The two basic elements to getting fit in the shortest time possible
Most of us understand what these two words mean, yet as it applies to many things, our own individual interpretation of consistency and intensity are among the fundamental determinants of our degree of success. Within these two concepts are the keys to whether or not we see dramatic results from our fitness routine, or we see very little change and all, and ultimately, if we are motivated to continue working at it.
Over the last 4 years, we’ve followed dozens of people trying to get fit in the context of a documentary film, INSPIRED: The Movie, and we’ve come to understand these two principles can make anyone extremely successful no matter what fitness plan or diet they choose (for most of the good ones at least). As it turns out, consistency and intensity are universally important no matter what you do.
No matter how difficult your workout or low calorie your diet is, if you can’t stick to it for any length of time, it is very unlikely you will ever reach your goals. Whether you’re just starting a new fitness or weight loss program, or if you’ve been stuck at a plateau for some time, you must first learn what consistency means before you can start tackling the intensity part of any program. The reason for this; if you embark on an extremely hard workout or highly restrictive eating plan and you are not ready physically or mentally for the change, you will be unable to follow it consistently. This is a common mistake for many individuals, who get on a treadmill for the first time in years, and they try to run as fast as they can. While it’s great that you want to start off with an intense workout, this can be too much too soon, resulting in both physical and mental setbacks. Not only can you injure yourself, but you can also become discouraged by how hard your workout is. Similarly, if you’ve decided to go on a very restrictive type of eating plan, your ability to keep eating this way will be very limited and soon come to an end (i.e. you will gain the weight back).
For this very reason, you must first learn to be consistent before you focus on your intensity. While you may consider several workouts per week to be consistent, normally when I try to help someone just starting out, I challenge them to exercise 20 minutes, 7 days a week, for 2 weeks. The point of daily exercise in the beginning is to reframe your ideas about exercise. It is actually more about training your mind than training your body! Most of us are struggling to find the time in our busy schedules to fit exercise in, right? Remember why you started reading this article? Your motivation to follow any plan is driven by the the payoff — we all want to see amazing progress from our hard work. If you don’t think you can exercise every day, you can’t allow this to stop you from trying. Most are amazed the first week, when they have exercised every day. If you can overcome the initial inconvenience and discomfort for about 14 days, you’ll soon find that your mind adapts to new habits much faster than you thought. (In order to avoid overtraining and injuries, be sure to vary your workouts and incorporate low impact options such as cycling, walking, and/or yoga)
When it comes to eating right, consistency is even more important. This is because we can consume an incredible amount of calories in a matter of minutes — we can have a great day of eating and easily overdo it with a single meal or snack. A single meal or desert can be well over 1000 calories, which would take you over an hour to burn during a workout. One or two bad decisions a day, easily outweigh the many good decisions we may make. So, if we do not eat in moderation nearly every day, we’ll soon get frustrated by our lack of progress, despite our efforts to exercise daily. This means you’ll have to limit yourself to just one (maybe two) splurges per week it you want to make significant progress.
Becoming ultra-consistent with both diet and exercise is the foundation of any dramatically successful fitness plan. It is critical to your ongoing motivation as well, since being more consistent will allow you to see results quicker, and this fuels your ability to stay with it. Remember, without consistency, you will often get frustrated by the lack of results, and ultimately, you may give up.
When assessing one’s workout intensity, often times we ask someone who’s been working out for some time, how heavy they may go for a particular exercise.
In many cases, the answer is something like, “I normally use 25 lb. dumbbells for my biceps curls.”
I’ll often respond, “When is the last time you have tried 30 lb. dumbbells?”
The answer is quite often, “Never.” This is a very common shortcoming in our exercise routines — we become comfortable with the number of sets, repetitions, and weights we use, and we seldom challenge ourselves much more than getting ourselves into the gym. While the notion that something is better than nothing may hold true, many people will find themselves stuck at a plateau, because they fail to adjust their workout intensity over time. This applies to both cardiovascular exercise, as well as resistance training. There are so many variables we can adjust in nearly every type of exercise, to challenge our bodies just a little more each time, and this idea of challenging muscles and systems, is ultimately what causes our bodies to change. There comes a point when walking each day at the same speed for the same distance, only provides us with a marginal benefit. It is when we can learn to push ourselves every time we decide to workout, that we see even more dramatic change.
Here are just a few tips that may help you improve your awareness of your workout intensity:
1) Each time you perform a set, rate it on a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the hardest). Write it down, and aim for a difficulty rating of 7-10 each set, and when you never hit anything higher than an 8, it may be time to increase your weight, and/or your number of repetitions. Don’t be afraid to add a 4th, 5th, or 6th set to an exercise as well.
2) If you find yourself stuck at a specific weight for example, when performing the bench press, you can often reduce the number of repetitions for “heavy sets” and perform 3-5 repetitions at a heavier weight. Over time, this type of training will allow you to break through weight training plateaus.
3) Interval training is a great way to increase the intensity level of your cardio. If you’re used to only running at 5mph on the treadmill for 20 minutes, try running at short 1-2 minute intervals at 5.5mph or higher, in between longer intervals at 5mph, and your body will eventually be able to run a full 20 minutes at the higher speeds. You can vary the length of an interval anywhere from 1-10 minutes, and adjust the speeds accordingly.
4) Use a journal. Using a food and exercise journal will keep you both more consistent and will improve your workout intensity.
If you can consistently improve your workout intensity, you’ll end up burning more calories per workout which again, will increase the rate in which you will see results! Be sure to listen to your body when you feel it needs a lower intensity workout from time to time.
When changing these elements of your program, you have to allow your changes to make an impact. Sometimes it can take 2-4 weeks to see the difference when you improve your consistency and intensity. Don’t abandon these concepts too early, because often results are just around the corner, and we give up just before we get there. No matter what path you’ve chosen to get into your best shape ever, keep these ideas in mind, and you are sure to reach your goal before you know it!
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