Of all the areas you can focus on in your training, the single one that yields the biggest results is consistency. Whatever your training goals, consistency is important across the board in achieving them. This article focuses specifically on the most common goals of building muscle and burning fat, but the principle applies to all aspects of training.
To train consistently, you will have to train when you don’t want to, when you’re injured, and when you’re tired. But working around these obstacles with a balanced approach will keep you motivated and moving forward. Too often we all put the brakes on training due to injury or tiredness. Yes, you must take time to rest, and should follow proper injury rehab protocol, but don’t use it as an excuse to opt out of training altogether. Ask yourself, is that voice in your head protecting you, or are you just making excuses?
We are the “Intsa” generation. We want everything now. Our movies, music, news, and even our fitness goals. We’re told to do weights and cardio at the same time, that HIIT workouts will solve everything, and CrossFit is the way. Take the blue pill and you’ll lose 10 pounds! Eat no carbs, eat loads of protein, eat fat, don’t eat fat.
So much of the advice we get is extreme and only sustainable in the short term, but true gains in fitness take time and consistency. Whether it’s muscle gain, fat loss, or learning a new skill, be prepared to put the work. It will be rewarding, and if you can learn to enjoy the process, there is a much better chance of achieving your goals and maintaining at that level for longer.
What Does Consistency Do for You?
When you train consistently, you give your body a more gradual curve to adapt to the stress of training, easing its way to higher levels of fitness. The longer period of time you develop a base of fitness, the less effect an interruption of training has. There is a common trend of doing something different all the time, going for the latest training method or exercise. But this hinders building the vital consistent base. Too much variety and variability can result in a reverse of adaptations, rather than greater gains.
Consistency occurs in the small areas. Focus on the day by day, session by session, and meal by meal. It’s a skill that needs to be worked on and applied daily. Working on it on a daily basis also makes it easier to manage when you mess up. Make a bad food choice? Make a good one the next meal, and you’re back on track. Bad training session? No problem, you have another session tomorrow to do better.
The more infrequently you train, the greater the importance is placed on each session. Your inconsistency leads to too much stress, as you try to make up for the missed sessions by doing extra hard training. These hard sessions will not make up for the missed training, and could potentially lead to overstressing the body, resulting in a decrease in performance, injury, illness, and further missed sessions.
By contrast, when you train consistently, you don’t need to go all out each session. There is more room and flexibility for variation in intensity. There is even room for outright bad sessions. You have more opportunity to try different set and rep schemes, and different exercises. Your sessions can be shorter, which is less stressful and gives you more time outside the gym to live life. Consistency enables increases in skill and technical proficiency, as you spend more time working on these areas.
Obstacles to Consistency, and Some Solutions
Your kids’ birthdays, work, holidays, and the rest of life will always try to throw you off track. You need to accept that there will always be something that life throws up that will get in the way of your training. Don’t use these as excuses. Have backup workouts to go to if your energy is low or you’re short on time. Go shorter, or just do bodyweight, or a little skill work, but don’t skip the workout. Consistent short, targeted, and intense workouts are far better than irregular 1-2 hour workouts.
Do your best to get ahead of the curve by planning ahead. Have some pre-made meals in the freezer. Always have a few key ingredients in your cupboard, so you can rustle up a quick meal, and have a few go-to meals you can make with your eyes closed. Cook for two nights instead of one. It’s the same prep, cooking and cleaning time.
Keep spare workout gear in your place of work or in your car so you don’t get to the gym and realize you forgot it. Get up earlier and train in the morning before your day starts, and you won’t be frazzled from a full day in the office. If you leave the session till the end of the day, all your willpower will have been used up and you won’t train.
Allow yourself to be human in your training. The perfection mindset breeds failure. When real life happens and things aren’t so perfect, people who think this way throw in the towel fast. Don’t strive for perfection all the time. Stop waiting for the perfect time to train, to start a new program. Focus on the now, start now. You can change in the now. You haven’t got control over achieving perfection, but you do have control of what you do now.
Get out of the mindset that if you don’t have access to a gym, you can’t train. The world is your gym. Do a set of push ups at work. Get a pull up bar at home. You don’t need to be in gym gear and in the gym to train. Train at home first thing in the morning. You can get a lot done in a few minutes.
Add new movements and challenges to keep things fun. Variety also prevents injury from over-trained muscles. You still need to build that solid base, but once that is in place you can add in some variety. For example, choose handstand push ups instead of military presses. Both are vertical pressing exercises, but handstand push ups are way more fun!
Consistency creates momentum, and vice versa. Pick a number of training sessions per training block to help build momentum. It’s much easier to build on 10 sessions than 2 sessions. By just adding one more you’ve hit 11 sessions. Keep building!
Nobody Said It Would Be Easy
Consistency results in adaptability, which you can fall back on physically and mentally during challenging periods or as a result of interruption. If there is no consistency in your training, there will be little or no foundation for an adaptive response. To produce a given training goal or objective, training needs to be consistent and regular. Not being consistent in your training will lead to losses, not gains.
Life is going to get in the way. Some days, you’re going to be tired, the session will seem too hard, and you’re not going to want to train. Accept these obstacles as a fact of life and training, but don’t use them as an excuse. Consistency matched with quality workouts, good recovery, and a balanced diet equals results.
By Mark McAuley