There is a woman I know who goes to a local gym in central Massachusetts. For the sake of this article, let’s call her Alice. Alice is there every day when the gym opens and starts her daily workout on the elliptical before moving over to the weight room. She is there every single day except for holidays. I don’t know her exact age but she is definitely over 50. She looks great and will probably live to be 100.
Alice is a master at the art of consistency. I have not seen any psychological profile of her mind, but it’s pretty clear what she is thinking when she wakes up…”time to go to the gym for my workout because that is what I do.” Every day starts with some cardio and ends with some strength training.
This daily workout is like brushing her teeth: Alice doesn’t have to think about it. There are no internal negotiations. In fact, Alice would probably have a really bad day if she had to miss a workout.
What can we all learn from Alice?
Regardless of whether or not you are an athlete or someone who just want to look better naked, Alice’s level of consistency is what it’s really all about.
According to Chris Shugart, the “false start” is when you come out of the gate hard and fast then, for whatever reason, you quit. This is very common in the fitness industry. A lot of folks have to go through this a few times before they develop consistency.
Consistency is the most critical parameter to training success. “An average program followed all-out will always lead to more results than the best program done half-assed,” says Christian Thibaudeau. It doesn’t matter if your program is “science-based” if you’re aren’t consistent. Any workout that you actually stick with will beat it. Here’s a good example: Arnold Schwarzenegger never read NIH studies, but he also never missed a scheduled workout.
As I often say, we are all different, both genetically and otherwise. So, what works for person A isn’t necessarily optimal for person B. The only way to figure out what works best for YOU is through trial and error. In other words, you have to experiment, but understand this – in order to find the errors you need a lot of trials. And you don’t get many trials when you sit on your butt 3-4 days per week.
In today’s society, we have this notion of political correctness and making everything warm and fuzzy, with no friction. In the case of training, people will say “It’s fine to workout 2 days per week.” Chris Shugart calls that horrible advice because you never develop consistency. There is simply not enough opportunity for habit formation and the solidification of those habits.
Getting back to the concept of friction…..doing anything worthwhile has an element of friction to it. Pre-making healthy meals for the week on Sunday takes time, preparation, and planning = FRICTION. Going to the drive-thru at Burger King for lunch is easy = NO FRICTION.
Over time, however, if you are consistent, the resistance caused by friction erodes and smooths out. Good example: as kids, we hated to stop what we were doing to go brush our teeth. We knew we needed to, thanks to our parents, but it wasn’t fun. As adults, we do it without thinking about it.
It’s ingrained and frictionless because we have developed consistency in that act.
Successful people learn to recognize friction and choose to deal with it in a healthy way in order to meet their goals. Some ignore it, others anticipate it and consciously plan around it, while others simply grind through it. You may be saying, “yeah, well, you know friction sucks!” You know what sucks more, not ever achieving any of your life goals.
I believe strongly in consistency and as such, I specifically program it for my clients/athletes. It’s different for different people, but for many of them, I ask them to walk every day. Yes, every single day. It starts to build a mind set around consistency. Walk on rest days as active recovery, and walk on workout days as extra cardio. The choice is… there is NO choice and there should be no excuses. Walk in the rain and in the dark if necessary. Walk on your business trip. Walk on Christmas.
My suggestion to you if you’re struggling to build consistency is to develop the mindset that you DON’T have a choice. Get a workout in every day, even it means just a simple 20 minute walk. Martin Rooney calls this the B.I.G. principle: Butt In Gym. It doesn’t matter if you only go for a walk or do some soft tissue work on a Sunday, for instance. But darn it, show up on Sunday. Do something. And stop telling yourself “I’ll get around to it later.”
In other words, show up and “brush your teeth.” Choose to not have a choice, unless you are a 10, 20, and 30 year veteran exerciser. That’s the only way to make this whole “feel great, be strong, and look good naked” thing a habit. It’s the only real way to develop consistency.
A sign that you’ve turned the corner is when you have to miss a workout for a perfectly good reason and you feel guilty about it, just like Alice. Now you’ve developed CONSISTENCY.