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DIY Decathlon – Winter Games for Every BODY

by Jeanette DePatie, MA, ACE

From the ASDAH Blog Committee: We have decided to change our posting date from Tuesdays to Thursdays, which will allow our bloggers and reviewers an improved time frame with which to communicate back and forth and ensure quality content gets posted to the blog site every week. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

A few years back, Ragen Chastain and I created the Fit Fatties Forum, a place where exercisers of all ages, sizes and abilities could get together, talk about exercise and help each other in an environment free from weight-loss talk. The forum has grown organically from just three members to over 2,400 from six continents around the world. And while Ragen and I drop in from time to time and offer advice and encouragement, the Fit Fatties Forum is run for and by its members. And this group has expertise about, well, everything! Need to find out about buying a wetsuit and what kind of weight belt you need for deep sea diving? Check! Need to know about what is the best sort of flaming hula hoop? Fit Fatties have your back!

Last November, Ragen and I met in our Arcadia office (a very nice local Dim Sum restaurant that is happy to keep smiling and bringing tea long after we should have gone home). We talked about how to celebrate the awesome people in the forum while celebrating both the New Year and the upcoming Winter Games. We wanted to come up with an activity that was fun and inspiring yet very accessible to people of different body types, abilities and situations. But there was no one activity that seemed to be right for every body. And that’s when we hit upon the idea of a “Fit Fatty Virtual Decathlon”. We would create a long and varied list of fun physical activities and allow people to pick and choose. They could elect to do only one event or ten or twenty or all of them. They could take their time and do the events in whatever order they liked. Once they completed ten events, we would call them “Fit Fatty Virtual Decathletes”. Once they completed twenty events, we would call them “Fit Fatty Double Decathletes”. (Some of our members are calling them “Double Ds”.) All the members had to do was register, pay a small fee and then upload a picture that shows them holding one of our printable signs as they finish each event.

Jenny completes the "Walk the Plank" Event
Jenny completes the “Walk the Plank” Event

Ragen and I are both certified fitness instructors and personal trainers, so we wanted to create events that are both sound from an exercise perspective and ridiculously fun. We created a long list of events designed to meet important fitness principles. Of course, we included very traditional cardiovascular exercise events like a 1-Mile, 5K, 10K, Half-Marathon, Marathon, and Century Bike Ride. But we also added a bunch of non-traditional events like 1 hour of playing with a toddler (“Toddle Baby Toddle”) or walking the dog (“Dog Days Aren’t Over”) or doing crazy dance moves (“Cheesy Dance Craze”). And we were careful to add events that moved beyond the traditional cardio fare like 90 minutes of yoga or doing 60 minutes of plank or lifting (collectively) over a ton.

After the glow of the dumplings in our meal faded, we were left with many questions. Will this work? Will people do the events? And most importantly, will this be fun? We launched the Fit Fatty Virtual Decathlon on January 1, 2014 and we didn’t have to wait long for an answer. We had our first event completion photo by noon that day. A lot of people joined and the photos started flowing in. And fun? I don’t think either of us in our wildest dim sum-fueled dreams could have imagined how much fun this all would be. The participants were encouraged to be creative and they responded in full force. Sure, it’s great to walk a 5K. But wouldn’t it be even better to walk a 5K on the beach with the kids and meet Santa Claus? Lift a (literal) ton of free weights? No problem! But why not lift some massive barbells wearing pajama pants? Wouldn’t that be awesome? Dance moves? Why not? Let’s have a dance party in the living room with the kids and let them pick the music!

Angi completes “Lift a Ton” (While ROCKIN’ some jammy pants!)

We were shocked not only by the creativity the participants displayed in how they did the events, but also the creativity they showed at working this into their daily lives. We would get emails like, “Went to the pool to do a water aerobics class to complete the ‘Water, Water, Everywhere’ event, but the weather was bad and the class was cancelled, so here’s a photo of me completing the swim ½ mile event instead. W00t!” And when the polar vortex hit, our athletes didn’t choose to stay inside and cuddle. They headed out into the snow and asked if we would consider adding an event for shoveling snow. Shortly after we added the “If I Had a Shovel” event, one of our members sent in a photo and reported that she shoveled her own driveway but it only took 40 minutes.

Gini comletes the "If IHad a Shovel" Event
Gini completes the “If I Had a Shovel” Event

Since the event description required 60 minutes of shoveling, she then went and shoveled the neighbor’s driveway too! So the Decathlon is not only helping the members but also helping to build bridges in the community. (The neighbor was certainly a fan!)

At this point, we have several decathletes. And we now have two amazing “Double Decathletes” who are both still doing events! As I looked back over the past six weeks and the fabulous pictures coming out of this event, I wondered what we could learn from it. I think there were a few guiding principles that are useful for anyone planning a fitness program:

  1. Make it accessible. We tried to keep in mind that people have all different kinds of bodies and abilities. All of the distance events can be walked, run or rolled (in a wheelchair or other mobility device).
  2. Make it complete. Why should we only count cardiovascular events as exercise? Flexibility and strength are just as important for overall health. There are events for lifting weights and climbing ropes and doing yoga and dancing and stretching. This allows participants to work on all of the important aspects of fitness.
  3. Make it self-paced. There is plenty of research to indicate exercise is just as good when it is broken into smaller sessions as opposed to one long session. So for most of the events, the participants can take as long as they like to complete each event as long as it happens in the course of one day (except for our ultra-marathoner who was granted two days to go 100k). This was especially important for the “walk the plank” event where participants are asked to do 60 minutes of planking in one day. For most people, 60 minutes of continuous plank would be pretty much impossible. Even doing it all in one day was quite a challenge. (We noticed that participants held their finishing signs much lower in those photos!)
  4. Make it based on Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). Physical activity does not have to happen in a gym in order to “count”. Finding ways to incorporate moderate amounts of physical activity into daily life can be a great way to become more active. Members completed our “3-hour Shop Til You Drop” event with marathon thrift store hunts for the perfect dress, jaunts to the local fabric store for new craft supplies and just driving the “big cart” around the warehouse store to collect groceries for a big hungry family.
  5. Celebrate a lot. Each time a member completes an event, their completion photo is pasted into a special frame and posted on our forum site. Plus, each member gets a little badge icon to show off on their profile. And of course, there are lots of opportunities for members to encourage and congratulate one another.
  6. Make Opportunities for Families to Exercise Together. One of the most exciting things were the pictures of wives and husbands working out with dogs and grandparents and kids. After all, you can lecture your family about the importance of exercise or you can organize a backyard obstacle course. Which one sounds more fun?
  7. Offer a small incentive. Aside from the photos and the badges, decathletes get a custom tote bag and double decathletes also get a custom water bottle along with “lifetime bragging rights”.
  8. Have fun. Right from the very beginning, having fun was very, very high on our list of objectives. If exercise isn’t fun, you won’t stick with it. Our members are having a blast, and it shows!

We’re not entirely sure what’s next for the Fit Fatties Forum, but we are pretty darn excited with what’s going on right now. And it’s not too late to join in the fun! (If you join before the end of those other Winter Games that are going on in Russia right now, you’ll be eligible for a discounted price for the decathlon and double decathlon.) Whatever you do, remember that exercise should be fun! (And documented in photos posted on Facebook.)

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