At Thrive, we get asked time and time again what one thing people can do to lose weight, run faster, build muscle, etc. Our answer is always the same: choose something that moves you towards your goal and do it consistently.
It’s not sexy; it’s not magic; and it often leaves a look of disappointment on the face of the questioner, but if you want to make significant and sustainable improvements to your health and fitness in 2021, be consistent.
If you want a second bit of advice, it’s be congruent. You can be as consistent as you like with your 10km runs, but if they all finish with a bucket of fried chicken and thick chocolate milkshake, your success will be limited.
Take time thinking about what you want to achieve, what you’re prepared to do to get there and what that means for your beliefs and behaviours. This is exactly what Ian did a year ago and his story is below. You can also read how his personal values shape everything we do at Thrive on our website.
A year of consistency
Towards the end of 2019, I took some time to decide what was important to me, how I wanted to live my life and what I would need to do differently to make it all come together. I knew I had to be consistent in my behaviours, but consistent around what?
Two values kept coming back to me:
- health should trump everything and
- always take personal responsibility for your actions and results
I decided to let them guide me through 2020. Let me take you through my year and share what happened with a year of valuing health above all else.
My goal for the year was to be in the best shape of my life when I turned 50, whilst retaining my already good health. The top priority was to build muscle and become more “solid”. Secondly, I wanted to lose some body fat, but without affecting my health.
What this year of valuing health above all else has taught me is that focussing on the process rather than the outcome is what matters – that’s where consistency is important.
I don’t usually share before and after pictures as they can trigger a wide range of reactions, not all of which are positive. As we’re discussing what’s possible if we’re consistent in our behaviours, I’m making an exception as the photos are part of the story. Make of them what you will, and be assured that:
- They are taken a year apart, between Christmas and New Year, after a few days of un-tracked eating (where I ate and drank what I wanted, without limit).
- There are no fancy lighting or camera tricks, just me standing in my pants with Shirley in charge of my iPhone.
- Both were taken first thing in the morning before eating or exercising.
My goals didn’t include any specific, numerical targets on purpose (that’s not what works for me). However, here’s what happened:
- Weight: Decreased from 73.4kg to 72.2kg (1.2kg, or 2.6lbs).
- Body fat: Decreased from an estimated 14.9% to 12.4% (2.5 percentage points).
- Lean body mass: Increased from 62.5kg to 63.3kg (0.8kg, or 1.8lbs).
- Blood pressure (as a proxy for general health): Always below 115/75.
- Blood test: All results were good, with a slightly high cholesterol level (which I suspect has genetic roots – thanks Dad).
I had expected to gain more lean body weight, but as it took me 3 months to regain the 2.8kg (or 6.2lbs) of weight I lost over 2 weeks of suspected Covid back in March 2020, I’m not surprised. Lockdown also impacted my ability to lift heavy weights, something my body needs in order to grow.
Following the structure of Thrive’s programming, I focussed my efforts in three areas:
- Exercise: 4-6 resistance training sessions a week, with additional cardio conditioning, depending on the training phase. Other than being ill, I’ve met my training goals, even when on holiday or over Christmas.
- Nutrition: Eating more calories than ever, with a high protein intake, high carb intake and moderate fat intake. At the peak, I was eating 4,000 calories a day, though to maintain my weight, it’s more like 3,200. That equates to 44 calories per kg of bodyweight, which is high.
- Lifestyle: As I didn’t drink much alcohol (other than orchestra weekends, which have been cancelled since the first lockdown), it was easy to cut this out, other than for special occasions. I prioritised my sleep more and limited reliance on an alarm. I did more of what I enjoyed (walking on the beach, playing the oboe), though I could do better.
The added bonuses
Being consistent with the process for the last 12 months has paid off in more ways than intended:
- Strength has increased. More muscle doesn’t necessarily mean more strength, but during the year, I set new personal bests for squatting, bench pressing and deadlifting.
- Greater speed. It’s been about 10 years since I ran for performance sake, yet last month I ran my fastest five miles ever.
- More flexibility in my diet. Tracking my food has allowed me to be more flexible with having chips on the beach, Friday night pizza or furthering my quest to find a curry to match the ones I used to eat in Mumbai. I can plan around big meals or adjust intake over the following days. Without tracking it would be much more hit and miss.
- Better structure to my day. I get up, eat, start the day, then exercise and crack on with work. I rarely have to think about how to fit my exercise in to the day.
- Fewer mental distractions. Following the process rather than reaching for the outcome means if the metrics go against me, that’s fine, I have confidence they will bounce back.
- More responsive body. I can focus for longer when I need to. I have the energy to do more, if I want to. I put this down to eating more of the nutrients my body needs.
The big conclusion
By committing to valuing my health consistently, and adopting behaviours to reflect that, training well and eating well has become second nature. Whilst the training is hard and tiring, it’s not a chore to do. Neither is there a debate about whether I train or not – it’s just one of the things I do.
Writing this down has made me realise that the work I did with Shirley Hensher (aka The Change Agent) about five years ago on my identity was the foundation for this year. I am someone who values their health and therefore my behaviours naturally reflect that.
The year ahead
It’ll be more of the same, i.e. consistently training and matching my nutrition to my progress. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
What about you?
Does any of this chime with you? How do you stay focussed and driven towards achieving your goals, whatever they are? What drives your behaviours and decisions, and are they things you’ve settled on, or have they been set by others?