A key issue that a lot of people have with training – both athletes and people training for fitness – is seeing results consistently. They might see a couple of weeks or month of improvements, followed by weeks of stagnation, or worse, a regression back to where they started. This usually results in frustration, leaving them asking “why aren’t I getting anywhere??” and, occasionally, people giving up completely.
So what causes stagnation, or a negative reduction in training results? If you’re healthy then the answer is always the same: the body is not receiving the required stimulus to change.
The body is lazy. It will quite happily carry on working the way it is doing until it is given a reason to do something else. If the body is asked to lift a heavier weight than it does normally, or for more reps than normal, then it panics! This panic will cause it to adapt by becoming stronger and more efficient at recovery. If the body is asked to run further or at a faster pace than normal, then it will panic again. In this instance the body will adapt by producing more red blood cells and increasing the force of the heart to move more oxygen around.
However, if the body is asked to lift the weight it is used to lifting, or running the distance that it’s used to lifting at a pace it can do easily, then no panic occurs. The body is not sufficiently stressed to feel the need to adapt. This will lead to stagnation. Even worse than that, if the body recieves no stimulus at all, then its fitness will reduce. For the person training for health, this is can be demoralising. For the competitive athlete, it can be disastrous!
As can be seen in the diagram above, the aim of training is to provide a great enough stimulus to cause the body to panic and adapt in order to ‘supercompensate’ and become stronger/faster/fitter. If this stimulus is not provided consistently, then no long term improvement will be made. If the stimulus is repeated at the peak of each supercompensation curve, then improvements will be made over time, as the peak of that curve will become your new initial performance level. The key to this is making sure you provide enough stimulus at the right time to continue to improve. Without getting into specifics, we have roughly a week before our supercompensation to the initial stimulus is gone. So if you train on a Wednesday and then don’t train again until Friday of the week after, then the benefits of that first session are lost. It meant nothing. Frustratingly, you will remember doing two training sessions, but not get any better. Inconsistency has prevented your improvements.
This is the root cause of stagnation. This is the root cause of frustration. This is the root cause of not achieving your performance goals.
Consistency is absolutely key!
So let’s talk about how to achieve consistency. As a species, we’re very easily lied to, most of all by ourselves. We find it very easy to trick ourselves into thinking we’ve been consistent, when we haven’t. If you want to make strides forward in your training, you have to have a method of ensuring consistency.
One way of doing this is to get yourself a Calendar of Accountability. This is simply a record of when you trained, what you did and how hard it was. A client of mine uses a standard flip calendar, on which they circle each day they’ve trained, the distance ran (if cardio) or the gym movements completed (if strength). This way they can see at a glance when they’ve missed sessions and when they’ve hit their target load for the week.
Now if you miss sessions due to something unavoidable (work/family commitments, injury, etc.) then that’s absolutely fine – but mark it on the calendar to show that there was a reason for no session that day. That way if you have any empty weeks with no training and no indication of a reason why, you know who’s accountable for the missed sessions (It’s you, by the way). Additionally, if you miss a session for whatever reason, you know what you need to do the following week, you know what distance you need to cover, what gym movements you need to complete to get yourself back on top of your supercompensation curve.
For competitive athletes, it also allows you track when you had ‘heavy training weeks’ and when you had ‘light training weeks’ made up of recovery sessions. This will give you the ability to hit the accelerator pedal or pump the brakes at the right time to ensure peak performance when you need it.
Not a fan of pen and paper? There are a plethora of smart phone apps that can be used to record every rep, set, weight and distance of every session, many of them automated from smart watches and Garmins. Don’t like messing with apps? Just use the calendar on your phone to record the information you need.
This simple method has allowed my client to maintain their motivation as they can see what they’ve done, how far they come and where they’ve taken charge of their own improvements. It’s also given them the impetus to make sure they reach their weekly training targets, because they are now accountable to themselves.
So there you go, consistency and accountability are the two key elements of a training cycle that can be most easily forgotten, but make the biggest difference. So get your calendar sorted, go do it now!
Until next time,