Walk into any gym and talk to a trainer about what they think is the most important factor for achieving health and fitness goals and creating a balanced healthy lifestyle and they will likely have an entire list, sorted by specific goal type and importance. If you were to ask your friends or family who seem to have it all together their answers would quite often scare many people away from even starting, citing that it sounds like far too much work, or they just don’t have that kind of time. Now, if you were to watch an infomercial it would certainly be made to look easy and quick to begin a major life overhaul. What each of these aforementioned sources fail to address most often is the single most important factor in achieving any goal and rather than string you along and have you wonder what it is that I’m talking about, here it is.
There it is. The most important factor in achieving any goal, especially a health related goal. Nope, it’s not sexy. It won’t make any headlines. The thing is though, health is not created instantly. Fitness is not achieved in a matter of days. Strength does not increase by any measureable levels in one workout. Consistently displaying behaviours for extended periods of time is what makes measureable and meaningful changes in one’s health. That is not to say planning, and the actual workouts themselves do not matter. Sure, some workouts will promote muscle gain more than others and certain diet strategies will result in greater and quicker fat loss but only doing them once or inconsistently is not what will create and maintain your health.
“Behaviour A” creates a measureable change of “1 unit” and,
“Behaviour B” creates a measureable change of “2 units”
“Behaviour A” has a low barrier to entry – in other words it is not very hard to complete daily or on a consistent basis and the barrier to entry for “Behaviour B” is relatively high, or take a significant effort to complete.
If “Behaviour A” is completed every day of the week, because it is very easy to do so it would create “7 measureable unites” of change. Now, “Behaviour B” is much harder to commit to and complete so lets say it only gets done twice per week, resulting in “4 units” of change. “Behaviour B” was twice as effective each time it was completed but due to a lack of consistency and a high barrier to entry it’s less effective alternative produced almost twice the results.
Taking this simulation even further and stretching it over 4 weeks we end up with the following:
Week 1 – 7 times
Week 2- 7 times
Week 3 – 5 times (life got really busy)
Week 4 – 7 times (back to where we wanted to be)
Week 1 – 2 times
Week 2 – 2 times
Week 3 – 1 time (life got really busy)
Week 4 – 4 times (we made up for last week and then some)
“Behaviour A” results in 26 units of change while “Behaviour B” results in 18 units of change even with the extra work done in week 4. To make this scenario a real-life example “Behaviour A” could be walking for 30 minutes and “Behaviour B” for 60. It could also be completing 5 minutes of various planks and bridges each day versus hardly ever doing that Abz Ripper 4000 XTREME routine your co-worker found online instead of completing the WENUS. (If you don’t understand that reference watch this video –
Earlier on in my training career I opened up my email after dinner and had two emails from a woman. The first was stating that she wanted to start training with me ASAP. The second was an email asking why I hadn’t responded to her yet. I should add the first email was sent late morning and the second was sent before I had even sat down for dinner. However, she wanted to work with me and also wanted her husband to do the same so I figured I would see past this, regardless of how irrational it was. After meeting with her and her husband we had determined that each of them would train with me 3 times per week – her around lunch time and her husband at 7pm after work – Monday, Thursday and Friday. At that time my last client on Friday was in the early afternoon but I decided sticking around on the Friday would be worth it if they were going to commit that much time and money to training with me. We met for each of their first sessions, and they went quite well. I met with her a second time and she still did not want to do anything outside of training with me. The next day her husband cancelled. Then she cancelled Friday afternoon. I waited around for her husband and at 7:15pm he cancelled. The next week all 6 sessions were cancelled but I refrained from charging them in hope that they would turn it around. After a month I got an email from her saying that she wasn’t seeing any results and that I was not catering to her and responding quickly enough. Apparently my 24 hour response policy was not good enough and she wanted the results of having a coach without actually using the coach. Out of 24 sessions that month between the two of them, 3 were attended and I refunded them all of their unused sessions. I will say this though, they were consistent – at not showing up.
Enter a different client. He only had mornings from 6-7 to train. We started 3 times per week and had a few cancelations with him citing not feeling well, probably 1 each week. Remembering the above experience I decided to switch our training to 4 times per week from 6:30-7am, allowing him an extra half hour of sleep (as well as myself). The best part was that attendance increased to almost 100%. Sure, I would have preferred 1 hour sessions, but it was not realistic for him, therefore he could not remain consistent. In the time we aimed for 3x per week we saw almost no results. If he cancelled a session he ate poorly that day and until our next session. Increasing his attendance and consistency we saw him drop 6 pounds in 2 months and completely change his posture and body awareness. The change looked like he had lost 10 to 15 pounds. We continued to see results until he was finished training with me and his fitness level far exceeded where I thought we would get to.
These two stories highlight the importance of consistency. In the case of the couple – training 3 times per week for an hour was not a low-barrier to entry activity for them. Had I been able to convince them to try some less taxing behaviours first I think we would have been able to see huge change; I should have known though from that first email exchange that these weren’t clients I wanted to work with but that’s a post for a different time. Something else you can take from these two stories is how to manage expectations – also a post for a different time.
So, before you go out and try to put together a program with the latest, most effective strategies and begin a major life overhaul start with one behaviour and do it consistently. From there you can add on other behaviors once it no longer becomes a chore. Don’t lose sight of the long term, overall benefits of smaller actions done consistently and if some days you are able to fit in more activity or more healthy habits, well then that’s just gravy – and everyone loves gravy.
Did you learn something from this? Was it a complete waste of time? Want to read about something in particular or have additional questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org