Businesses across the United States have been modeling employee fitness challenges around The Biggest Loser since the television mainstay debuted in 2004. While it can help encourage a healthier lifestyle at work, the program isn’t for everyone. Here are some questions to answer before implementing a similar competition at your own organization.
Do you know the pros and cons?
Camaraderie, social interaction and motivation are some of the benefits to a Biggest Loser challenge, says Amie Hoff, fitness consultant and personal trainer in New York City. Other major “pluses?” Accountability and a sense of belonging, she explains.
“Many companies can also decrease healthcare costs if they are able to show employee engagement,” says Hoff. “And happy and healthy employees means a happy and healthy workplace.”
Meghan Wentz, who organized a similar program for her consulting company’s 50 employees, agrees.
“Aside from developing healthier lifestyles, I think one of the most positive outcomes was the morale boost and the sense of coming together as a company to accomplish something,” says Wentz.
One of Wentz’s participants, Dana Tan, lost 22.5 pounds in 8 weeks.
“By far the biggest success, besides losing weight, is being able to once again participate in athletic activities with my kids,” says Tan.
Just remember to consider the group as a whole, warns Hoff.
“One of the biggest issues I see with this type of competition is that not everyone has a goal to lose weight,” she says. “Some want to tone up, while others want to increase their cardiovascular levels or decrease blood pressure.”
Planning ahead will prevent peer tension or feeling of exclusion.
Can you offer your employees a reward?
Whether you decide to make the competition mandatory or not, one thing is for sure: Nothing motivates like a good incentive.
Greg Justice, owner of AYC Health & Fitness in Kansas City, who designs Biggest Loser weight loss programs for companies, says he’s seen everything from cash and gift cards to cheaper insurance premiums offered as reward.
“A CEO said to me, ‘I don’t care what it costs, it’s just the right thing to do,’” explains Justice. “And then you have some companies who consider the program incentive enough.”
“One of our most recent company challenges produced an average weight loss of 12 pounds per participant,” adds Justice. “We offered $500 in cash, massage certificates, heart rate monitors and more.”
Do you know where to start?
Justice likes to run his clients’ challenges around the holiday season, to help prevent mindless eating during a tempting time of year.
“We usually begin the second week of October, to hit Halloween, and run through the second week of the New Year,” he says. “That gives us a twelve-week time frame to keep employees accountable.”
During the Biggest Loser competition, participants measure body fat percentage, weight loss, and goals reached. The three categories are tallied together for the overall score.
“Adding more components makes the contest fairer to everyone,” says Justice.
Hoff encourages her clients to setup medical consultations for their employees before starting any fitness challenge and will only work with employees who have been cleared to participate.
“Most companies do biometric screenings and have someone to monitor the results,” she explains.
Wentz’s company didn’t offer medical consultation to participants, but they did work with a personal trainer who donated three sessions.
“He talked a lot about nutrition and exercise,” Wentz says. “Other than that, the only guidance I gave people was a nutrition worksheet and some websites that had some simple exercise routines.”
“No two people followed the same plan,” says Wentz. “Some joined a gym, and some worked out at home. Other employees did aqua aerobics or spent time on an elliptical or running outside.”