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It took me 10 years to realise this quick maths about consistency…


21 DEC 2023

Ever tried to do a high intensity 5k every single day for 2 weeks? Or lift weights to failure everyday for a month?

I hope for your sake you haven’t. And if you’re somebody who’s thinking about it, I already tried it for you when I was 16 and I’m recommending you don’t bother. I’ll spoil the ending for you:

  • You’ll give up

  • Injure multiple muscle groups

  • Feel horrifically unwell (even before the final straw)

  • You’ll return to normal in a lower state of fitness than when you began

For some reason when I was young, this is what I thought consistency was. ‘I kick a football every day, why shouldn’t it be the same for a 3-mile run?’ - I had never really heard (or bothered to understand) the concept of a ‘recovery day’, we hadn’t covered much about muscle repair, supercompensation, progressive overload or overtraining in my GCSE PE classes, and if we had I wasn’t listening. All I knew in life was 1 speed - go, and go fast.

To me it just seemed obvious that if I had a day where I wasn’t doing ‘the thing’ (whatever my current goal or focus), then I must be slowing my progress and hindering my ability to get to my end goal as quickly as possible. At this age I was still under the false impression that muscle growth happens in the gym literally as you are pumping the iron, and to be a good distance runner you just needed to run hard every day until it eventually just happens. I had some serious learning to do.

Now although most people are not as naive as 16-year old me, it is still common for consistency, progress and ‘doing x every single day’ to be conflated. Sadly in this mindset, it is all too likely that as soon as we hit the road bump of reality, disappointment and deflation replaces what was previously optimism, confidence and motivation.

It took me a stupidly long while (considering my profession), probably until my late 20’s, to realise that consistency and long-term success isn’t showing up and hitting a perfect session 365 days of the year. It's more about knowing that:

  • 50 of those days are probably just going to be low key recovery sessions which don’t involve much intensity on your part - you just need to show up and make sure you do them.

  • 40 days you need a total rest / holiday anyway and shouldn’t be anywhere near a gym. Sometimes it’s nice to exercise on holiday (I like to), but here the pressure should be completely removed, the intensity massively lowered, the frequency reduced, and all focused towards enjoying the break from the norm

  • 30 days of the year you’re healthy enough to train and feeling good to go, but all of a sudden - life happens and the session gets missed. This can be for all kinds of reasons, you got held back at work, your child was sick, you had to take your dog to the vets etc. Rest assured these had better be good reasons, but there will be reasons why the odd session just can’t go ahead.

  • 20 days a year you’ll make it to your session but have to improvise and settle for something sub-par because things haven’t gone the way you would have hoped. Perhaps a tweaked muscle results in some adapted exercises and a shortened session, but hey, it’s just another punch to be rolled with, and it’s important to account for that.

  • 10 days perhaps you're sick or so fatigued that you need to miss the session, and in these instances you really won’t benefit from training, and would in fact probably delay your recovery. Now, don’t get me wrong, if you’re feeling like a 5.5/6 out of 10, you probably still need to go get that work done, but there’s a line that probably occurs 2-3 times a year for most people which shouldn’t be crossed for forcing the workout.

So that’s a rough estimate of 150 days in the year where for a very good reason, I know I won’t be doing ‘the thing’, whether that’s a heavy lifting session, a sprint session, a football match or a distance run - but that’s okay. The magic is therefore in nailing the majority of my year, and knowing those 200+ bouts of exercise per year, every year will do crazy things for my health over a few decades.

Now here’s a question to leave you with - if you were to carry out 200+ bouts of exercise in a year. What kind of split would you apply to the following:

  • Heavy strength training

  • Circuit training

  • High intensity cardio

  • Steady state cardio

  • Competitive sport

  • Active recovery (Walking, hiking, gentle swimming, yoga, mobility etc.)

Let me know how you would dish out your 200 days!

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