Over the years I’ve written many programs for all walks of life, from elite athletes to the completely inexperienced middle-aged woman trying to better herself after 40+ years of complete self-neglect. Both present their own challenges. Athletes’ programs need to be meticulously periodized and balanced with recovery and practice/competition of their sport, which isn’t easy but on the bright side you know that motivation won’t be a problem. If anything, most athletes need to be reigned in a bit when it comes to their supplemental strength and conditioning. For the average weight loss/general interest client though, the single biggest obstacle in my experience is consistency. Consistency is THE factor when it comes to achieving long-term goals. For that reason, many beginners are surprised when I hand them a program that prescribes only two training days a week, with a few basic compound movements covering the whole body on both days. Pushes, pulls, squats and mobility/recovery, often with bodyweight exercises. In this early stage of the process they’ve broken through a barrier of sorts that has inspired them to break into fitness in a big way and only two days a week will leave them yearning for more. They might feel like they should be training five, six, even seven days a week. The more the merrier. The problem is that when someone goes from doing nothing for years to training seven days a week, they’ll probably keep that up for, well, one week. Why does this happen?
To understand what I’m getting at, you should familiarize yourself with a term called ‘Homeostasis’. It’s ancient Greek for “Standing Still” and basically refers to a self-governed state in which systems are in place to keep everything exactly as it is. Your thermostat does it, and so does your car when you use cruise control. There’s compelling evidence that even our entire planet does it. We also know that the human body does it, and so does the mind. Essentially every single physiological process you have is designed to resist change. Your body has no autonomous view of what’s going on in the outside world, so it operates under the notion of “Well I’m alive, so I must be doing something right”. You sweat when you’re too hot, shiver when you’re too cold, you maintain blood glucose levels using insulin and glucagon, and the list goes on endlessly – all working to get back to zero. When an irritant is introduced to the system, the system corrects it. The bigger the irritant, the more efficient the response but the body doesn’t actually make anything BETTER than it was before unless it absolutely has to. Now to bring this back to fitness, think about how the body views exercise. Yes, we understand consciously that exercise is good for us, but to our body it’s nothing but another irritant; an attack on homeostasis that must be dealt with as efficiently as possible. This is where consistency comes into the equation.
Think of your workouts as natural disasters, like an earthquake. The city where the disaster occurs is your body. Now imagine an earthquake suddenly happens here in Edmonton, Alberta. Seems wierd, right? Alberta is relatively quiet as far as seismic movement, and we’ve never had a major earthquake in recorded history but now we’ve had one. So what does the response look like? Depends how bad the earthquake was, but there would definitely be rescue operations, evacuations, medical teams and eventually reconstruction of what was damaged. This is like your body’s response to a workout. Synnovial fluid in the joints, lymphatic drainage to clear inflammation, a rush of satellite cells to repair the damaged muscle tissue etc. Think about what would happen next, though. Edmonton is now restored to its former self, but considering that this was a singular incident in what is otherwise a completely earthquake-free city, the chances are slim that we would do any more than that.
Now, we introduce the factor of consistency and take a look at a place like Los Angeles where earthquakes are relatively common. After their first few earthquakes, it must have occurred to the people of LA that simply restoring the city every time an earthquake devestated it would be wasteful and pointless. If they were going to have to deal with earthquakes on a regular basis, they would have to do better. Reinforced buildings, protocols for quick and efficient maintenance and repair, better early-warning technology etc. Consistency forced a shift of mentality from “Fix it” to “Build it better”.
This is why quick fitness fixes DO NOT WORK. Do this cleanse and lose 20 pounds in a month! Do this routine and gain inches on your biceps in three weeks! Take these pills and eat whatever the hell you want, you’ll still lose a leg worth of weight in four hours! None of it works. Not really, anyway. It is ALL bullshit because it betrays understanding of the very simple principle of homeostasis. Your body has no idea what a cleanse is. That cleanse is an attack. Your body will do its job and fend off the attack for a month, and when it realizes that the attack is over, it will do its job again and return you to the state you were in for five, ten, fifteen years before that month happened. If you train like a madman for seven days and then quit because you can’t get out of bed on the eighth day, the same thing will happen. Your body viewed those seven days as an attack on your system, and it’s going to do its job and get you through it so that you can get back to normal. The only way to break the chain is to CHANGE YOUR NORMAL. Two days a week, for a half hour with decent intensity is more than enough to see some real results so long as you hit those two workouts every single week. Once that routine is absolutely locked in, add a third day that you do when you can. Once that’s locked in, you add a fourth. Make other changes too, like trying to go to bed a half hour earlier at night. Drink 2L of water a day. Cut back on processed sugar. Put together a mobility routine that takes ten minutes and do it before bed. Make changes at a pace you can handle WITH CONSISTENCY, and you will see some truly amazing results in the long term. If you try to change everything all at once and go from 0-Olympic Athlete overnight, your body and mind will resist it with an intensity equal to or greater than the changes you’re making, and you will set yourself up for failure.
You have to accept the hard truth of life, that this shit can take YEARS. A balanced strength and conditioning routine, a balanced and healthy diet, drinking enough water and getting enough sleep are really the only scheme that ever works in the end, and everyone realizes it eventually after going through enough hyped up bullshit. You may have to start small, but what’s more important than anything is that you keep going.
Tyson LaRone (Agatsu Senior Instructor) Check out his blog here Beyond BJJ