Sure, consistency is key when it comes to fitness. But this is why you should move your body differently, today
If you’ve ever committed to improving your fitness, you’ll have heard an integral piece of advice: consistency is key. While we live in a culture that encourages extreme bouts of exercise – say, after the excess of Christmas or ahead of a tropical holiday – it’s steady, continual movement that yields the highest results. The data bears this truth out; in a 2019 study published in the journal Obesity, researchers found that previously overweight participants who had lost 30 or more pounds and kept it off for a minimum of a year, were those who held a regular, moderate to vigorous exercise regime, versus those with more sporadic, all or nothing habits.
That’s not to say that keeping up identical exercise habits, week in, week out, is beneficial. The truth is, for maximum results – increasing strength, upping endurance, burning more calories – it’s important to bring new ways of sweating into your regime. ‘If you do the same thing every time you train – let’s say, running 5K – your body becomes more and more used to it,’ explains Surbiton-based personal trainer, Mark Cousins.
‘Every time that you complete that 5K, the more your body adapts to the stress it has been exposed to, making the run feel easier and easier. As such, you stop increasing your fitness.’
Exposing your body to a new stressor, something it has not yet adapted to, is key for preventing plateau and keeping your fitness progressing. So, how might you think about switching it up? To continue with the 5k example, rather than doing your run four times a week, you could transform one session into intervals-based skipping, advises Cousins.
Here, you would skip vigorously for a set amount of time (the specifics will depend on your personal fitness levels, but, for example, as hard and fast as you can for 30 seconds, before a 30-second break and repeat for 10 minutes). You could also try intervals on a rowing machine: 8-10 rounds of 30 seconds fast and 30 seconds of rest. If strength training is more your thing, Cousins advises that you bring in some explosive, circuit-based training into your regime: squat jumps, sled pushes, battle ropes and burpees.
There are caveats. First off, being consistent in how often you train is still important and it might be worth getting into the habit of exercising multiple times a week before you start to layer on extra complexity. Once you are exercising regularly, ‘how much you switch it up will depend on you as an individual. If you are training for a specific goal, [such as] running a Marathon or completing a triathlon, then you won’t want to change your plan too often as it won’t lead to you hitting your target. If your aim is to improve your general fitness, though, you might want to change it up more often,’ advises Cousins.
Another way to switch things up is by incorporating progressive overload into your existing workout by upping the demands on your body so that you make gains in your muscle size, your endurance and your strength. ‘Progressive overload means changing the stimuli in your workout to make it slightly harder than the previous time. This might look like lifting a heavier weight or doing more reps than last time for strength training, or running a bit further or the same distance in a lower time, for cardio.’
That’s not to say you should start slinging a 20KG kettlebell around if you’re used to a 12KG, however. Progressive overload ‘should be managed slowly and be planned out, so that you stay injury-free. If you go from running 5K to 10K, for example, you might not be ready for it and might injure yourself.’ Baby steps are the way forward. The best way of doing this is to work with a trainer, but if that’s out of your price range, there are plenty of online plans to start with.
The short story is this: nailing multiple sessions per week is a route to creating a body that serves you for life. To really accelerate your progress, though? Much like how you wouldn’t eat the same chicken salad for dinner every night or wear the same outfit daily, you shouldn’t hit repeat on the exact same workout every time. Enrich your life and increase your fitness level by mixing it up.