Why do some athletes seem to make improvements year after year, while others seem to stay about the same?
There are a lot of potential answers to that question, but a huge factor is consistency.
You are probably familiar with two basic types of athletes:
- Those who just seem to train whenever and do whatever.
- Those who have prioritized their training into their life schedule and get it done.
Does it really matter which kind of athlete you are? Not really, because in the end you are training and racing for your reasons, and only you can decide which athlete you want to be. You are in charge of your priorities.
If you are targeting Race X for your ‘A’ race, is advisable to have a specific plan to get you to be strong at that race. And then it’s a good idea to follow that plan. But if workouts are skipped or shortened, progress may not be seen.
Before I continue I need to point out that there are very valid reasons to miss workouts. Sometimes we get sick, family or work priorities come up, or we have to deal with other circumstances that make adding training stress a bad idea.
But the more workouts you can complete that are in your plan, the more likely you will be to achieve your goals.
The reason consistency is important.
There should be a systematic approach to training that your coach or training plan is targeting. First we stress the system and generate fatigue. This is called overload. Your body becomes tired after a workout. You then eat, drink, and get some rest. Your body says, “hey you wanted me to do that and I’m not used to that” so it works to adapt. You come back a little stronger after the recovery. This is called supercompensation.
The key to this is the timing of your next overload workout. Too soon and you haven’t recovered so you just keep building fatigue. With too much fatigue you never give your body the chance to adapt.
If you wait too long between workouts, you have adapted, but since no new overload or stress was applied, your body says, “oh, we’re not doing that again so I’ll just go back to where I was.” This is the problem with inconsistent training and why improvements are not always realized.
Of course the “where I was” is different for everyone. As is how each individual responds to training stress. Some need more recovery, some less. Some can handle more training stress than others. That’s why training plans are progressive and should be tailored to each individual for optimal performance gains.
A really good explanation of supercompensation is in this excerpt from Athletic Development by Vern Gambetta.
So now you know why consistency is important, here are some ways to ensure that your training stays as consistent as possible.
If you aren’t working towards anything specific, it’s hard to stay motivated for consistent training. Get your next event on your calendar or set a specific date to attempt a new achievement. Have both short-term and long-term goals and remind yourself of these goals often. Post them somewhere for you to see every day.
Explain the time commitment to your family and friends.
Training is something that we have to fit into our lives. If your family and friends understand the commitment (especially your family!) and back your goals, they will understand when you have to leave the party at 9pm to be in bed before 10pm. It does help to get family buy-in for large time commitments or you will have a lot of unnecessary non-training stress in your life.
Schedule your workouts like any other appointment.
Not only know what you have to do each day in your training plan, but put it in your calendar WHEN you are going to do it. We all get busy with “things” and that workout sometimes falls through the cracks if you don’t plan for it.
Pack your bags.
Have a 5am swim workout? You don’t want to be running around finding your work clothes, bathing suit and towel to pack your bag at 4 in the morning and be behind schedule. Because how many of us just decide to skip something that early in the morning if we are going to be late? Or maybe you are going for a lunch ride. Put your bike in the car the night before, and have your bag packed as well. It’s harder to miss something when everything is ready to go.
Have a buddy.
Your training partner doesn’t have to do the same workout that you are doing, but if you know someone is counting on you to show up, you’ll be more likely to go. It might also be a good idea to pick a training partner who is reliable and keeps their commitments.
Hire a coach.
I am a little biased on this one, but I am a coach and I have a coach. Chances are you will be more likely to do a workout when someone is looking the results. Plus, you are paying for it! Having a coach also makes success a little more likely because you have someone setting up your workouts and reviewing your plan and progress. A good coach is trained to figure out the best timing for *your* workouts so that you see the best response.
If you aren’t getting in your workouts like you want, think about why you are skipping your workouts and review the tips above. Then make the necessary adjustments and enjoy your new found fitness and performance gains!