“If you look at basic research on our species, we are happiest when we are in motion and surrounded by others.”

 
That’s a line that Scott Galloway, one half of the Pivot Podcast, commonly brings up when he talks about the fitness trends that he’s seeing in tech right now. It’s also what was running through my mind when I met up with Amie Zimon and Sarah Harvison, the creators of the Instagram challenge: 100 Sweaty Sweats.

Brands are notoriously bad at starting movements online. For every #ExploreBC (5.1 million uses – initiated by Destination British Columbia) and #WellTravelled (4.9 million uses – initiated by Herschel Supply Co.), there are a thousand failed attempts to get people sharing their stories online. However, for the past two years, Instagram has seen thousands of #100SweatySweats-tagged workouts, gym-selfies, group photos, and other sweat-related posts. To date, there have been posts and stories with the hashtag from as far as Spain, Tanzania, and Kuala Lumpur. It was all born here in Vancouver, so I sat down with the creators to find out how they’ve inspired so many people to join in, and what we can learn from their now-global sweat challenge.

“It just started as something that we wanted to do”, Amie offered when asked how it began. Sarah chimed in that “in the Fall it can be easy to lose track of your fitness goals, and we wanted to create something that would hold us accountable, so we just printed a calendar of the rest of the year and stuck it on our desks.”

That simple act of publicly declaring that they’d “sweat” 100 times before the end of the year started to gain attention around their office. Sarah and Amie both work at lululemon, a famously fitness-friendly company, and in their roles they are both actively involved in the community, so they acknowledged upfront that they have a massive head start over someone trying to get something going from scratch.

Whatever advantage that they had to start, they believe the spark was the way that they defined what it means to sweat. “A sweat can be anything that you want it to be — go for a run, do a 15-minute yoga class. We’ve even had lots of people who felt inspired to meditate as a part of the challenge. The goal is simply to get moving and take care of yourself in whatever way feels best for you.”

That conversation around the office continued to grow, and soon many more people were jumping on board, posting their own commitments to join the sweaty Century Club. When they could see that the interest was growing beyond their personal circles, the pair reached out to gyms, classes, and other fitness leaders in the community to host get-togethers. The intention was to get people who had previously only been connected through likes and comments to interact in real life, sharing the experience of their challenge and often trying something outside of their comfort zones.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to note at this point is that the foundation of the movement was laid not through clever social media tactics or beautifully shot content; it was a simple call to take part in something that many people had probably thought about, but never had the framework to commit to. What about the advantage that they had by being plugged into the lululemon fitness community? I believe that we all have an advantage in one form or another. Our work is to find what that is and to build from it.

When it was time to grow beyond the foundation they had laid, the Sweaty Sweats crew, somewhat unintentionally, tapped into one of the most powerful forces in marketing. It’s what Malcolm Gladwell calls The Mavens, Connectors and Salespeople. In other words: real influencers. The leaders of the community classes they organized and the people who attended turned out to be the same people whom hundreds of people look to for ideas and inspiration in their own lives. There were no sponsored posts or outreach campaigns. There wasn’t even a logo in the early days, but it seems that they tapped into the true nature of influence that is so easy to lose sight of in the world of followers and views.

Sarah shared with me that after one particular class at Yard Athletics, “a group of us who had met that night shared a ride home and as we were getting dropped off we realized that we all lived within a few blocks of each other. We all looked around and were like, Should we hang out more?” That’s when they realized that what was going on was about more than a fitness challenge. What people were reaching out for was a sense of connection. Every one of us loves to feel like a part of something and to interact with the people around us in a meaningful way, and this challenge was giving people a space to do just that.

100 Sweaty Sweats has not been without its own challenges. While, for some people, it brought out the best parts of social media, for others it highlighted the worst. 100 workouts in 100 days is a major undertaking, and in an environment that already feeds off of comparison and shame, there was some hesitation that the challenge could be promoting an unhealthy relationship with fitness and body image.

“It’s something that we took seriously, and we talked a lot about it, so we saw the need to really educate on the fact that this isn’t about pushing your body, or looking a certain way. That it’s about taking care of yourself, and making yourself a priority, in whatever way serves you best.” Sarah shared that a key moment for them was when someone whom they both respected greatly shared her experience with the challenge:

 

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I saw y’all doing the #100sweattysweats last year and said was like, helllll no. So why am I promoting it this year? No there’s no beach vacation in my horizon, it’s my mental wellness that needs some love. So what are some things I’m counting as a #Sweat? Duh, strength and conditioning session, my fave. AND a 30 minute walk, a bike ride around Stanley park, listening to a podcast and stretching before bed time all count. Interested in playing along? We’ve got 91 days to get 100 “sweats” in. Wanna keep each other accountable? Let’s do this. Swipe through for more deets. Oh! And mark your calendars for a free workout with me at @Tightclub on Tuesday December 3 at 7:15pm to kick off the third month!||| photo by @lindsayscats // kitted in @lululemonlabyvr

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For them, this was a reminder that they had a responsibility to their community: to actively promote their message of self-care, always being mindful that what can feel like positive inspiration to one person can manifest negatively to another.

The way forward, for the pair, is the same as it has been from the beginning: to listen to the community, to celebrate them, and to always remember why they started in the first place. Every choice they make, every new plan they set is really just a response to comments and ideas that they’re seeing from people taking part in the challenge.

One reaction to that community demand was the launch of a dedicated Instagram account for 100 Sweaty Sweats. Until recently, all of the content had been shared and re-shared using only the hashtag. The only way that people could see what the community was up to was by searching #100sweatysweats, or by following Sarah and Amie’s personal accounts where they would re-share select posts. Creating a dedicated account gives them much more freedom to create a space where people can see what each other is doing, where the next community event is, and to see themselves re-shared. But, as anyone who’s tried to start an account from scratch knows, it takes a lot of work.

 

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what does ‘sweat’ mean to us? it’s less about the sweat and more about committing to something, to someone. to showing up and trying something new. pushing your comfort zone or even coming back to your comfort zone. when we created #100sweatysweats it was out of a desire to get reconnected to our community. to explore new ways to move and to feel good, present and in our bodies. we don’t care how often, how hard or for how long – we care about connection. real. human. connection. our friend @sairahslife once said moving together is the ultimate equalizer. through moving and breathing in the moment, with strangers, with friends, with ourselves. sweat and movement allows us to get quiet and go inward, reflect and breathe. we’re all up to something, we all care about something, we all have a story to tell. and here, we showcase yours. the story where you showed up for yourself. where you tried on something new. where you failed, you succeeded, you gave up and started over. where your muscles ached from laughter sometimes more than squatting, where you had a lot of fucking fun along the way.

A post shared by #100sweatysweats ™️ (@100sweatysweats_) on

The division of responsibility seems to be the key for these two. “It’s something that we would do anyways, now we just have a place to share it with more people,” shared Amie, who is responsible for the Stories portion of the account. Her goal is to create a sense of fun and to celebrate the community. Her Stories match her personal style: lots of colour, GIFs, stickers, and laughs. Sarah, on the other hand, is the curator. She runs the grid posts, where her goal is to give the challenge a sense of continuity. She uses a variety of editing apps to give each post the feeling that it’s a part of a larger story. The content that she shares is a combination of “words to live by” from the participants, features on key people in the community, and user-generated content, which all work together to create a feed that’s unique to what they’re up to.

Every social media manager knows that, aside from a team to lean on, your best friends are the tools that make editing and publishing more efficient, so I asked them to share their go-to list of Instagram apps:

  • Instagram grid planner: Mosaico
  • Photo editor: VSCO
  • Designed content (quotes, features): Over
  • Stories editor: Unfold

Clearly no app can be responsible for building a movement that spans continents and builds momentum over the span of two years, so I closed by asking why they think that this message has caught on with so many people.

“It’s permission to try something new, to be vulnerable in a new gym, or to do something that you know you’re not going to be the best at. We also just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Days are getting shorter, people are seeking post-summer motivation to finish the year strong and move into the next empowered, excited, and with a few new friends in tow”.

So, what can we take away from the Sweaty Sweats experience to be applied to our own businesses? I’m sure that you have some thoughts already, so I’ll share a few that I see:

  1. Look for your advantage. What community/experience/relationships can be used as your foundation?
  2. Celebrate community. The best way to encourage sharing is to call out the people who are taking those first steps.
  3. Create something worth sharing. In this case that was classes and events. What could you do to bring your people together and get them talking?
  4. Redefine how you think about influence. The people who cause real change within a community are often not the ones with the greatest social media numbers.

If you want to see what the community is up to, you can check out their account on Instagram: @100SweatySweats_, or follow the hashtag #100SweatySweats. Also, get involved. The challenge is for everyone, no matter where you are or what your level of fitness – they’d love to see you tag them in your sweaty IG content, whatever that means to you.