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Oct 20

Consistency Is the Solution to Most of Your Fitness Problems – Lifehacker

Photo: Jacob Lund (Shutterstock)

I work out every day. I dont really get sore. I dont worry if I have to miss a workout. I make progress over time. I have good days at the (home) gym, but I almost never have bad days. My secret, while effective, is extremely boring. It is, simply, consistency.

Lets start with the thing everybody wants most in life: to not be sore. For as much as I train, youd think Id have all the secrets for managing soreness. (I do, but thats not the point.) In truth, its very rare for me to feel sore.

Thats because soreness isnt a measure of how strong you are or of how good your last workout was. Its just a thing that pops up sometimes when you do a workout youre not used to. Maybe your workout was harder than usual, but you can also get sore if its just different.

Ive only felt truly sore on a few occasions in the last year. One time I did squats with very light weight in sets of 20, when a normal workout for me is more like heavy weight for sets of five. Another time, I started a program with pull-ups in it, when I hadnt done pull-ups in forever. And then there was the day I maxed out a deadlift-like frame pick after not deadlifting in a while, and my lower back was toast for a week.

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But in general? I lift heavy, and feel fine the next day. Thats a perk that consistency buys you.

Anytime an athlete does a Q&A on Instagram, it seems they always get at least one question about how they keep up the motivation to haul their ass to the gym every day. And nearly every athlete is confused by the question. Motivation? Why would you need that?

Think about it: do you need to be motivated to brush your teeth every morning? To go to work? Motivation might describe how you feel when you get started with a new hobby or a new fitness pursuit, but its not how most regular exercisers feel about their day-to-day. You show up and squat because squats are whats on the program for today. Ive written before about what this is like.

Weve all had good workouts, bad workouts, missed workouts. But when youve been working out consistently for, say, five years, none of those individual days will really matter.

I remember skipping a workout one day, a couple months in to following a serious, consistent program. Maybe I was sick, or maybe I was busy at work. It doesnt matter. I just had a sudden realization: it doesnt matter that I missed one, because there are so many workouts I had already done and there were so many more in my future. My self-conception as an athlete did not depend on what happened that day; instead, it was shaped by the fact that I showed up so often and so consistently.

Consistency also means that you dont have to challenge yourself to a super intense workout without a good reason. You might feel the need to get sweaty and exhausted to convince yourself that youre tough. But if you work out consistently, those too-intense workouts will stick out like sore thumbs. You made yourself miserable...for what? Did this workout teach you anything? Was it necessary for the progress youre trying to make?

There will be important days, and intense days. If you compete, your race day or meet day may be one of those. But even then, in the long run, how much does this competition mean, when you know there will be many others? Not as much.

Think in terms of years, not months or weeks. What will happen if you work out consistently for five years? Ten? How strong, how fast, how flexible could you be? Sometimes I despair when looking at a young athlete who seems stronger than I will ever be. Then I check out how long ago they started in their sport, and see that theyve put in far more training hours than I ever have. Consistency adds up over time.

But progress isnt just about timealthough thats part of it. You make progress when you train purposefully toward a goal. If all you do is random mini-workouts you find on YouTube, youll establish a base level of fitness, but that may not be enough to push yourself to get stronger and stronger.

When you train purposefully, you use a program that challenges you a little bit more each week and each month and each year. If youre lifting weights, the weights get heavier. If youre doing yoga, your body will get more flexible and youll gain the awareness to position yourself more precisely. If you pick up a running programwhether its a couch to 5k or the ramp-up to a marathonthe program will slowly add mileage and get you closer to your goal.

When you train consistently, you get the chance to finish a full training cycle, and then another, and then another. Youll learn how your body and mind handle different types of training, and youll see what its like to shift focus from an off-season plan to something that peaks you for competition. Its not the same journey as periodically losing interest and then re-starting the same program over and over.

If you arent there yet, the first step is to realize that, whatever your actual fitness goal is, the plan to get you to that goal is to develop consistency.

So if you want to get stronger, your job is not to deadlift 100 pounds more than you currently do. Its not even to add 10 pounds at your next workout. Its to get yourself on a schedule that gets you deadlifting regularly, and fill out the rest of that schedule in a way that supports your goal. You might grab a program that gives you a sensible mix of heavy days, light days, and accessory work to make you an overall stronger person. In time, those 100 pounds will come. (Ive been using the 1x/week intermediate program from here, if youd like a deadlift-specific suggestion.)

Or if you want to get faster, its not about running your next weeknight three-miler in a smidge less time than your previous one. Its about finding a plan that will make you faster over time, which may well involve a lot of slow running. (As the saying goes, you run faster by running more; you run more by running slower.) Strength training, speedwork, and long runs may all be in the program, even if all you want to do is run the same distance faster.

Once you embrace consistency as your goal, the ramp up becomes more manageable. Instead of giving yourself a super long or intense workout to make up for the fact that you sat on your butt all last week, pick a program and see what it would take to get yourself ready for it. (For example, a marathon program might ask that youve been running three to five miles a few times a week for a couple months before you start.) Start from where you are, and add a little bit at a time. Instead of seeing each day as its own unique challenge, build on what youve done before.

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Consistency Is the Solution to Most of Your Fitness Problems - Lifehacker

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