Consistency & Sustainability

We live in a fast paced world, more so than any other time in history. This speed of life has had a profound effect on our expectations. Patience is no longer a virtue held by many, but has been replaced by a desire for fast results. Nowhere else is this so abundant than in peoples desire to change their body, especially when it comes to exercise.

Consistency is the type of banal word that makes grown adults roll their eyes and make a strange sighing sound that you associate with a teenager who’s been asked to unpack the dishwasher. There is nothing sexy about consistency; it doesn’t have the same lure as a ‘4 week total body transformation’. For this reason, few people actually keep up exercise consistently. They will go to the gym for 3 or 4 months, then stop for 6 months, pick it up again before summer to get a better body in time for flesh being on show, only to give it up again just ask hastily as it began.

So why is there this inconsistency in people’s ability to be consistent?

The first reason is people’s expectations. We look at athletes or cover models of magazines and decide we are going to look like them. At the same time we have been brainwashed into thinking that results come thick and fast. You go to the gym for a couple months but don’t get the body of an athlete (who spends their life training) or a cover model (who are expertly lit, made over, airbrushed and touched up) and are surprised and disappointed in equal measures. You told yourself this time was going to be different. You either consciously decide to stop going to the gym or actively start pursuing some other interest that now takes up your time. Within a matter of weeks you find it hard to remember how you ever had time for the gym.

The second reason preventing consistency is people’s reasons for exercise. When your sole reason for going to the gym is to lose weight or sculpt a better body, you are going to fail. For exercise to be sustainable it has to be fun. You have to want to do it even if you aren’t seeing results because it makes you happy.

Results rarely happen in a linear fashion. For six weeks you might notice no changes and then you notice a shift. You then plateau again for a month and then another noticeable shift. This happens because of the way the body heals (slowly) but also because of our hectic lives.

We don’t live our life in a vacuum and despite your best intentions when you start a program there will be weeks or months where things come up. You might need to finish a big project, you might have a partner who gets sick, you might have some financial worry that takes up your headspace and a whole host of other examples.

These things can affect both your ability to make it to the gym and your ability to recover and repair. If you sole reason for exercise is to lose weight any one of these hurdles could spell the end of your exercise pursuit as your weight plateaus or worse still, increases. If you’re doing exercise because you enjoy it then this won’t happen and exercise can be a nice thing to do when everything else is stressful.

The third reason that people aren’t consistent is due to sustainability. People on the whole choose exercise that is too hard for where their health is at. Working up slowly is for wimps, let’s kick it into overdrive. You haven’t been to the gym in ages but now you’re going five times a week. Or despite not being very fit you sign up to intense exercise regimes like bootcamp, crossfit, PX90 or Shaun T’s Insanity Challenge.  You were tired and barely keeping up before you started exercising like a contestant on the biggest loser, but now you are really suffering. This kind of intensity makes it hard for people to keep up long term, even when they do see some results.

Sustainability is further impaired with dietary changes that normally go hand in hand with a new exercise regime. Rather bizarrely it is common for people to start eating less when they begin exercising. This probably links in to a desire for quicker results but often it is due to a poor understanding of nutrition that is put out in the mainstream. People start having more salads and ‘low calorie nutrient dense foods’ while upping the training. Their new ‘clean’ diet wouldn’t support their body if they were in a coma so it is not coming close with the new exercise that has been thrown in.

Both the overtraining and under eating make consistency and sustainability near impossible.  Energy will be low, making workouts tougher and recovery slower. The most difficult point of any workout is getting out of bed and making it to the gym. With constant aches and pains and sleep that never feels like enough, the warm cocoon of your bed starts to win you over and the cold, harsh realities of the gym are sidelined for another day…and another day….and another day.

If the sultry whispers of your bed doesn’t get you, injury will. Over training and under eating make your more prone to an injury occurring. This can be from tiredness-induced clumsiness, poor technique, or just an inability to recover at the rate you are asking. Injury or illness will force you to take the break that you have needed but ignored.

Exercise is analogous to running a successful business. People see Richard Branson jumping out of planes or doing publicity stunts and assume that this is what he does everyday. Realistically this accounts for a tiny fraction of his work. The rest of the time he is doing the menial day-to-day tasks that it really takes to run a business. On the surface when compared to the glitzy stunts these may appear boring, but generally they are not. They are the enjoyable part of running a business and are the consistent practises that keep the business running.

Exercise should be about creating health first and foremost. Getting a better body is an added bonus but is not a prerequisite for becoming healthier. There are plenty of people who become much healthier through exercise but see very little change in their body composition. This doesn’t mean they are doing it wrong, it is just human nature. We have been brainwashed into believing that we should all look like the 0.000001% of the population who make it onto the cover of magazines or into movies. This is not only unrealistic but also damaging.

Below is a collection of articles that I have recently read on the topic of exercise that further some of the points I have made in this article. I would highly recommend checking them out: 

This article originally appeared on the Frame blog here.

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Chris Sandel is the founder of He is a nutritionist, working with clients on a one-on-one basis, as well as creating online trainings and products about health and nutrition. He is the author of The Health Trap: Why "Healthy" Eating Isn't Always Healthy which is available on Amazon UK and Amazon USA.

Chris has three free emails series. One is on how to quit dieting. One is on simple tests you can do at home. And the other is his take on the world's healthiest foods.

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