It is time for an informal poll. Who here fits into two or three strength training sessions, 1-2 sprint/interval sessions and 3 to 5 hours of walking or low level cardio on top of ample playtime every week? I’m betting there is still a lot raised in this place, but I will wager I lost quite a few hands as the roll call continued. In a utopian world with an ideal schedule, we should all achieve these goals every day. The best results come from adhering to this general plan.
That said, this degree of consistent fitness is almost certainly an exception rather than the rule when dealing with long-term month to month, year after year. Furthermore, many of us seem to be in excellent shape even if we did not always conform to the complete program. Perhaps the guiding principle of consistency is more nuanced than we typically give it credit for.
Consistent Fitness; Legitimate Reasons to Skip a Workout?
It is true that there are numerous valid reasons to skip workouts sometimes. You’re sick. Your children are sick (and this sort of illness is the kind where there’s absolutely no getting away). An accident at work keeps you (a significant) amount of time away from home. You are overdoing it during your last few workouts or are taking a break from weekend warrior training that is outside of your comfort zone.
You spent months training for a high-intensity exercise like P90X or a similar activity, and are now completely burned out on it. You joined a gym and tried lots of classes, but you never became a regular anywhere. You bounce from activity to activity, trying different devices and workout trends along the way. Like most people, you go through cycles of consistency and intensity, even massive amounts of motivation, and then you settle into periods of rest and short break.
Consistent Fitness; Has this always been the case?
Nevertheless strange this may sound to some people, I would maintain that our ancestors had similar patterns of activity in various regions. There was, for example, seasonal migration for people and for animals. These migrations brought hunting spurts and times of intensive labor to new shelters or winter preparations. 100 different factors could have swayed Grok’s activities from one end of the scale to the other. Yet, everything evened out eventually.
However, no matter what the diverse reasons for our missed workouts are, there is this one important fact. The body needs appropriate recovery after physical exertion to maximize its gains. Labor-intensive work produces muscle damage, and the body must then repair that damage. Consistent fitness benefits the body during recovery, not during exercise. In general, the harder you exercised, the longer you needed to recover.
Whether it’s spending countless hours per day on chronic cardio or not taking any breaks in between strength training sessions or lifting weights, working hard out as hard as you can won’t do you any good. It’s a waste of time to work this way, so you should stop.
The fact is that life happens and sometimes the body is exhausted. Pushing it won’t help. This is especially true if you are low mentally or physically.
If you have had poor sleep recently, such as, you will likely have a lesser workout. Light to moderate exercise can help balance your energy and may improve sleep, but rigorous activity will not help. In addition to being more vulnerable to injury, the stress on the already-imbalanced system is worsened by increased physical exertion.
Even severe mental stress can alter your body’s response to exercise. Subjects in one study who dealt with major life stress events or perceived emotional stress had impaired recovery after heavy resistance training. The recovery of both physiological and cardiovascular performance took a major hit after their strenuous workout in comparison to those with no indicators of substantial perceived or life stress events. This may not be news to anyone who has experienced intense exhaustion and muscle pain at the gym.
The fitter you are, the less fit you will be in a hurry, but those operating at a high level of physical consistent fitness will rapidly experience declines in their performance levels as muscle mass decreases. For most people, improvement takes two to four weeks, but VO2 max usually declines first. In one short study, non-exercising but otherwise “healthy” young men went from 10,500 steps down to around 1300. Two weeks later, their VO2 max had decreased by 7% and their insulin sensitivity and lean leg mass had declined as well.
Rather than lengthy breaks between work periods, we’re referring to days or even hours here and there. We’re working on more exercises than we are missing. Sometimes the work at hand is curtailed rather than abandoned as we continue through a challenge. And we’re still healthy enough to find and keep an exciting new interest that reignites our drive.
The most intriguing thing about consistency is to look at the meaning of the word itself. Consistency is not limited to a direct pace; it is a steadiness of focus.
Do you need discipline to have consistent fitness?
Discipline is a virtue and a tool of civilization, but it is not the most crucial quality. Some people go out of their way to follow a schedule like nobody else. Other people would be adamantly opposed if they knew they had to “do” their fitness in any particular way. Whether it is the schedule or type of exercise they pursue, they would end up exercising a lot over the course of the day or even more so than a person who follows a formula. One way isn’t always better than another.
To that end, let us pull back in our wordsmithing for the afternoon and consider the concept of “consistent with.” Corresponding with this concept are words such as “compatible with,” “congruent with,” “in tune with.” This is where we get to the nitty-gritty.
Dedication is the core focus here. If we are dedicated, we will do whatever is necessary to maintain or improve our physical conditions, however inconsistently that happens. The heart of the commitment is a consistent focus to achieve consistent fitness. Workout variations may not be as dangerous to that principle as some may think. How strongly it functions in our consistent fitness, however, is another matter entirely.
How about leaving some room for recalibration as well as real life? What would happen if we give up the pursuit-withdrawal chase of perfection and settle into the experience of self-trust – a value put into practice with the likes of daily or weekly minimums, self-care, health integrity, etc.?
How many more of us today would be raising our hands and feeling better about our consistent fitness efforts? The results may be more revealing than our daily schedules ever could be.