You don’t get fat by going to McDonald’s once and you won’t get fit by going on a 10-hour run. You are what you consistently do.
That’s right, consistency is the ultimate performance enhancer. It’s better than the latest gear. It’s better than performance-enhancing drugs. It’s better than training really hard and taking a big break to recover.
Unfortunately, I can’t count how many times I have spoken with athletes who have an “all or nothing” approach to training. They’re either out training, pushing themselves hard five times or more a week or they’re struggling to get out and run at all because they’re sick or injured.
As a coach, my job is to help our athletes improve. One of the ways I do that is to try to help them structure their training and lifestyle to optimise for consistency.
Over the years, I have tried (and seen athletes try) many things but at the end of the day, I keep coming back to these six because they work.
How To Train More Consistently
Plan And Schedule Your Sessions
It’s rare that you’ll find success without a plan. Businesses execute marketing, operational and financial plans, among many others. Pilots use a flight plan. Builders follow an architect’s plan.
As an athlete, you should be following a training plan.
A training plan is a simple document, a strategy, that aims to build a bridge from where you are now to where you want to be.
Following a well-structured training plan has a lot of benefits. Besides the specific performance benefits that the progression and specificity provide, the simple act of having a plan helps to make you a more consistent athlete.
By knowing exactly what you need to do each day and how long it will take, it takes thinking out of the equation. In my experience, the less you have to think, the more likely you are to do.
When you have a plan and you put the sessions into your calendar, just as you would with any other important appointment, it becomes front of mind and this helps to hold you accountable.
Train By Time
When I ask most athletes how long they ran today, they’ll almost always tell me a distance. It seems that many athletes place a lot of importance on this metric.
While knowing how far you go is useful in tracking your fitness, fixating on a specific session, weekly or monthly mileage can prove harmful when it comes to consistency.
That’s because it’s very easy to overwork when you focus on an output.
Running 10k up a mountain takes a lot more effort and time than running 10k down a mountain. Just as running 5k on grass into a headwind is tougher and takes longer, than running 5k over a smooth pathed path with a nice tailwind at your back.
Running for 60-minutes however, self-corrects for changes in terrain, weather and levels of fatigue. When you train over a harder course or in a tougher environment, you’ll cover less distance.
While covering less distance may sound like a bad thing, it’s usually not!
The amount of time spent training is actually more important than the distance covered since it’s the duration of effort that your body senses.
A well-conditioned runner will cover the same distance in a faster time than a runner who is just starting out.
For example, the runner who averages 4-minutes per kilometre for 50 kilometres per week is running the same amount of time as the runner who is running 8-minutes per kilometre for 25 kilometres a week and is, therefore, experiencing the same amount of stress.
When stress is balanced with recovery, consistency increases. High-quality consistent training drives great performance.
Train With A Heart Rate Monitor
In a similar vein to training by time, training with a heart rate monitor helps to balance stress and recovery.
In periods when stress is high – whether from training or life stressors like work and financial stress – the body responds with an elevation in heart rate.
When heart rate is elevated, you’ll need to slow down to stay within your desired heart rate zone. While frustrating for many, it is important to understand that heart rate zones correspond with various markers of metabolic activity, like fat burning and lactate clearance.
When you stick to the zones, you’re continuing to train these important physiological markers but you’re doing it in a way that doesn’t overstress the body and lead to inconsistency.
On the other hand, when you run to a pace, the pace number on your monitor is only showing you the output. It is not showing you the work required to achieve the output.
The goal of training is not to get faster by pushing harder, the goal is to become more aerobically efficient so that at the same (or lower) heart rate, you are able to run at a faster pace.
Listen To Your Body
Endurance sports tend to lend themselves to Type-A personality types who like to do the work. Doing the work is obviously crucial if you wish to find success in any endeavour, but often, athletes are doing it at the expense of recovery and at the risk of inconsistency through injury and illness.
Developing your ‘athletes intuition’ for when to push and when to ease off is important if you want to perform at your best. Training by time and heart rate helps you to ‘dial in’ your intuition and helps to put a little more objectivity to your assessment.
Another great way is to subscribe to the philosophy below that served me very well when I was racing pro.
Take a session off to avoid a day off. Take a day off to avoid a week off.
Take a week off to avoid a month off and so on.
I trained consistently for 10-years with minimal injuries and setbacks thanks to this little beauty.
Eat Real Food
Without adequate fuel, you won’t have the energy to train consistently.
Without the right fuel, you won’t recover properly and won’t be able to train consistently.
What’s the right fuel for you?
Well, that depends, and it’s what makes nutrition such a tricky, and often, sensitive subject.
Without getting into massive detail here, start by cutting the processed carbohydrates from your diet and replacing them with more good quality carbs (vegetables) and healthy fat (avocado, olive oil, coconut, nuts, fatty fish etc).
This change will help to regulate your insulin levels and decrease inflammation. When done well, the nutrient density of the foods you eat also improve. You’ll find yourself recovering faster and more resilient to falling ill.
Get Plenty Of Sleep
In my last post, I spoke about the importance of sleep. Your body needs plenty of high quality sleep to repair itself and recover from the stress you are putting on it when you train.
When you fail to get 7+ hours of sleep each night, your body is essentially in a state of constant stress and over time it will break down. To be consistent in training and to reap the benefits that come with that, you need to sleep well and sleep a lot.
Sometimes the best investment you can make in your preparation is getting more sleep.
That’s it, you now know some simple strategies to improve your training consistency. If you choose to implement some or all of these strategies, I am confident you’ll see some fantastic results.
If you can consistently string your training together for weeks, months and years without getting sick, injured or losing motivation, wonderful things happen.