through their cardio workout with that mad “I don’t want to be here” stare in their eye.

Which is precisely why I use a completely different technique with my own PT clients at Powerhouse Gym.

I’m talking about workout challenges.

And today, I’m going to show you how you can use workout challenges to take your own training to the next level. I’ll also reveal a few of my favourite methods, and show you how a female client was able to boost her calorie burn by a ridiculous 232% thanks to this technique.

how to use workout challenges

The Competition Factor

In order to train someone to their maximum potential, I need to get inside their head.

I need to know what makes them angry, in order to harness that power and use it for good.

For those of you that know me personally, you’ll know that 90% of my PT clients are women. And from spending so much time in the gym with the fairer sex, I quickly learned that you don’t want to get on the wrong side of an angry woman.

(Like, seriously.)

And the one thing which pisses a woman off more than their partner marking a WhatsApp message as ‘read’ but not fucking replying?

Other women beating them at something.

So while other gym goers would read magazines or watch television as they leisurely laboured through yet another ‘kill me now’ session on the recumbent bike, I chose to pit my female clients against each other, in what is probably best described as a yoga pants-clad Royal Rumble.

I did this by getting the first ‘contestant’ to row 500m on the Concept II Rower as quickly as possible, and then setting the next client the challenge of beating the time.

Here is the original challenge on my Facebook fan page:

Over the course of just two weeks, the challenge took on a life of it’s own.

Check this. People were going to the gym ‘after hours’ (i.e. they’d already trained) to practice. It got so competitive that this conversation actually happened:

“Well done, you got 2:06. That’s a great time!”

“2:06 point what?”


One of my clients rows so hard that the machine itself actually moves a couple of meters on the floor during the workout, and she asked if she could include those meters in her total!

I shit you not.

Why Workout Challenges Are So Successful

The vast majority of people I’ve trained over the years respond better to challenges than to standard workouts.

It keeps them motivated, and it provides them with a fresh stimulus to train harder than yesterday.

My online training plans use the same tactic.

When I hired to web geniuses of Frogspark to build my website, I took that same challenge-based training and transferred it to online workouts. That’s why, when you log into my site and look at the workouts, you won’t see Generic Arm Workout 41 or Chest Day For Mass.

Instead, you’ll see Tyrannosaurus Flex, Quadzilla and I Kissed A Curl (And I Liked It).

It’s much more fun to do.

And that’s because it represents a challenge.

With online workouts, it feels like more of an accomplishment to post on social media that you survived Tyrannosaurus Flex, or that you can’t walk properly the next day because you attempted Thightanic.

how to burn more calories during workout

How To Burn 232% More Calories Using Workout Challenges

The challenge mentality I use on my website is the same process I use in the gym on clients.

And one client, Alison (currently sitting in 6th position on the 500m challenge leaderboard above), used these challenges to ramp up her calorie burn so significantly that she outstripped her old routine twice over – despite being in the gym for less time!

I hated going to the gym to do cardio, I’ll admit I used to just coast through it and watch the TV’s on the gym wall. I always felt kinda tired when I got off, but I never realized how much harder I was capable of working.

I saw Russ at Powerhouse Gym putting people through what looked like really hard workouts. I’d never seen women train that way before, but it looked like tons of fun, so I booked in for some workouts.

Cardio is no longer a chore. In fact, it’s just as fun as the weights now, because I’ve got something to push towards.

First time I made it onto Russ’ leaderboard I was elated.

And when I see someone else beat my time, it drives me insane. I can’t even explain it, I get legit pee’d off. It’s opened up a whole new competitive side that I never realized I had, and it’s helping me get in better shape without even thinking about it.

I’ve made friends at the gym by adding the other people who train with Russ on social media, it’s created a real ice breaker and added a fun rivalry to training. Beforehand I used to just be by myself.

The transformation Alison talks about above is insane.

In fact, her calorie burn during morning cardio skyrocketed by 232%!

And this came despite the fact that she was performing cardio for just 60% of her usual morning cardio time.

There’s no magic or hidden fitness discovery here. It’s not because she switched from regular cardio to HIIT (she already did HIIT). It’s because she simply worked harder. Suddenly, she was training with the determination of someone within sight of Everest’s summit, having seen her friends succumb to the harsh climate, and her fingers freezing to the bone, but preferring death over failure.

It’s a very simple formula that boils down to the way we all operate:

Because fun = not boring.

And not boring = consistency.

And consistency = RESULTS.

how to burn more calories

How To Make Friends And Lay The Smackdown On People

The social aspect also plays a huge part here.

Notice how Allison mentioned the new pals she’s found? This isn’t a coincidence.

There is a deeper psychological reason behind why I do this type of training.

You see, I believe that the first step to getting somebody motivated in the gym is to make their routine fun (see above). In order to keep them motivated to train, you need to surround them with like-minded people.

People who get it.

Not like your family, who say you train too hard or claim that whey protein is steroids. And not like you friend who goes to the gym to take loads of pictures of herself.

Nah. You need people who’ve been through the same shit you’ve been through.

If you put a bunch of individuals in the same boat, they create bonds through experience. A team is formed. These are the people you should be surrounded with, because you’ll need them on those days when you don’t feel like training, or if you’ve had a couple of months off and you feel nervy about your first session back.

These people are your rocks.

Some of my clients will be reading this for the first time and realizing the method behind the madness right now.

I’m happy to be a hate figure for my clients. We can be friends after, but for the 60 minutes you are with me in the gym, I want to destroy you. I’m happy for them to see me as some sort of evil taskmaster. Because it brings them together, all I’m concerned about is this bigger picture.

Here’s a new challenge I use with clients, again based on the rowing machine:

During this challenge, clients face a 4 minute maximum intensity rowing circuit which is based around the Tabata principle – i.e. 20 seconds of high intensity rowing, 10 seconds of rest, repeated for time.

In a 4 minute workout, they have 8 total 20 second sprints to amass as much distance as they can, before seeing where they fall on the leaderboard.

Notice how Alison isn’t on the leaderboard for this one? The great thing about workout challenges is that different people have different strengths and weaknesses.

At the time of writing this article for you, the current champion is Clisty, who took on the challenge at her gym in Utah, USA, and recorded an impressive 747m.

(See, another benefit of the simple challenges I put together is that they allow me to reach a worldwide audience. This is even more satisfying for PT clients, as they are not only focused on beating each other in the gym, they’re trying to beat all-comers from around the globe!)

russ howe pti rowing machine challenge

You could try this challenge in your gym, smash someone’s time (I will add you to the leaderboard if you provide video proof) and sit back comfortable in the knowledge that I’ll be getting it in the neck from a few women during the following day’s PT sessions when they see the fucking score!

The power of challenges is insane.

Of course, they don’t all have to be cardio-based.

Here’s another simple challenge I put together which involves biceps curls.

One of my PT clients, Bethany Ball, is training for Miss North East and she does lots of charity work, so I decided to put this little nasty challenge together to see if I could help do some good.

As you can see, I called it Curls For Kids.

Once again, the challenge is simple:

  • Donate £5 to her charity
  • Try to beat me on biceps curl by doing as many reps in one go as possible (guys 20kg, girls 15kg)
  • Upload your video using #curlsforkids and challenge a mate to take on your score

Simple. Brutal. Fun.

And before you know it, you’re knocking out the type of training that makes you forget you ever found the gym a bit of a chore.

workout challenges

Now It’s Your Turn

The principle here is that when something becomes fun, you work harder at it because fun doesn’t feel like work.

So how do you go about using workout challenges to boost your own results?

Simple! Start by going to the gym and tackling one of the three I’ve listed above.

For a competitive edge, film your attempt on your mobile phone and send me a link.

Before you know it, you’ll be training on a whole different level.

If I’ve given you some handy tips in today’s article, drop a ‘like’ on it below and get on my email list for more.

2 thoughts on “How To Burn 232% More Calories Using Workout Challenges”

  1. As a recently qualified PT, I find myself reading Russ’ posts nodding throughout n saying “Of course” Some of his workouts n ideas I think they’re so obvious you miss thinking of them yourself!
    Cheers Russ!!

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