Consistency means finding ways to train even when other things get in the way of your good intentions.
Recently, an athlete asked me what was the single most important thing she could do to give her the highest likelihood of successfully reaching her goals.
Before I could answer, she prodded, "More volume? More intensity in the mix? How about lactate threshold intervals every week? I bet it's hill work."
I told her the single most important thing she could do to stay on track to reach her goals—short-term and long-term—was to be consistent. Consistency involves staying healthy and finding ways to keep training when other things get in the way of your workout's good intentions.
I shared these tips with her to help keep her training plan rolling:
Wait, What Goals?
Before I head into keeping you on track to meet your goals, I am assuming you've gone through the process of setting reasonable, challenging goals.
Plan Your Workouts
When I write, "plan your workouts" I mean actually put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and document your plan. Plan your workouts no less than a week in advance and maybe several weeks into the future. Having a long-range plan for key workouts and individual workouts helps you see how today's training is another important step toward meeting your ultimate goal.
There are several potential downfalls to just winging your workouts when you show up at the gym or pool, or go for a ride or run. The most common issue is that all workouts become the same intensity: medium-hard.
The second most common pitfall to winging workouts is that with no plan, skipping a workout is easier. "What does this workout really mean anyway?" Before you know it, skipping workouts can have a snowball effect.
"Oh, I'll skip today's workout and pick it up tomorrow." Something happens the next day.
"I'll get back on track tomorrow for sure." Another training distraction appears.
"Heck, the week is nearly over. I'll just (a. work more, b. go out with my friends, c. sit on my hiney and do nothing, d. etc.) and begin my plan next week."
Before you know it, days and weeks slip away. As the old saying goes, "tomorrow never comes." Don't let time slip through your fingers, have a plan to get where you want to go.
With your written plan in front of you, it is easy to rearrange workouts when other issues like work, family and friends pop up. On occasion you will skip a workout by choice or by design. Knowing you can pick your training up again the next day and not miss a beat toward reaching your goal helps keep you mentally strong.
Know that there are going to be obstacles to overcome in order to accomplish workouts. If a change in weather spoils your planned workout, can you do something else instead?
For example, if snow or rain hinders a long ride you had planned, scheme up some options:
- If you have a trainer, ride indoors on your own. Watch DVDs or listen to music to make it more fun.
- Go to the gym early and ride the Spin® bike for 30 to 60 minutes before the Spin® class begins. Then, finish your long ride with the Spin® class which is more motivating than riding by yourself.
- If you don't belong to a gym, consider paying a drop-in fee at the local recreation center or gyms. Sometimes a change of scenery—seeing other fit people—helps your motivation.
Make it Easy to Succeed
Some people insist on making things more difficult on themselves. Instead of being one of those people, find ways to help yourself succeed.
If you want to fit in a workout before work, get everything ready the night before. Pack your workout bag or lay out your workout clothes. Have your work clothes laid out as well. Include something ready-made to eat for your post-workout commute or at your desk. Of course, if you are a dashboard diner, keep your snack or meal compact and easy to eat so you are not distracted trying to scramble eggs on a hot plate while driving.
If a pre-built plan has swim workouts shown on Tuesday and Thursday but Monday and Wednesday works better for you, rearrange the plan so you can succeed.
Aim for Less Than 100 Percent
In order to be successful at staying consistent with your workout plans for the long haul, do not aim for perfection. I have never written a training plan for anyone—including myself—that did not need modifications. This might have meant changing, moving or, on occasion, skipping a workout.
I find if athletes can stick to the plan some 80 to 90 percent of the time, this pattern leads to long-term success. Aiming for a success rate less than 100 percent also reduces the unnecessary stress that comes from needing to manage your workout load to false perfection within a changing world.
It is easy for most people to start exercise or training plans. The real challenge is to stay on track for success. With some planning, flexibility and creativity, I think you have a very high probability—better than 80 percent chance—of staying active.