75 Hard promises to permanently change your life, starting from the inside – but can it? In fact, is it even safe to try at all? By Hatty Willmoth.

Do you want to take complete control of your life? Would you like to make huge strides in your career, feel totally confident in yourself, and learn how to manage your day?

Perhaps you even want to develop amazing relationships, overhaul the way you think and act, and learn how to be honest with yourself? Do you want to be in the best shape of your life?

Well, there’s a programme that promises to help you do all that and more. Designed to supercharge your mental toughness, self-discipline, and grittiness, it’s called 75 Hard.

All of the above was taken from the 75 Hard website, either paraphrased or directly quoted. It’s an audacious sales pitch – that seems to have worked.

The challenge was designed back in 2019 by Andy Frisella, an American podcaster, entrepreneur and public speaker. After taking off in the US, 75 Hard has recently started gaining traction internationally.

Its TikTok hashtag (#75hardchallenge) has well over a billion views, and Frisella’s website claims over a million people have already taken part.

But 75 Hard is not backed up by any scientific research; Frisella seems to have plucked most of its parameters out of thin air, and participants have left mixed reviews.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 75 Hard may not be the silver bullet it claims to be.

Basic rules of the 75 Hard challenge

The 75 Hard challenge is relatively simple, albeit extreme. Those who take it on must complete five daily tasks for 75 consecutive days without fail.

The tasks include drinking a gallon of water (that’s about four litres), working out twice, sticking to any structured diet, reading 10 pages of a book, and taking a progress photo – every day.

If you slip up, you have to start again.

It may seem unnecessarily harsh, but Joe Whittaker, lecturer and module coordinator at ION, says this kind of strictness can be motivating.

“From personal experience,” he says, “if you can make it past the first couple of weeks, then you build up a streak, and you don’t want to break that streak.”

But, while uncompromising, the challenge is also vague. For instance, you must stick to a structured diet, with no ‘cheat’ meals, ‘treats’ or alcohol allowed – but you can pick any diet you like.

As for the workouts, you can dictate the type and intensity of your exercise, but you have to do two 45-minute sessions per day and one of those must be outside, whatever the weather.

You can choose the books you read, but they must be inspirational non-fiction, and not audiobooks.

This flexibility means you can personalise 75 Hard up to a point; Frisella says he designed the challenge to suit anyone, no matter your fitness level or dietary requirements.

But it also means that the risks and benefits of 75 Hard can be difficult to determine, as they vary depending on an individual’s choices.

75 Hard: the best-case scenario

For some people, a challenge such as 75 Hard might be exactly what they need to make big changes.

Some may choose a diet plan that works for them, embark on an exercise plan that’s fun and achievable, and experience health improvements as a result.

They may enjoy taking time to read every day, and appreciate the benefits of giving up alcohol.

The structure and strictness of the challenge may encourage them to get active and eat well even on days they don’t feel like it.

And, if participants hit a mental wall and manage to push through it, their self-confidence and self-belief may grow as a result – especially if they complete the challenge.

Not to mention, the many videos online demonstrate that people become visibly fitter on 75 Hard, sometimes with quite dramatic results.

However, there are significant downsides.

A gallon of water per day

For one thing, some of the 75 Hard tasks are not just difficult, they’re ill-advised. Take drinking a gallon of water per day, for example.

We may assume that advice to drink more water can only be a good thing. Good hydration can improve skin health, help maximise physical performance, affect energy levels and brain function, support good gut health, and more.

But Whittaker says that the water goal is the part of 75 Hard that alarms him the most.

“The gallon of water is ridiculous,” he says. “How is anybody doing that? Anybody who has done even a weekend nutrition course would know that that is excessive.

“Most people who try that are going to get some digestive upset such as stomach pains, because you’ll be stretching your stomach so much.

“And because it’s such a large quantity, it will bring down your electrolytes [essential minerals with an electric charge], so you might get symptoms like dizziness, feeling faint; things like that.”

Whittaker explains that Frisella was probably inspired by the common recommendation that an average adult man should consume 3.7 litres of fluid per day for optimum hydration.

“But that encompasses everything,” he says, “so it includes [fluid from] your food – everything. In reality, it works out to drinking [approximately] two litres of water per day.

“Maybe if you’re big, burly, athletic, you might be able to drink a gallon of water a day, but even then, I’d say it’s pushing the boundaries.”

Indeed, some participants have reported suffering the effects of drinking too much water while trying to stick to the challenge.

In July 2023, for example, the Independent reported that Michelle Fairburn, on her 12th day of 75 Hard, said she had been hospitalised for ‘water poisoning’.

In a series of videos on TikTok, Fairburn said she was experiencing weakness, lack of appetite, nausea and stomach upset, saying: “I can push myself through the workouts, I can. I’ll just do slow workouts, but the water is terrifying me. I cannot drink another gallon of water today.”

Fairburn later revealed that a doctor had sent her to hospital for suspected sodium deficiency.

“That would be low electrolytes,” explains Whittaker. “It makes sense if she’s a slim, petite woman, because that’s far exceeding her normal intake [of water].”

The NHS recommends drinking about six to eight glasses of fluid a day (roughly two litres) and says we should aim for our urine to be a pale yellow colour.

Other studies have suggested that it should be sufficient to just drink when thirsty, as everyone needs a different amount of water to stay hydrated, and you should know when you need more.

Getting fit with the 75 Hard challenge

But, while it was the water rule that initially alarmed Whittaker, many would first baulk at the requirement to exercise twice per day, for 45 minutes each time.

Over the course of a week, this adds up to 630 minutes of exercise, or 10.5 hours; more than four times the NHS guideline of 150 minutes per week (minimum, at moderate intensity).

“Two workouts a day will burn 90% of people out,” says Whittaker. “That’s basically athletic level, so if you’re overweight, if you’re elderly, or just generally unfit, you’re not going to be able to do it.”

Frisella does specify that the workouts don’t have to be intense. Participants can choose to go on walks if they prefer, which Whittaker concedes would make this rule more manageable.

But most people who take on 75 Hard are unlikely to stick to walks and low-intensity exercise alone, in which case they may be at risk of developing overtraining injuries, fatigue and burnout.

Pick a diet, any diet

So, when it comes to exercise for 75 Hard, risk is dependent on the choices individuals make – and that’s also the case with diet.

Here, Whittaker says, the freedom to choose a diet may lead participants to pick suboptimal dietary patterns. “Some diets are better than others,” he shrugs.

But also, there is an issue inherent in including a dietary element in a so-called ‘mental toughness’ programme.

Whittaker says: “It provides a fallacy that weight loss is just about willpower, when it’s more about the internal regulation of our outside behaviours, and the foods and lifestyle factors that influence that.

“[Frisella is implying that] if you just have sufficient willpower, then you should be able to stick to any diet, which in my view is a strategy for failure.”

But some think 75 Hard’s dietary rules are even more problematic than that, largely because they resemble elements of traditional diet culture.

For example, by outlawing ‘cheats’ and ‘treats’, 75 Hard places a moral imperative on foods, labelling some as ‘bad’ and placing others on a pedestal.

Some participants have reported feeling intense cravings for banned ‘bad’ or ‘treat’ foods, and bingeing on them as soon as the programme was over.

The 75 Hard challenge is also temporary by nature, and going on a temporary diet – especially if it’s low-calorie or particularly restrictive – may prompt or exacerbate patterns of yo-yo dieting, which can be harmful in the long run.

Going on a diet in this sense, therefore, may not contribute towards a healthy relationship with food in the long run.

Selfies and books for 75 Hard

Some commentators have similarly cringed at the inclusion of a daily progress photo in the rules of 75 Hard.

Journalist Priyankaa Joshi, who tried 75 Hard for Women’s Health magazine, said that she cut out this rule after week one, because she found it “very triggering”.

Meanwhile, clinical psychologist and university professor Dr Sabrina Romanoff told Healthline: “[The daily photo component] may lead to excessive fixation on appearance. Self-surveillance is a significant component of eating disorders…”

It is generally agreed that 75 Hard is categorically inappropriate for anyone with a history of disordered eating and body image issues, partially due to the photo component.

But Whittaker says, daily progress photos may work well in some cases.

“It could be motivating for some people to see their progress over time,” he says, “and it has an advantage over the scales in terms of [noticing changes in body composition].

“Often when you’re exercising, you’ll build muscle and lose fat, and muscle is far heavier, so if you look at the scales, [the number is] not moving much.”

He says that, in contrast, daily progress photos could be very effective at highlighting physical changes over time.

The only rule that isn’t shrouded in controversy is the requirement to read 10 pages of inspirational non-fiction per day. The consensus is that this is harmless, and Whittaker agrees.

"Take complete control of your life"

So, it’s clear that 75 Hard is intense – potentially even gruelling – but does it go far enough? After all, Frisella promises a complete overhaul of your life from the inside out.

It’s true that 75 Hard may encourage you to get fit, get healthy, and develop qualities such as self-discipline and self-confidence.

However, 75 Hard seems to take up so much time that those who have attempted the challenge say they found themselves neglecting their relationships, hobbies and friends.

Frisella’s assurances that conquering 75 Hard will bring “amazing relationships” (and other extraneous changes) do not seem to ring true.

On the other side of that coin, it has been suggested that Frisella should have widened the scope of 75 Hard if he hoped to deliver the results set out in his sales pitch.

For instance, he could have included meditation, mindfulness, journaling, gratitude practices, and maybe even cognitive behavioural therapy or relationship counselling – although these may have just made the programme even more all-encompassing.

What happens when the 75 days are over?

But not only is 75 Hard limited in scope, it is also limited in time; it lasts 75 days, yet Frisella explicitly promises permanent change.

The question then is, what happens after 75 Hard? Do participants continue to grow in self-confidence, imbued with ‘mental toughness’ and ready to take on the world? Or do they collapse, exhausted, in an achy heap, and comfort themselves with telly and biscuits?

For Whittaker, the answer is clear. He says: “The hope would be that, after 75 days, those habits would be permanently embedded. But in its current form, that’s too unrealistic.”

Softening up the 75 Hard challenge

So, if 75 Hard is too unrealistic to maintain long term, how could it be adjusted to address this?

Various gentler iterations of the challenge have been suggested, called ‘75 Soft’, the most widespread version of which was popularised by TikTok fitness guru Stephen Gallagher.

Gallagher’s 75 Soft includes Frisella’s gallon of water rule but abandons progress photos. Instead of a structured diet, participants only need to ‘eat well’ – whatever that means to them – and limit alcohol to social occasions.

The exercise requirement is halved to one 45-minute workout per week, and must include a day of active recovery, i.e. low-intensity movement. The 10 pages of daily reading is kept, but can be whatever books the reader likes.

75 Hard alla Joe Whittaker

But Whittaker’s 75 Soft would look a little different. He says he would reduce the gallon of water recommendation to two litres per day.Whittaker would also cut the exercise regimen down to one workout or walk every day.

Taking progress pictures should be optional, Whittaker says, and reading 10 pages of a book is good, but he would take this further, counteracting “the clickbait, hyper-stimulating world we live in” by limiting social media and news websites too.

As for diets, Whittaker says his version of the programme would specify that participants should try to cut down on processed foods, and make sure they’re eating enough protein and fibre.

He also suggests he might include some time-restricted eating, perhaps a 10-hour eating window.

Andy Frisella: the purist

But Frisella rejects amendments to 75 Hard. His website says: “I see people trying to change or modify the program … That’s the WHOLE PROBLEM OF YOUR ENTIRE LIFE.”

While perhaps a little melodramatic, alterations are at odds with the spirit of 75 Hard. It’s a challenge designed to be so difficult and unyielding that participants must summon up all their grit, determination and mental fortitude to complete it.

Changing the rules rather than facing them head-on, avoids the need for the very qualities Frisella wants participants to cultivate.

The whole point is that 75 Hard is meant to be an almost impossible task.

Should I take on the 75 Hard challenge?

In its current form, taking on 75 Hard is probably not a good idea. Sure, it might go well, but it might not.

The water requirement could leave you feeling ill and weak. The workouts might lead to burnout, fatigue and injury. The diet and progress photos might sour your relationship with food and body image.

And after all that, you might just go right back to the way you were before.

If you’d like to take on a challenge like 75 Hard, then more achievable variations might be a good alternative. But otherwise, it might be wise to look elsewhere to make positive changes in your life.

Enjoyed this article?

Read about intermittent fasting

For articles and recipes subscribe to the Optimum Nutrition newsletter

Discover our courses in nutrition