Consistency is one of the hardest parts of nutrition or fitness, but it’s also the surest way to see results. Don't let laziness keep you from your goals.
Today's society is undoubtedly results-driven. And we don't just want results, we want them yesterday. This doesn't stop us from constantly finding excuses to skip our workout or exceed our calorie requirements, only to inevitably face that moment in the mirror or on a scale where we feel doomed to always be overweight (or underweight for some).
After all, the perceived hard work we're putting in at the gym (and in the kitchen) isn't working, so what else could it possibly be? These feelings can compel us to ramp up our exercise program, to eat less, or, worse, to both ramp up our exercise program and eat less.
When my Spidey sense tingles around a client, ninety-nine percent of the time it's because they're not complying with their program. They stay up late, overeat, binge on junk and fast food, and skip workouts. You don't need a medical degree to recognize this as a path to poor health.
For those who don't work with a trainer, a lack of consistency may appear in other forms. I find people tend to program-hop, switching far too quickly to allow accurate measurement of one's true progress, or "gainz." Others tell me they alternate programs every two weeks to keep their muscles guessing. Our bodies are undoubtedly genius, but muscles aren't that smart. To increase hypertrophy, try to steadily increase volume: sessions per week, or sets and reps per training session. This permits the muscle to adapt to the increased demand. Also, play around with repetition ranges that will stimulate varied muscle fibers individually.
Do you ever arrive at the gym and just know you're in for a bad workout? And your mind tosses out excuses to turn around and leave? It happens to all of us—especially those of us who have been training for a while. We sometimes get caught up in the thought pattern that any workout that won't produce "personal records" (PR's) is a failure. So maybe we're no longer just talking ourselves into walking away from the gym, but also rationalizing a stop at DQ on the way home.
Or is nutrition your challenge? Perhaps you cheat on your diet and feel ashamed and worthless afterward, eventually just giving in and binging your way through the rest of the day. And the next. Again, it happens to the best of us. But then comes the time to stop making excuses and resume making gains by nailing down consistency.
Here are some of my strategies for success:
1. If you're new to training, know there will be days you don't feel like getting your sweat on. On such days, it's okay to back off your program a little bit, with either a decrease in volume of reps or a decrease in the weight of the loads lifted. This approach still trains the body's neural system with your prescribed exercises, so when today's routine comes back up in rotation, your muscles will be well-prepared for a solid workout. You'll have good days and not so good days, and most days will be somewhere in between. Therefore, it's essential to be consistent. As long as you aren't dead tired or legitimately unwell, you'll probably find the energy to work out by the time you get to the gym, or at worst, after completing your warmup.
2. Create rituals: they leave no room for bad habits. Proper nutrition, stress management, and going to bed before 10 p.m. will become automatic, regular habits.
3. Don't beat yourself up if you don’t crush your exercise or nutrition program. Instead, ask yourself what led to the slip up and find a preventative solution to keep it from happening again. To paraphrase Dr. David Katz in his book Disease Proof, you didn’t fail at dieting; you just didn’t have the right skills in place to succeed. For more on rituals and habits, check out my post Willpower vs Skill Power.
4. Your goals have to mean something to you. It's the difference between having a door slammed in your face and being able to kick it down and continue on your path to success.
5. Develop a routine that trains your body to operate on autopilot. You could try eating the same food each day (a short-term solution for the beginning of a nutritional transition before adding a variety of nutritious foods), exercising at the same time every day, meditating upon waking, or going to bed before 10 o’clock to benefit from melatonin production. The more specific you get, the fewer opportunities for outside distractions to overtake your schedule.
6. Keep your goals at hand. I've owed my greatest successes to recording my daily goals and accomplishments, especially during my time as a competitive physique athlete.
I hope I've impressed upon you the importance of consistency in achieving your goals. In fact, it may be the most crucial rule of all. There will always be obstacles to overcome—some physical, some mental, and some emotional—but if you can identify them, find a way through them, and keep moving forward, you'll have no problem living the life you desire.
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