If you’ve hit a plateau in the gym or you’re getting tired of the same old routine, you could do worse than setting yourself a new challenge to give your training a boost and keep yourself on track.
The 10 gym-based fitness challenges below are not for the faint-hearted, but mastering each of them will result in significant fitness gains and give you a stimulating goal to work towards – not to mention giving you an enviable arsenal of party tricks.
Too much, too soon? You'll find some more manageable timed gym challenges in the section that follows.
The Top 10 Gym Challenges
1. Skip 200 times in two minutes
This is much more draining than you would imagine, but it’s one of the cheapest, best and most portable workouts there is. To work on this challenge at home, just choose from our selection of the best skipping ropes.
2. Perfect a handstand press-up
Practice against a wall – Beast Skills (opens in new tab) founder Jim Bathurst advises you to “spread your fingers and shrug your shoulders towards your ears.” Remove wall, add balance and wow strangers. To get past the “remove wall” bit, use this workout which helps you build up to a handstand.
3. Grow your biceps by 2cm in two weeks
With a set of dumbbells, do seven partial curls using just the middle of the movement. Hold for seven seconds at the top while turning your wrists from up to down then back again. Finish with seven full reps.
4. Bench press your own bodyweight…
5. …then bench an extra 50%
This puts you in a different league. The Smolov Jr bench specialist programme can help: do six sets of six reps at 70% of your max on Monday, 7x5 reps at 75% on Wednesday, 7x4 at 80% on Friday and 10x3 at 85% on Sunday. Add 5kg to all weights for week two and another 2.5kg on week three. Then go for a one-rep max.
6. Front raise a 10kg plate for two minutes
It’s considered the minimum for F1 drivers. Who said they weren’t real sportsmen?
7. Row the Channel… at the gym
Your goal is 32km, the shortest distance those swimming from Dover to Calais have to cover. Do it in two-and-a-half hours and earn a pat on the back.
8. Do 20 pull-ups in a row
Pro-athlete trainer Chad Waterbury has the easiest method: on day one go for a single max-rep set in the morning and another in the evening. Rest on day two, then repeat until you’re in Club 20. Still too advanced? No problem, turn to our pull-up workout plan for beginners.
9. Do 100 press-ups in a day
Proper ones, mind. Johnny Pain of Strength Villain suggests approaching them military-style. “Do lots of sets throughout the day but never hit failure,” he says. “Do them when you wake up, before the shower, before bed, while you watch TV. Just get them done.” To develop the strength to do them in one go, follow our 30-day press-up challenge.
10. Do 10 one-arm press-ups
Make like Rocky and impress the whole gym. Try it with feet apart, and lock your lats in place – it should help.
Timed Gym Challenges
All of the above take some working up to, so if you were hoping for something to sink your teeth into right away, give one of these short, sharp routines a whirl. Just remember to warm up thoroughly beforehand and don’t let your form suffer as you tire.
1. Milestone workout
Hit these milestones as fast as you can: run 1km, do 25 pull-ups, 100 press-ups and 25 back squats with your bodyweight on the bar. Crank the treadmill up to a pace you can hold for the 1km and start your timer. Break up the pull-ups and press-ups into small chunks so you don't tire too fast, then finish in the squat rack with your bodyweight on the bar. Log your total speed and feel suitably epic.
Time to beat: 15min
2. Lift, jump, run workout
Do three sets of 10 deadlifts with your bodyweight on the bar, 5 broad jumps and a 400m run at a 1% incline as fast as you can. Repeat the circuit three times in total and rest as needed.
Time to beat: 9min
3. Clean and press challenge
Do 20, then 10, then 5 reps of 50kg power cleans and decline press-ups as fast as you can. After 20 reps of power cleans, perform 20 press ups with your feet elevated on a bench. Then 10 reps of each and so on until you finish. Rest as much as you need, or as little as you can tolerate.
Time to beat: 4min
4. Squats, toes-to-bar and dips
Time to beat: 6min 30sec
5. Squat and pull-up
Time to beat: 5min 26sec
6. Squat, press, walk
Do 10 60kg back squats, eight 40kg overhead presses and six walkouts (from standing, bend over and walk your hands out to a plank position, and return to the start). How many sets can you complete in five minutes?
Score to beat: Five rounds
7. Bodyweight countdown
Complete 100 air squats, 50 press-ups and 25 pull-ups as fast as you can. For the air squats, lower until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor with each rep. When doing press-ups make sure your arms are bent 90˚ at the bottom and straight at the top of each rep. And for the pull-ups, just get your chin over the bar. This 175-rep workout will ensure you get a great cardio and fat-loss workout, regardless of how quickly you do it.
Time to beat: 6min 5sec
8. Pull-up ladder
Do a pull-up ladder increasing from one rep to ten reps, as fast as you can. Rest when you need to, but the target is to complete the whole ladder as fast as you can.
Time to beat: 4min
9. Vault to sandbag throw
Do 50 vault to sandbag throws as fast as you can. Stand beside a box or bench holding a 10kg sandbag or medicine ball. Throw the sandbag so it lands close to the other side of the box. Then put your hands on the top of the box and jump your legs over it to land on the other side. That's one rep. Continue by grabbing the sandbag, throwing it over the box and vaulting the box again. Be sure to land with soft knees each time and work on finding the most efficient way to get over the box.
Time to beat: 1min 45sec
10. 300 press-up workout
Clear your schedule, this could take a while. But you don't have to do all 300 in one go. Keep a running total and rest as much as you want. The only rule is your press-ups must be done with good form. That means lowering your chest until it’s just off the floor and pressing back up until your arms are completely straight.
Time to beat: 14min
11. Max pull-ups and dips workout
Perform as many pull-ups as you can in a minute, then rest a minute, then perform as many dips as you can in a minute and rest for another minute. Repeat this process three times for a total workout time of 12 minutes. Keep track of how many reps you managed, add them together, and that's your score.
Score to beat: 100 reps
12. 1km uphill run
Run 1km at a 10% incline as fast as you can. Warm up gently on a treadmill. Set the incline to 10% and start at a brisk walking pace. Gradually increase your pace over five minutes until you find a speed you think you can maintain for the 1km run. Give yourself a three minute breather, then take on the challenge.
Time to beat: 7min
13. Full body power
Do three rounds of 10 40kg thrusters, 10 16kg kettlebell swings and 5 handstand press-ups as fast as you can. For the thrusters, use your lower body to generate momentum to press the bar overhead. Keep your glutes strong during the kettlebell swings and keep your glutes and core especially strong during the handstand press-ups to keep your body in line.
Time to beat: 5min
14. Farmer's medicine
Do three sets of 50m farmer's walks and 20 alternating medicine ball press-ups as fast as you can.
Time to beat: 6min
15. 5min AMRAP
You have five minutes to do as many rounds of possible of the following:
Score to beat: Six rounds
16. Farmer’s walk and press-ups
Time to beat: 6min 30sec
17. Press-ups and toes-to-bar
Complete three rounds as fast as you can, with 20 press-ups and 10 toes-to-bar in each round.
Time to beat: 2min 35sec
18. 2K row
Jump on a rowing machine, set a new workout with a 2,000m limit, and then knock yourself out.
Time to beat: 6min 59sec
19. The 100 club
Do 100 wall box squats, 100 sit-ups and 100 press-ups as fast as you can. For the wall box squats, hold a 9kg med ball in both hands, standing facing a wall. Lower into a squat until your thighs are parallel with the floor, then drive up and throw the ball high against the wall. Catch the ball and lower straight into the next rep. Perform 100 sit-ups, focusing on using your core and abs, before moving onto press-ups. Rest as much as you need.
Time to beat: 8min
20. 50 burpee pull-ups
This workout unites two of the most feared but also revered bodyweight exercises out there: the fat-torching burpee and the upper body strength-building pull-up. Perform a burpee under a pull-up bar, then go straight into the pull-up. Complete 50 burpee pull-ups as fast as you can.
Time to beat: 5min 39sec
21. Hill runs and kettlebell swings
Complete four rounds of 250m runs at a 10% incline and 20 16kg kettlebell swings as fast as you can. Think of the swings as active recovery to help shake out the lactic acid from the incline runs. You can only do them so fast, but you can make up time on the runs, especially if you (carefully) get off and onto the treadmill without decreasing the speed – make sure you hold the handrails and plant your feet either side of the belt to get off, and when getting back on, don't let go of the supports until you feel you've got your natural running gait back.
Time to beat: 7min 55sec
22. 100m tabata row
Tabatas are 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times in total for a four minute workout. So you're going to row 20 seconds and rest for 10 seconds, but you need to reach 100m in each 20 second interval – if you miss the 100m mark it doesn't count. Note down how many rounds of 100m you achieve.
If you can't reach 100m at first, set yourself a lower distance to aim for and work up to 100m. However, as with any tabata workout, you have to go all out during the 20 second intervals for it to be effective in helping you burn fat and improve your endurance so don't go easy.
Score to beat: Six rounds
23. Power endurance
Complete three rounds of 10 burpee pull-ups followed by 5 broad jumps as fast as you can.
Time to beat: 3min
Sam Rider is an experienced freelance journalist, specialising in health, fitness and wellness. For over a decade he's reported on Olympic Games, CrossFit Games and World Cups, and quizzed luminaries of elite sport, nutrition and strength and conditioning. Sam is also a REPS level 3 qualified personal trainer, online coach and founder of Your Daily Fix (opens in new tab). Sam is also Coach’s designated reviewer of massage guns and fitness mirrors.
- Richard Jordan Former features writer
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