It might seem like every week there’s some new sort of challenge emanating from the Internet, whether it’s a Pinterest graphic of a push up challenge or a thirty-day detox of some sort. But the Whole Life Challenge is different, because it’s, well, about your whole life - not just one skill or one aspect of your health and fitness.


whole life challenge, andy petranek, michael stanwyck, nutrition challengeThe Whole Life Challenge (WLC) was started by co-founders Andy Petranek and Michael Stanwyck at their gym, CrossFit Los Angeles. They began it as a way to support their clients in the choices they were making outside of the gym. They saw their clients for only a few hours a week, but their health and fitness involved decision made every minute of the day.


The WLC is an eight-week “game” that involves signing up and doing a baseline workout, recruiting friends and family to be on your team, and logging daily points for practicing good habits like exercise, mobilization, proper nutrition, and other positive lifestyle choices. The idea behind it all is that it’s a game. Like CrossFit, like many fitness apps, and like many athletic events, the WLC appeals to the modern movement of gamification to create motivation, community, and structure.


Michael Stanwyck explained, “We started the game to give them the motivation to make positive choices every day. By quantifying simple things (however arbitrary the quantification was), people all of a sudden had handles on every choice they made - food, exercise, stretching, water, sleep, and more. And they could experience immediately the impact that might otherwise have taken years.”


And the WLC is on to something, as they started as a one-gym challenge serving 150 clients in the spring of 2011 to a worldwide challenge that served 15,000 in 2012. The game has expanded beyond CrossFit gyms to include any and all who are interested in bettering their overall life. The newest challenge started this past Saturday and the goal for 2014 is to get at least 100,000 people playing the game.


whole life challenge, andy petranek, michael stanwyck, nutrition challengeEnrolling these large numbers of people isn’t just about expanding the opportunity for fitness-enthusiasts to play the game; it’s also about expanding the community that these participants create. Michael Stanwyck has seen firsthand what has happened in past events and why the WLC works so well (and keeps people coming back and doing the challenge again):


Participants created teams and enrolled friends, family, and coworkers. Not only did the teams they created support them during the game, but they resulted in people having a brand new environment when the game was over - one full of people who were interested in continuing to live this new, healthy, empowering lifestyle. The WLC participants didn’t return to a world of people who hated the changes they had made.


For many of us who have been bitten by the fitness bug, dealing with friends and family who have not yet joined in on the journey can be frustrated at best, and sabotaging or destructive at worst. Finding a way to lead others into healthy choices can be a struggle, but games like the WLC offer a fun way to encourage good choices and lead by example. Past participant Laura Strauss agreed, saying, “I was not expecting that it would actually affect my whole life and ripple into the lives of people around me.”


And it doesn’t hurt when friends and family members see the impact on the bodies, minds, and health of the WLC participants either. Said WLC game player Derek Vandenbosch, “I loved getting the compliments from friends and co-workers about looking better. I was amazed I actually started to enjoy running again. And I learned a ton about food choices. I thought I knew a lot, but I didn't.”


whole life challenge, andy petranek, michael stanwyck, nutrition challengeThat education is what it all really boils down to. As Michael Stanwyck explained:


The purpose of the Whole Life Challenge is to get people to become the experts in their own lives. Not to have them know everything, but to be self reliant when it comes to their health and fitness - to stop waiting for someone to give them the answer or tell them what to do. By playing a game, focusing on the present moment, and discovering the opportunities they can act on that right in front of them, people become confident in their ability to create health for themselves. They don’t have to wait for the right plan, diet, advice, or routine. They learn to act when action is called for.


Registering for the WLC costs $49, but Michael and Andy believe what you get in return is worth far more. It’s worth your whole life, in fact.


Photos provided by Miguel Tapia Images and CrossFit LA.