For the moment, let’s put aside the debates over what to do for training (movements, weights, reps, etc) and consider, arguably, a bigger piece of the puzzle. Perhaps the most important component to a successful training program is consistency – from the ATHLETE. As a coach, one of the biggest barriers to individual and team success that I’ve seen is in regards to commitment and accountability. Athletes often put in work inconsistently, going hard for a few days or weeks, then disappearing due to vacations, club sports, or just plain laziness. Maybe it’s one lift a week, or maybe it’s a full two weeks here and there, or maybe an entire season with no training at all. Either way, a lack of consistency will have MAJOR negative effects on the athlete’s efforts, as well as the team’s success.
In order to understand why consistency matters so much, we first need to understand how training works in the first place. Exercise science is founded on the principle of adaptation behind Hans Selye’s “General Adaptation Syndrome.” At its most basic, it states that the human body will adapt in response to external stress. Physical training is exactly that – stress. Our very muscles are being torn apart, connective tissue stretched to the limit, cells pushed to failure. We are physically traumatizing our bodies, which in turn sparks it to grow back better, stronger. The flip-side of this coin, though, is often ignored. Your gains aren’t guaranteed, and more importantly, they aren’t yours to keep without effort.
By definition, the principle of adaptation also means that “Detraining” is a very real phenomenon. Consistent training results in improved performance, but stopping or significantly reducing training causes a partial or complete reversal of the positive physical adaptations you’ve earned, thus compromising your athletic performance.
Think of your physical gains as a ladder. If you want to reach the top, aka be the biggest, fastest, strongest version of yourself, you’ll need every rung to get there. You cannot reach the 7th rung, for example, without the first 6. It is the principle of progressive overload at work – you must continually encourage incremental change. Progress is a process.
Let’s say you complete every workout for 2 weeks, but then in the 3rd week you miss one or two. No big deal right? You’re going to get right back to it next week. Wrong. You didn’t motivate your body to improve – you hit the first two rungs of the ladder but then skipped the 3rd. At best, you’re stuck on the second rung until you get back to work. Worse, let’s say you miss the entire week as well as the next in favor of a vacation, club sport tourney, or any other commitment. In this instance, you’re not just stuck on the current step, you’ve actually begun falling backwards down the ladder.
Your body adapts to any demand you place upon it quite quickly – and will adapt to a decreased demand just as fast. Research has shown that while maximal strength doesn’t necessarily decrease as quickly during detraining – power, muscular endurance, mobility/flexibility, aerobic and anaerobic conditioning all begin a precipitous backwards slide the moment you break the chain of consistent training.
Performance training is not a “sometimes” thing. It is not seasonal. Nor is it something you can do only when you feel like it, and still expect to see results. If you want to be a better athlete, or if as coaches we want to help kids reach their true potential, we have to commit to a continuous training regimen. Off-season, in-season, good days and bad days – we must constantly work in order to stay at our best. It takes a lot of consistent work to see progress – but it only takes a few missteps to see decline. If you want to see real results, commit yourself!
PLEASE NOTE: While consistency is required and hugely important, it does not cancel out the need for proper recovery (read our article on that here). It is your effort and commitment that must be consistent, not necessarily your intensity or volume. Balance is ever the key!