(This post in in regards to the training side of things. There is also the very real possibility that your diet may have something to do with your lack of results – but that is a separate issue. Today I am focusing on why your training program might be letting you down. )
Have you ever heard the words consistency and intensity (or progression) in the fitness industry? I can bet you have. People probably hear these terms thrown around in gyms and by trainers all the time, but have you ever actually stopped and asked yourself what they mean for you and your training? Do you put these two principles into practice? I want to break these two words down for you, and explain them in easy to understand terms.
Consistency and intensity are two very important principles of training. You need to make sure both of these things are present in your training in order to continue getting results. You can’t have one without the other.
I’m going to start with one of my all-time favourite quotes:
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." –Albert Einstein
Many people think they understand this concept until it is applied to their understanding of fitness. When someone is frustrated by the lack of progress from their training, and I ask them what they are doing, they usually tell me that they are doing their standard 6 month old (or older) routine. They start on the cardio machines, do 20 minutes on the treadmill and another 10 minutes on the bike. Then they hop from one weight machine to the next, add some crunches and then go home. Or for others people they will tell me they do the same pump class with the same weights day in and out and wonder why they aren’t toning up. Others just do spin class every morning day after day and wonder why they aren’t losing weight. For others they always attend to the local outdoor bootcamp every morning. Even if the exercises are varied there is often a limit on how far someone can progress doing bootcamps when the training stimulus more or less remains the same.
In cases like this, their problem is a lack of intensity/change or progression in their training. If you stick with the same training program months on end the best you can hope to achieve is maintenance. This is fine if you just want to maintain your initial results, but for many people who desire continued results, they end up plateauing.
Others start to go backwards, putting the fat back on that they lost, and losing a bit of strength and fitness over time. This is because over time you will get older, your hormone levels will drop, and your metabolism will slow. You will have to work harder just to maintain your results. The human body is extremely efficient at making it easier on ourselves to complete the same task or the same amount of work with less effort each time to do it. Eventually we will use a lot less energy to accomplish the same training program that it costed us when we first started. This will mean diminished returns and results.
So what do you need to do if this is you? Well, there are different ways we can progress in our programs. For starters, getting your program changed or changing up your exercises in your routine is of course a very basic way to progress and up the intensity. This might sound like a no-brainer, but the amount of people who I see at the gym doing the same routine year after year is astounding. If this is you, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask a PT to make up a new program for you. Get your strength and fitness tested (or measurements taken if you are after fat loss) and start working towards a new goal again, rather than spinning your wheels day after day.
Any time you do something that your body is not accustomed to doing you are going to get new results. For an activity like lifting weights, it’s easy to tell if you are increasing the intensity and progressing since that translates into being able to lift more weight or do more reps at the same weight. These are some simple ways to increase in intensity.
Another interesting increase in intensity is learning a new skill and doing something that you weren’t able to do before. Learning a new skill-based movement is a good thing to add in. I sometimes find this a lot more exciting than only increasing the weight on the bar (although that’s pretty cool too). Another way you can increase the intensity or progress is improving on a previous skill, making it smoother, doing it better, doing it for more repetitions, etc. Then there is also using time as an intensity increaser. You can start to do your routine faster (for time) or do more of something in the same amount of time, or take less rest between your exercises.
If you haven’t added any of these progressions into your routine for awhile, now is the time to do it if you have been stalling in your progress or plateauing. And it doesn’t have to be hard or boring. You can have a bit of fun with your progressions. Start timing more of your workouts or rests. Compete with yourself; give yourself a challenge. Go to a new class to learn a new skill.
If you start adding intensity into your routine where there has been none before, I can guarantee you will get new results. You will start seeing new muscles pop up in places you have never seen before. Your strength and fitness will increase and training will more than likely become a whole lot more fun and challenging as well.
The other factor in progress is consistency. This is equally important as the one above in terms of getting continued results. This is where many people seem to struggle. I often see people post to Facebook and brag about an EPIC workout. I see this all the time. They’ll set up their MASSIVE routine, using up all the gym space and equipment, being loud and putting on a big show. Then they will be so proud of themselves that they will slack off for a few weeks. And I hate to say it, but that ONE session they did pretty much meant nothing in the overall scheme of things, if they are after results that is.
For most people, unless you are very new to working out, very overweight or deconditioned, or if there is some other medical reason preventing you from working out more regularly, consistency is working out three to five days a week with proper progression and intensity built into your program. That is the number of training sessions that it will take if you want to make decent progress. Other trainers might tell you something different but from my personal experience in this industry training clients for 8 years now (and seeing all the pitfalls first-hand), I am going to tell you straight out, that after the first few months of training (where you will get results from just about ANYTHING), if you want to get proper, half-decent strength and fitness results, you are going to need to bite the bullet and train more than once a week.
I have had to tell this to many clients over the year who only ever did one PT session a week with me, never did any extra sessions on their own, and then complained to me about their lack of results. Many people try to give me the whole “well it’s better than nothing” spiel, but realistically, from a results-focused standpoint, it doesn’t cut it. Are you interested in better-than-nothing? Or are you interested in results? Consistency is a huge part of success in training and getting results!
It’s amazing to me how many people think that making that kind of commitment to your fitness and health is unrealistic and soooo over-the-top. This is where I think CrossFit excels and why people get continued results from training at a CrossFit box. Most CrossFit sessions are extremely time efficient workouts. A person could do three CrossFit training sessions a week (most good CrossFit boxes include a strength, skill and conditioning component each session) and make excellent progress over as little time as three months. After a year, they will be doing things that they had never thought possible. This is one of the best things about being a CrossFit coach. Seeing where someone starts out, and then watching them blossom and seeing how far they progress. And that comes down to the principles of progression and consistency being implemented. For busy people without much time to spare, that is only three hours a week. Most people waste more than that much time browsing facebook and instagram in a day.
On the flip side, I have seen many people over the years that go to other globo gyms regularly, like clockwork. They have the consistency thing down pat. But they never get in any better shape because they do the exact same thing every workout for months and even years on end. No progression or intensity.
If your workout has consistency and intensity, you will get RESULTS. But the key is to utilise BOTH. They go hand-in-hand. Whatever you do for training, make sure the intensity is there and that you consistently make time for it if you want to progress.
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