Why Consistency Matters Most—for Your Brain and Body
Just getting through your workout might be more crucial to your progress than how hard you work. Science explains.
If you want to strengthen your muscles fast, should you do more or fewer reps? Eccentric exercises? Muscle confusion? HIIT? Turns out, just showing up on a regular basis—aka being consistent—can do way more for your fitness than obsessing over all those other variables can.
Consistency might sound like the boring grape on a plate of tropical fruit, but trainers have talked up its power for years. Now, new research proves they are onto something.
A team from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) recently reviewed studies on resistance workouts in untrained women and found that the biggest strength gains weren't connected to a certain rep scheme, loading technique or workout duration. They were tied to frequency—a direct result of the women's consistency.
Getting it done regularly, no matter what "it" looks like on any given day, typically adds up to more overall volume, which is key to creating lasting change.
Mandy Hagstrom, PhD and lecturer at the University of New South Wales School of Medical Sciences
"Light or heavy, working to failure or not—for building strength, it may not be as important as we thought", says Mandy Hagstrom, PhD, the lead study author and a lecturer at the UNSW School of Medical Sciences. In her review, women who did two to four workouts per week saw an average 3.3% increase in lean mass, 25% increase in upper body strength and 27% increase in lower body strength over an average period of 15 weeks, regardless of how they trained. Why? Getting it done regularly, no matter what "it" looks like on any given day, typically adds up to more overall volume, she explains, which is key to creating lasting change. (There's no reason to think consistency wouldn't benefit men too, notes Hagstrom.)
What does all this mean for you? It's simple. If thinking about what type of workout you'll do, for how long and with what equipment overwhelms or stresses you, you're more likely to stall, says Hagstrom. Same if you experience a sudden lack of motivation, crazy-packed schedule, blah energy or bad weather. Stop sweating the details and prioritise just showing up and doing something, time and time again, and all that BS will become white noise.
Your Brain on Consistency
Consistency doesn't just set your body up for change, it affects your mind too. "Creating a consistent habit is like clearing out a new path on a trail", says Amanda Leibovitz, PhD, a certified mental performance consultant and the manager of sports programmes for the Semper Fi & America's Fund. "Every time you want to do something new, like train at 6am or go for an evening run, you're cutting that new path. It's rough at first and may be hard to walk on. But then, with consistency, it becomes easier to travel". Eventually, your body and brain will prefer to take that path over the one that's become overgrown (the not-doing-the-activity path), because it's become the one of least resistance.
Consistency goes even deeper: Developing it changes how you think about yourself. When you do the things you told yourself you'd do (start a workout, cook instead of order a takeaway), you build self-trust, says Leibovitz. Once you have that, you're not going to want to lose it.
How to Just Do It
Being consistent might seem easier said than done, but it doesn't need to be. "One of the big traps when it comes to creating consistency is all-or-nothing thinking", says Nicole Gabana, PhD, the director of sport psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. You know, the "I don't have the heavy dumbbells this workout calls for, so I can't do it" or "I don't have a full 45 minutes, so I'm going to skip my run" logic. "But doing something is always better than doing nothing", says Gabana. If some of those workouts aren't your best, who cares? Rather than focus on what you didn't do or could have done better, applaud everything you did do. Because showing up when you weren't really feeling it can help you get after it the next time you're debating skipping a session.
At the end of the day, it comes down to this: Just do what you can with what you have. That's enough to keep the path towards a healthier, happier you well-groomed.