Once the idea of a training goal has become set in someone’s mind, they’ll usually start to draw up an action plan of their route to success. In a heightened state of motivation to get after their new goal with vim and vigour, they go from zero to 100 immediately… “I’ll train 5 days a week, do active recovery runs on rest days and stretch every evening before bed”.
While this sounds great in theory – and seemingly the fastest route to obtaining the results you want – beyond the first couple of weeks where you can, almost literally, run on enthusiasm, this level of intensity becomes unsustainable and not practical for most. To be able to stay on top of a schedule with the training volume of a professional athlete when you’re holding down a full time job plus family commitments is unrealistic and quite frankly – given the chance or burnout – not optimal for you either.
What then, happens on the days when the motivation isn’t there?… The days when you’ve come home from a tough day at work, have to make the kids tea, then make your own tea, help the kids with homework/homeschooling and then wrestle with them for the best part of an hour during the nightly bedtime routine.
Suddenly, it’s already past 8pm and you remember you’ve still got today’s training session to get done because you were too tired from yesterday’s gruelling session to get up this morning and do it before work as planned.
Is it at this time you remind yourself of the soundbite given by every PT in the land at one time or another?… “When times get tough, remind yourself why you started”… Or… “Always refer back to your ‘why’”
It might work the first time, or even the first couple of times but at best it does nothing more than guilt you into action- it doesn’t motivate you to want to train. No longer is training an enjoyable experience; you’re not building towards the goal ahead of you anymore, you’re using your original goal as the stick that beats you into avoiding failure.
Eventually it’ll become too much. Eventually you’ll say… “No, not today – I need to catch up on sleep, rest, TV, spending time with family…” – or simply you just ‘can’t be arsed ‘ because the intense volume and all consuming focus has taken its toll on your body and mind.
When that day comes you’ll feel an automatic sense of failure because you deviated from the plan you set in stone and told yourself you wouldn’t falter on. You were unable to meet the impossibly high expectations set by the version of you that was overcome by a wave of motivation one Sunday evening. In reality, all you were guilty of really was not factoring in all the other plates you have to spin in life.
You might not throw in the towel there. You might take a day and get back on the train of unsustainable perfection trying to pick up where you left off. The next time you feel like you can’t keep it up or ‘can’t be arsed’ will come, probably a lot sooner than the first time – and the more it happens, the more it happens.
If you’ve not given up completely by this point, no doubt your efforts to stick to your program have become disjointed and half hearted. At best, you’re now carrying on out of sheer doggedness to finish what you started but gaining little enjoyment from the process.
It takes great character to be able to take stock once already started and think “I need to scale back, review the goal and make my plan more sustainable”.
It takes experience and someone who has been through the process of trying to achieve unsustainable perfection – probably many times before – to know you should allow for flexibility, deviation and ‘failures’ from the start of your journey towards your goals.
The number one way to achieve any goal you set- and quite possibly the only way – is consistency.
Sustained consistency always beats short lived perfection.
If adherence to a program is unmanageable when the chaos of life is thrown in to the mix then you’re not realistically going to be able to keep it up 100%. What, say, if you were able to keep it up 80% and were accepting of the fact that occasionally you might miss a session every now and again, or the odd bit of training here and there wasn’t completed to the fullest because you had to cut it short – maybe because you didn’t have time or you simply just weren’t feeling it that day?
What if you allowed yourself that 20% non-completion rate without guilt tripping yourself or focusing too much on the ‘gains’ you’ve lost ground on?
It might make adherence to the plan long term a lot more viable. It might take the pressure off being perfect all the time. It’ll definitely make training more enjoyable.
Let’s say for example, that your goal is to improve your 5km run time from 25 minutes to 20 minutes within a 12 month period. You’re aiming to follow a program that involves 5 sessions a week. Each session is approximately an hour from start to finish – including warm up, main session, cool down and insta post.
Up until now you’ve just run recreationally with no real structure but you’ve built up a decent aerobic base and you want to take it to the next level and see how far you can push yourself.
Now, over the course of 52 weeks in a year, even if you only managed to adhere to the program 80% of the time (4 runs a week instead of 5) you’d still have banked 208 hours working towards your goal.
If, for argument’s sake, completion of the program automatically guaranteed success then realistically moving through it at a rate of 80% would only require 3 a bit more months beyond the original 12 month mark to hit your goal of a 20 minute 5km time.
Now, simplified as this example may be, the message here is this; irrespective of what you do, the time will still pass no matter what. You can use that time to commit to sustained consistency and continue to progress at the fastest rate you can manage in that time, all other factors considered; or, there’s the alternative. A cycle of setting goals, overshooting your expectations of what you can commit to and eventually and inevitably aborting the mission when you become demotivated at the overwhelming task you’re not managing to keepi up with..
What’s a better place to be 12 months down the line of setting the goal of knocking off 5 minutes from your 25 min, 5km time?
Being 80% of the way there with a new 5km PB of 21.00 minutes and the very real prospect of continuing on to achieve your ultimate goal or….
Continually starting over because you were unable to perfectly execute an overly rigid plan looked great on paper but didn’t allow for individual circumstances.
Speaking from my own experiences, a few years back I undertook a full strength program as part of my training – 6 days a week, 2 sessions a day at times. A LOT of volume but I could fit the sessions in around my schedule well. I had a goal in mind and I was dedicated.
What I didn’t factor in was how much the training volume would take a toll on my body and that although my working hours allowed for the sessions to fit, the early starts and late finishes that my job required were not optimum for recovery. Before too long, my body was battered and in need of rest. The sessions were a chore and it felt like my progress was halted.
A more sensible version of myself would’ve recognised the signs of fatigue, adjusted to what was manageable for me at that point and chose modest progress over perceived and forced perfection.
Not wanting to deviate from the plan – the program was the program – completing it to the letter was what was required in my mind and what I thought was the best and quickest route to achieving the goals I’d set.
Before long, motivation waned and niggling injuries caused by fatigue occurred because I was attempting to train at a level I couldn’t sustain. The enjoyment was lost and ultimately I stopped.
Had I approached the whole thing with a bit more pragmatism and perhaps a little less stubbornness, and also heeded the advice I give to the people we work with on a daily basis (value lessons were learned) then perhaps I’d have got 80% there on a schedule I could have managed ready to review how I could then attack the final 20% with motivation still in tact.
At J13 Fitness, the team often checks in with an unofficial mantra of ‘where fitness and life meet’ when it comes to implementing philosophy into the programs we develop and run with clients. This isn’t because we believe that people leading busy lives should set the bar lower when it comes to achieving their fitness goals; it’s because we know that the key to optimum results is consistency. Finding what works for people long term.
Our aim is to get you there, in the fastest time possible and through the most manageable method for you – and when it comes down to it, sustained consistency beats short lived perfection every time.
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