Fitness Challenge Blog

Tips for Running an Employee Walking Challenge

September 7, 2014 by Joseph

When an employer begins looking into wellness as a serious program for lowering healthcare costs and improving productivity, they inevitably consider running an employee fitness challenge. Among the most popular fitness challenges is the walking challenge. In a typical walking challenge, participants will record the number of steps walked each day using either a low-tech pedometer or high-tech Fitbit, Garmin, COROS, etc. The daily steps are then accumulated throughout the competition for each participant. The participant with the highest total steps at the end of the walking challenge wins. Walking challenges are popular for a number of reasons including:

  • Walking is universally considered a safe and effective exercise to improve fitness for most participants.
  • Walking is a simple activity. Nearly everyone can compete and accommodations can be provided for those who cannot.
  • There is little ambiguity over who won the challenge and the evaluation standards used.

Some tips for running an effective walking challenge include:

  • Run your walking challenges in the spring, fall or both. You can always run other challenges (weight loss, activity minutes, nutritious meals, 30-day squat, etc.) in the summer and winter months.
  • Limit the number of daily steps that are enterable into the system. A healthy walking goal is around 5-miles or 10,000 steps per day. If you make the upper limit 15,000 to 20,000 daily steps, you can reward runners but still allow less-fit participants to compete. One caveat to this: If you limit steps, a tiebreaker rule / process should be established since you increase the possibility of a tie.
  • Another method for combating the distance runner problem is to use additional activities besides walking. For instance, running a weight-loss challenge alongside a walking challenge provides an effective way for the less-fit to compete. A good guide is to allow 15,000 to 30,000 additional steps for each pound lost.
  • Provide a smaller, minimum-participation award or recognition. In this way, participation is encouraged even after the participant knows he or she will not be the challenge winner.
  • Use a current leaderboard to provide participants with feedback. This will facilitate competitiveness and legitimize the competition and the winner.
  • Make data collection and processing as painless as possible. There will be a lot of data to collect from participants and then it will need to be validated (100,000 steps… really?) and then massaged into a leaderboard. This can require significant time from both participants and wellness admins. Of course, I recommend ChallengeRunner (shameless plug) but there are a number of other tracking systems and even a participant-accessible Excel spreadsheet would help.
  • Limit the number of day’s late a participant can submit data. Nothing will ruin a challenge like a user entering 60 days’ worth of steps on the last day and winning the challenge when no one was aware he or she was even participating.

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