The consistency of physical activity and lifestyle versus “body transformation” programmes

Written by Mark Williams, Lecturer in Sport

I have some “expertise” in a small area of human performance although it might be better phrased as experience in working within performance settings. Therefore, these are simply my views rather than facts that are backed by research literature, albeit I like to consider myself objective and evidence based – as far as I can be.

When it comes to training for health benefits – and indeed for performance in competitive sports environments, the key to factor in being successful lies in consistency.

Firstly, then, we must define what success means to us. For a professional athlete, success may relate to winning, while in others it could be associated with contracts and monetary rewards. For many of us, however, it may relate to a particular weight or level of general fitness, or to simple be more active. In addition, given the links between exercise and mental wellbeing, success might also be to feel more confident.

Regardless of these markers of success, being consistent with your approach is what will ultimately lead you there. This sounds a little cliché; however, the intention of this post is to show that consistency does not equate to ‘attacking’ every training session you do with utmost intensity. Instead, it is about consistency with your behaviours from a more holistic perspective; one that puts you at the centre of the decisions you make to guide you towards your successful outcome.

Of course, there will be distinct differences to the training approaches adopted according to each of the aforementioned scenarios. For the aspiring athlete or those already established, the training regime is likely to be, at times, pretty gruelling and will require such individuals to go to some extremely demanding places - both physically and mentally. There may also be higher costs attached to not fulfilling the requirements of their training programme, whether that be through some form of fines system or reduced performance within their sport, which ensures that they remain on task.

In this regard, it may appear easy to be consistent. However, even in elite level athletes, there is a focus on the athlete as a person – certainly more so in recent times, or so it would appear - not a robot that is capable of more-more-more. Therefore, consistency is so much more than being 100% compliant with a training regime.

In recent years, however, online trainers, gyms and TV fitness ‘gurus’ have promoted so-called transformation programmes: 8-weeks, 12-weeks, 16-weeks etc. This is not intended to belittle these programmes; they will likely work, in the short-term, and those participating will be fitter as a result to committing to a block of training and working physically hard for the specified period of time.

However, these programmes are likely very challenging physically, probably including forms of high intensity interval training or HIIT, and other circuit type activities.

There is also, typically, a drastic change to diet in this time-frame, with a generic eating plan that accompanies the training programme. This may be a reduced carbohydrate type diet, or a version of intermittent fasting, all of which - in addition to the exercise regime, leads to calorie deficit and to weight loss as well as a rise in fitness levels.

If success to you is to accomplish a given physique in x-amount of time, then this approach may well provide this outcome. On the flip-side, once completed, there is unlikely much of this training approach that can be continued. The human body cannot sustain training with such intent indefinitely, not without sufficient periods of rest and recovery.

In elite athletes, there will be much downtime and periods of restoration to allow them to recover physically and mentally, and training intensities and durations will also be governed by how the athlete is presenting, assessed daily and weekly by sports medicine staff. In other words, their training is tailored to them.

The consistency requirements for athletes is to be physically and mentally prepared to perform for major competitions, and therefore consistency encompasses their sleep hygiene, their time with family and friends, their time to relax and switch off, to eat well (consume enough energy to sustain performance and promote recovery). Their training is clearly important; however, it’s everything else they do in between that requires consistency. It is a holistic approach.

Therefore, it is this principle that is applied to you, it is not about committing to an 8-week intensive training programme that does not change habits in the long-term. It is not about training with 100% intensity all of the time because that is not possible and certainly will not be maintained consistently for any extended period of time. Instead, it is about being consistent in your choices, in all aspects of your life. Such consistency has longevity to it because you place you at the centre of the decisions you make.

Below is a list of things that this may well include but it is not exclusive. The key thing is to be consistent with actions that positively contribute to you. These overtime, may take on different forms or may feature more greatly in certain time-frames than others. This is normal.

  • Move every day. Do not make this any one thing in particular, it could simply be a walk. Another day, it might be a jog or yoga.

  • Train in a way that feels right for you at a given moment on a given day. It might be that you enjoy weight training but do not feel like following the same programme you normally do; so change it and do what it is you feel like doing!

  • Eat a balanced diet. Enjoy food! Do not starve yourself but also avoid over indulgence. Don’t force yourself to follow a particular diet that has become vague.

  • Create opportunity to sleep well. Give yourself a chance to sleep better by making your bedroom as dark as possible getting yourself away from phones and tablets a good hour before bedtime.

  • On days where you do not feel so positive, avoid social media. It will probably make you feel worse!