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“I Quit Smoking Cigarettes”: How the Onnit 6 Challenge Changed Michelle Spain

Written by
January 7, 2021
Updated February 22, 2021

Michelle Spain was a mother of two, a yoga instructor, and taught group fitness classes at two local gyms. She was also a smoker. One day, she got busted for it.

“One of the older members of the gym, a woman who was in my class every week, caught me outside smoking a cigarette,” says Spain, of Preston, Maryland. “She said, ‘What the …?’ Smoking was my dirty little secret.

“When you do something long enough, it becomes a part of your life. You smoke that cigarette after you eat, when you’re driving… you tell yourself it’s become a part of who you are. Then it becomes really hard to change that, because it feels like you have to change every aspect of your life. You think, ‘I’ll never be able to do this.’

“But you can. You can!”

Enter The Onnit 6 Challenge

Spain, age 47, who is also a licensed massage therapist, had the same daily routine for years: go to work, and go to the gym. But when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, she suddenly couldn’t go anywhere. In late April 2020, she was on Facebook and saw a meme poking fun at the idea of a “quarantine 15”—the amount of weight you’re (supposedly) apt to gain during a lockdown. Curious to see where she stood, Spain got on the scale, and was mortified to find she had gained seven pounds since the closures began in mid March.

Spain’s husband uses Onnit’s MCT Oil, so the two of them were already on the company’s email list. Spain was checking her messages and saw one with a subject line that read, “Last chance to sign up for the Onnit 6 Challenge.”

Spain: “So I said, ‘Thank you, Universe,’ you heard my call!”

The Onnit 6 (O6) Challenge is a fitness contest where participants adopt an Onnit 6 workout program for six weeks. Users can choose from routines for bodyweight, kettlebells, the barbell, steel club, steel mace, and Durability (a mobility/prehab course). All workouts feature video instruction, and are streamed online, allowing you to train at home. To win the challenge, you need to demonstrate that training with Onnit helped you not only change your body but also improve your life, and that you’ve adopted healthy habits that you can maintain going forward. Grand prize winners are rewarded with free Onnit products, access to all Onnit 6 programs, and $6000 in cash.

Spain didn’t have any exercise equipment at home, so she took on the Bodyweight O6 Challenge. She fell in love with the training right away, but even more so with the entire Onnit community.

A major feature of the O6 Challenge is the Onnit Tribe—the Facebook group that challengers join to motivate and support one another. “It’s the best thing on Facebook, as far as I’m concerned,” says Spain. “Everybody goes on every day and posts about their workouts, but also personal stuff. We all try to better ourselves so we can be better for ourselves and our families. There’s zero talk of politics and religion or anything controversial.”

Spain lost a few pounds and was so active in the Tribe that she was ultimately selected as a semi-finalist. At that point, another Onnit 6 Challenge was about to begin, this time focused on the steel mace. Spain signed right up. “I’m going to win this one,” she told her husband, and O6 Steel Mace began July 21.

How Michelle Spain Quit Smoking For Good

Spain had been a self-professed yogi and cardio girl. She knew she needed to do some form of resistance training to round out her fitness, but lifting weights bored her. The steel mace, however, was intriguing. She ordered a seven-pound mace from Onnit to use for the Steel Mace Challenge.

“It feels awkward at first, but it doesn’t even matter,” says Spain. “I feel like a medieval warrior princess wielding a weapon [whenever I pick it up]. I feel bad ass.”

The Steel Mace Challenge workouts included a Tabata, HIIT routine, and EMOM, all designed to burn calories and train conditioning while strengthening muscles and improving stability—the ability to control your body position during movement. As stability and movement skills improve, users find that they can perform better in virtually any athletic pursuit. “I’ve got a lot of wear and tear,” says Spain. “Two bad shoulders; I had surgery on one of them. But training with the mace strengthened both of them. I’m doing things in my yoga practice now that I had not been able to do in years. [Now that I have the Onnit 6 workouts,] I’ll probably never go back to another gym, regardless of what happens with Covid.”

As great as the workouts were, the support Spain got from the Onnit Tribe was the most impactful. “People opening up and sharing parts of themselves that were really difficult to share, that was super inspiring to me,” says Spain. The Tribe, as well as the guidance of Coach John Wolf, Onnit’s Chief Fitness Officer and the creator of the Onnit 6 programs, proved to be the catalyst Spain needed to quit cigarettes for good.

“I did not start smoking until I was almost 26,” says Spain. The habit began as a reaction to an unhealthy relationship she had been in years before. “It was a ridiculous need to take some sense of control back. For whatever ungodly reason, smoking was how I decided to do that. It was like, “I know, instead of leaving the relationship, I’ll start smoking cigarettes.’

“I was thinking, ‘Here I’m doing [this challenge for a second time], I’m feeling really good, but I’m still doing this gross thing.’ I felt this terrible imposter syndrome, and I told Coach Wolf. But he said, ‘No, you’re not an imposter. Your goals just aren’t aligning with what you’re actually doing in your life.’ That was much more eloquent than how I put it, but that was how I felt. I felt like I was lying to the Tribe, lying to my yoga and cardio students, and myself.”

Toward the end of the Steel Mace Challenge, a somber date arrived: the three-year anniversary of the death of Spain’s best friend. “It just all came together at the same time,” says Spain. “Onnit 6, the Tribe, the anniversary, and my want and need to stop lying to myself.” She decided she would mark the occasion by quitting smoking for good.

Her husband built a bonfire in the family’s yard (they live in a rural area), and Spain took one cigarette out of the pack. She lit it, and told him it would be the last one she ever smoked.

“I didn’t even finish the cigarette. I threw it and the whole pack into the fire and watched it burn. I have not touched a cigarette since that day.” That day, to be precise, was August 21, exactly one month into the Steel Mace program.

Of course, Onnit can’t (and won’t) take all the credit for breaking Spain’s addiction. A Tribe member recommended she download an app called quitSTART. “It helped me keep track of my wins,” says Spain. “How many days it had been since I quit smoking, how much money I’d saved. Little motivational things like that. The app asks you if you’ve had any slipups, and I didn’t want to press ‘Yes’. I couldn’t face that. I also didn’t want to face my husband, who had already quit smoking, or my 12 year-old son, who had asked me to quit.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Spain was named the female Onnit 6 Challenge Steel Mace Grand Prize winner when the contest ended last September. She still can’t get enough Onnit training, and just finished her fourth O6 Challenge.


New Year’s Resolution Advice from an Onnit 6 Challenge Winner

While being able to quit smoking was a pleasant surprise during her Onnit 6 Challenge training, it was something of a side effect. Spain had gone into it hoping O6 would help her learn to eat better so that she could lose weight. The recipes and nutrition tips provided by the Tribe—in addition to gorgeous photos of delicious, healthy meals that some of her fellow contestants prepared—did the trick. Another trick she used was to set short-term goals. If you’re resolving to eat better in 2021, you might do the same.

“I’ll say to myself, ‘I’m not going to eat fast food for the next three days,’” says Spain. “And then, when I get through those three days, I say I’m not going to do it for another three days. That’s not as daunting as saying, ‘I’m never eating fast food again,’ and it works. Now fast food kind of grosses me out.”

But overall, Spain recommends not making resolutions, per se. “Make a lifestyle change,” she says. “You need to make a decision to be a better version of yourself. You can get all the inspiration and the love and encouragement you need to stick to it from [a community of like-minded people, such as the Onnit tribe].”

Incidentally, if you’re wondering if Spain ever reconnected with the student who caught her smoking outside the gym, both of them got their closure.

“I spoke to that lady over the phone,” says Spain. “I told her I won the Onnit program and quit smoking. She legit cried. She was so happy for me.”

Learn more about the Onnit 6 Challenge HERE.

Sean Hyson
Sean Hyson is the Editor in Chief of Onnit. A Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (C.S.C.S.), he is the author of The Men's Health Encyclopedia of Muscle, and the e-book The Truth About Strength Training (
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