Almost every day on social media, I see someone touting the greatest new workout program or diet plan. Every post usually has 2 components. First, they have someone advertising the plan who is absolutely jacked. Although it is usually not explicitly stated, the underlying assumption is that the reason they are jacked is because of the plan. Second, they make big promises. “Build muscle FAST” “Get a six-pack in 30 days” “Lose weight quickly and easily” And so on.
There is No “Best” Plan
I’ve talked with several people who have actually made progress on their fitness goals, and I’ve experimented with quite a few workout programs and diet plans myself. I haven’t found a particular program or plan to be better than the rest. People lose weight on both low-fat and low-carb diets. People get in shape from Crossfit, P90x, and the local gym down the street. When someone tries to sell you their “best” program, immediately be skeptical. Lots of ways work.
Consistency is Key
The most important factor in making progress on your fitness goals isn’t a particular workout program or diet plan. The key is being consistent over the long haul. Most people don’t see progress because they quit their workout program or diet plan too soon.
Consistency is Hard
Being consistent is hard. It’s difficult to get up early in the morning and exercise before going in for a long work day. It’s tough to eat healthy food instead of snacking on chips or candy bars at the office. It’s hard to drink enough water, get enough sleep, and limit your alcohol intake. It’s tough to do these things day in, and day out.
6 Ways to Improve Consistency
How can we stay consistent with our diet and exercise, so we can actually make meaningful progress toward our fitness goals? Here are 6 ways to help:
- Choose an exercise you like to do. Or if you can’t find an activity you like, at least pick something you don’t hate. I remember talking with someone who was trying to run early in the morning, but she hated running. This was a bad fit. Yoga was something she enjoyed more, so she was more likely to stick with it. My wife likes CrossFit partly because of the social aspect—she gets to work out with her friends. There are hundreds of different exercise programs out there—try to find one you like.
- Make exercise as “easy” as possible. By “easy,” I don’t mean not working hard. It’s important to push yourself and get your heart rate up. But find something that fits into your schedule. If the gym is far away and it’s difficult to fit it in to your day, it probably won’t happen consistently. Maybe doing a workout video at home is a better option. If you’re not a morning person, it might not be realistic to get up early and exercise. Be honest and find something that works with your schedule.
- Make sure you can go again tomorrow. A few years ago, I would push myself as hard as I possibly could when working out. But sometimes I would push too far, or try to lift too much, and then I would get injured. Injuries killed my consistency, because I was out of exercising for a few months. It’s better to work out at a lower intensity if it means you can stay healthy and stick with your workout plan for the long-run.
- Find what’s reasonable. Some people get really excited about a workout program and try to exercise 5-6 days per week. For most of us, this isn’t a realistic pace to keep up for the long haul. Think about a reasonable schedule that you could keep up a month from now, a year from now, or even five years from now. For many of us, 3 times a week (about every other day) is a more reasonable pace. Instead of pushing too hard and then quitting, find something you can stick with over time.
- Make your environment work for you. It’s hard to make healthy eating choices, especially when you’re hungry. It’s too easy to reach for the bowl of candy or tub of ice cream in the freezer. If you want to stay consistent with your diet, try removing junk food from your environment. Don’t even have the stuff in the house. Make junk food and dessert something that happens on a “special occasion”—for example, once a week when you go out to dinner.
- Aim for 80/20. With diet (as with exercise), people can get extreme, and try to get on a diet plan that isn’t sustainable for the long haul. Instead, aim to stick with your diet 80% of the time. For most people, 80% is a more realistic goal. Most of the time, you stick with your diet. But the other 20% accounts for things like donuts on a Saturday morning, going out to happy hour with friends, or eating dessert once in a while.
What do you think about the encouragement to stay consistent with your diet and exercise plans? Is there anything about what you are doing that you know isn’t realistic for the long haul? What is one thing you could incorporate into your fitness routine to help you be more consistent?