I’m going to cover two essential elements in any diet or exercise program. These two things are so important, that I would argue that it’s next to impossible to achieve any level of success without them. On the flip side, you are practically guaranteed at least some measure of success when these two elements are in whatever program you do. These will make any program effective, even if you found them at the bottom of a Cracker Jack Box.
The best way to illustrate the importance of these two elements is to think of a time when you may have been stuck in heavy traffic on the highway. You’re just creeping along at a snail’s pace, or maybe you’re not moving at all. You’re frustrated and bored and all you want to do is get to your destination. Suddenly you notice that the traffic in another lane is moving a little faster than you. You put on your blinker, hustle your nose into the lane and after a few tense moments you are in the other lane. You cruise along for a few feet and then stop, only to find the traffic in your previous lane starting to move again.
Once again you go through the song and dance to switch lanes only to move a few more feet until you stop. You’re doing a lot of work and stressing out, but you’re barely making much headway. If anything, you’re feeling even more stressed out because you’re putting in all of this work and effort and you’re wondering if you’re better off not doing anything at all.
We’ve all been in this sort of situation and not just in traffic, but within our own diet and exercise journey. We make changes, we hustle our tail off and we bend over backwards to adopt new strategies. It’s fun to make changes, but it’s frustrating when we look back and realize we’ve hardly made any progress.
Enter the two essential elements that practically ensure we will reach our destination with minimal stress and frustration:
Let’s start with consistency. I like to think of it as the glue that makes all of the parts of a healthy lifestyle fit together. Unfortunately, there are a lot of theories within our fitness culture that actually discourage consistency. The basic idea is that the body changes or adapts when changes in diet or exercise programs come its way. So if you want to prevent your body from changing then the best thing to do would be to keep doing the same thing over and over.
It does make sense. After all, people say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. They also say that if you do the same thing all of the time you’re going to get the same result. So, change and variety is good right? One week you work with kettlebells, the next you do a pull-up challenge. Then you run a marathon and to really shake things up you attend a 6 week Yoga clinic.
The terms, muscle confusion, or keeping the body guessing keep popping up. Apparently keeping the body confused and unsure of what’s happening is a good strategy towards telling it what to do. But does that really make sense? Is creating chaos and confusion really a good thing? Just think of a time when you were confused and unsure of what was happening. How successful were you in making good things happen?
Contrary to some theories, the body is a pretty simple and obedient piece of machinery. It does whatever the mind tells it to do. It’s just like a computer. If the code is clear and simple then the body will be programmed with a very reliable outcome. However, if the code is jumbled and messy, it won’t know what to do.
I’m all for variety and change, but every fitness success story is built upon a solid foundation of consistency. Interview anyone who has a very fit body and you’ll find an almost boring level of consistency within their game plan. You’ll find people who jog 15 miles a week. The guy with a super wide back has been doing pull-ups for the past 8 years. The lean and toned woman at the local church group has stuck to the same basic diet rules for over 20 years.
It’s not very common to find someone who dabbles with a lot of methods to have much long-term success. The success stories in fitness almost always come from picking a simple and basic game plan and then sticking to that plan for at least a few years. The biggest secret in fitness is that the most sexy and amazing bodies have been built upon some of the most boring and mundane programs. The exercises are every day staples like running, pull-ups, squats and push ups.
But consistency alone won’t get you very far by itself. You can stay in the same lane of traffic and still go nowhere. This is why the second element is so very important. The element of progression. The body doesn’t change because you do something different. It changes from doing what you’re already doing better.
Like consistency, progression can be a tricky thing to figure out. So many programs and exercises promise to be bigger and better, but how do you really know? Sometimes, you can do something different and make forward progress. Other times, you may make no headway at all. Other times, you may even go backwards.
When you make a change in what you’re doing it’s a shot in the dark as to if it’s actually a step forward. If you give up running and take up kickboxing, that may or may not be a step forwards in your weight loss goal. Progression on the other hand is much more certain. When you do what you’re doing better you know for a fact that you’re making headway.
I’ve already written about the 3 aspects of progression, but here’s a quick recap. To progress any form of exercise you must enhance one of the following:
- The frequency of the activity. Simply put, you do more of the activity over time. More reps, more sets, more workouts, more miles. More, more, more!
- The intensity of the activity. Add weight or add speed. You can also change the leverage of the exercise or work more against gravity like when running up a steep hill.
- The technique of the activity. You can always improve your skill at doing anything from weight lifting to even stretching. Improve your technique and improve your results!
Notice that all three of these aspects of progression are about doing what you’re already doing a little differently. They don’t require you to do anything different, just what you’re already doing to a higher level.
Getting back to the analogy of getting stuck in traffic. If you stay consistent and remain in your lane then you are guaranteed to reach your destination as long as you keep progressing along. I know it’s not a fancy or sexy solution to stay the course and try to do better. I know it’s not going to sell many books or win over audiences.
Like I said, the sexiest bodies are built upon boring principles of consistency and progression. Those two things together will bring you success with 100% certainty. It may not be quick and it may not happen without any setbacks. You may even wonder if you’re even going to get out of that traffic jam. But I promise that as long as you apply consistency and progression, you will ultimately reach your destination.