Consistency: Smart Training

mountain runningConsistency is an important concept when it comes to developing health and fitness. Being consistent with proper training, a healthy diet, and overall lifestyle habits will not only provide improved health and fitness but it will help you remain injury-free too. In this post I want to discuss training consistency. A lot of people lack training consistency; they train a few days a week for a marathon and often these workouts are anaerobic for some if not all training sessions. Those who are consistently inconsistent will end up sick, injured, and run-down, while wondering why they can’t get faster, stronger, and more fit. Let’s learn how to be consistent!

Being Consistent With Training

The way to train consistently is actually pretty simple – find the time to train and don’t train above your ability. Athletes who don’t train enough are just about as common as those who train too hard. Actually, I think it’s safe to say that most don’t train enough and when they train they train too hard. Most often when someone trains at their current ability they enjoy it a whole lot more because they’re not finishing the workout exhausted and maybe even in pain. They look forward to the next workout and will be much less likely to skip a workout. Finding the time to train may be difficult for many but if you don’t have the time to properly train for a long race then don’t register for it in the first place. Instead, train for something you have time for. If you only have time for a fifteen minute workout every workday then that’s fine – just don’t use those fifteen minutes to run hard two or more miles and then train three hours on Saturday to try to make up those miles.

Don't use the cold as an excuse to not train.

Don’t use the cold as an excuse to not train.

It’s easy to miss a workout and it’s easy for those missed workouts to add up quickly. Next thing you know, you trained one or two times in the past week. If you had been developing some fitness, it doesn’t take long to lose it. If you haven’t yet got into a progression of consistent training, a workout here or there isn’t going to do much to get your fitness going. Most people live high-stress lifestyles and are already pressed for time, so they turn to high intensity training (HIT or HIIT – the second ‘I’ for interval), to try to slap on some quick fitness gains. Hey – the research says that this is the way to train today. All we need is about ten minutes a few times a week and maybe even a thirty minute session every so often. It’s what all the cool people are doing – train less and become more fit. Unfortunately, these gains from such high-intensity training bouts will be short-lived at best, as those who only train in such a way are recipes for disaster. That disaster is an injury. As I’ve discussed in Part II of the Sock Doc Training Principles, there is a time and a place for this type of training. If and when you’re ready to train hard(er) then you also need to be consistent with that high intensity training for a set duration (session, sessions per week, and weeks of high intensity). One HIIT workout a week for a few weeks is more risk than reward.

Train Something Somehow and Do it Often

So how often should you train? Well that depends on what you’re training for but ideally you should be doing something almost every day. That means at least six days a week you should be doing some type of training, even if one or two of those days are active “easy” recovery days. Training every day doesn’t mean you’re training long miles or hard miles or heavy weight day after day with inadequate recovery. You’ve got to sprinkle in the light training days, walking and movement days (yoga is good here), and even just good old fun play days where you’re outside running around or playing a different sport with your kids or others.

Training Properly is All About Adaptation

Marathons, half-marathons, mud runs, and ultra distance races are becoming more and more popular over the years and many enter these races as their first running event feeling as though they have something to prove to themselves or others and the shorter races just won’t do. Even the Tri-Geeks don’t let you in their special club unless you do an Ironman. I see a lot of people train for a marathon or other long distance event by running just a few times a week. They typically do three to five miles per run twice during the week and then they fit in their long run on the weekend – a good ten, fifteen, if not twenty or more miles. It’s just not enough training, and it’s definitely not consistent. Most people don’t have the time to train for these events but they want to do them because it’s what everybody else is doing. They (you) could instead train for a 5K or 10K, not 13.1 miles or more. You will have a more positive overall experience with less chance of injury or compromising your overall health.

Consistent training and logging in quality time to build an efficient aerobic base is what will get you through a long distance event. Many think that they only need to train more if they want to be competitive. This is simply not the case. It’s about training properly to stay healthy before, during, and after the race. So if you don’t have the time to train a consistent five days minimum a week for a marathon, don’t do it. If you do have the time, then follow a plan of slowly building your aerobic capacity and overall fitness. Runs during the week of just a few miles followed by the “weekend long run” isn’t consistent, smart training.

The distance doesn't matter.

The distance doesn’t matter.

It’s not how many miles you’re running as a total, but how you allow your body to adapt to the training. If many of your workouts are two to three miles, then your body will adapt very well to this and you will be a great two to three mile runner. So rather than run 30 miles a week where 20 of those is your weekend long run, change it to a run of ten, seven, five, five and three during the week. When you slowly build up to 40 miles a week then you can add several of those additional miles into the long run, but not all into the long run. Let your body adapt, which has to do with training and recovery. A twelve week half or full marathon training schedule is great if you’re already conditioned but if you’re not, then you need a twelve week 5K or 10K training schedule. There’s nothing wrong with that. Actually for most it’s more right than wrong.

So if you want to be fit and healthy then start slow and low – slow pace and low miles. As your fitness develops with no expense to your health, you will soon be adding duration and intensity to your workouts. But let it come to you; don’t chase fitness down impatiently, it’s a guarantee you will pay the price and probably despise training too, none of which is good. So get moving and don’t procrastinate!

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  1. Yad says

    Hello Doc. How have you been? Thanks for teaching us so many things. You´re rock. What do you think about crossfit. It is very tough, but I love it. I got a good aerobic base, but not to much strength. Pullups kills me. I have to be patient. I have noticed that I run more faster than before. I got 1 month doing crossfit, but I want to know your thoughts about it. God bless you Doc. Keep teaching us what nobody wants to teach us.

  2. Steve P says

    I am 61 and have been running for 37 years, most of those year as a 7 day a week runner (about 50 mpw average). What I find is I have to constantly adapt and change my workouts. If I’m really feeling dead legged, I’ll just walk briskly for a few miles for that day’s workout. I always wear a HR monitor and follow the Maffetone protocol, have been for 8 years.

    A new thing I added to my day is I no longer sit at my desk at work. With a 3 hour round trip commute and 10 day workdays, I was sitting 13 hours a day. My back wasn’t happy, so my chiropractor suggested I start standing a little at a time. I am now standing all day and had to back off my miles on my runs because my legs were tired all the time. It’s slowly getting better, my back no longer aches and I’m hoping for improved racing due to all this standing. Time on feet, right?

    Thanks for the great post and a constant reminder of how to adapt, but remain consistent.

    • says

      Good to hear & I think stand up desks are great but standing in one spot too much isn’t good either and your legs shouldn’t be suffering like that so you can’t run as much.

      • Steve P says

        I move all the time, doing single legged stands and squats, walk to get water, etc. But I’m looking at this as something I’ve never done. I’ve been sitting at work for 30 years or more, now all of a sudden standing all day is like running all day, or at least it feels that way 😉
        I’ll try taking short “sitting” breaks and see how it goes. I’m expecting much stronger legs come this race season!

  3. SteveL says

    This is a timely article for me. I started training for a very hard (hilly) 25K trail race quite a few months ago. I had put in four days of running and a couple of cycling on my trainer into my plan. However during the middle of the thing I came down with a case of Achilles Tendonitis. Using your site I worked on recovery but had to cut back on my mileage while I did so. I was able to ramp my mileage back up over the last five weeks but not to the level I really needed to get to prior to the race. The other thing I really underestimated was the elevation profile of the race. They added 1000 feet the day before the race. I was not trained for that kind of hill climbing both length and steepness. By the time I got to the second aid station with a little over three miles to go and come down the mountain my quads were shot and I couldn’t brake myself very well. Let’s just say the last three miles were painful.

    The entire run was in the rain and the top oh 500 feet was snow. There wasn’t a lot of it but it was cold. Quite a few of the miles (steep long hills) were walked with all levels of runners but the elite people must power walk them to get the times that they do.

    I managed to do the thing in just over four hours. After I got done I tried to walk out my legs but my feet starting cramping. I tried to eat some food for carbs and protein but by then if I sat down my feet started to cramp again and this went on for hours post race. The other thing is that I started shivering about 20 minutes after the race and couldn’t stop until I got in a very hot shower. In fact my support friends put me in the car and took me back to our rental house rather than wait for our other friends to get done as they said the color in my face was not good! :)

    During the race I was worried about over hydrating as my first half marathon in the fall I think I did that. The last four miles of my half marathon I could hear and feel water sloshing in my stomach so I didn’t drink a lot during this trail race. I maybe drank 20oz of water and two gels worth of food over the four hours. I am a pretty good fat burner since I went low carb and aerobic training over a year ago.

    Could the cramping have been a result of not enough water and nutrients or was I simply not trained at the level I needed to be for such a hilly race or all of the above?

    Oh and yes my quads are massively sore with the second day being worse but I can go up and down stairs without wanting to cry out so I am recovering! 😉

    Thanks for any observations and advice and perhaps others can learn from me what not to do!

    • says

      Cramping is always going to be from some imbalance of the nervous system which results in muscles not firing properly. That can occur from dehydration, electrolyte depletion, glucose depletion, injury to tissue, just to name a few.

  4. Bill P says

    What a great article Sock-Doc! I dont have much time to train, but I take the slow and low approach. Its not always what I want to be doing, but not willing to push it just to have a (insert mileage) sticker on my car. Thanks again for your FREE site.

  5. Jreh says

    Hey Doc.

    Question: Do you ever deal with athletes who have a really low metabolism? I’ve been paleo the last 3 months and been training fat metabolism for quite some time BUT my body temperature has become very low. 95.4 is the lowest I’ve seen it but it gets worse the more I train endurance. It’s especially bad when I run in a fasted state. During the run I feel fine but later I’m fuckin freezing! I consume around 700 calories after. My overall energy has hit the floor and I’ve started getting dizzy at times and my labido has tanked as well. Thoughts? Can too much endurance mess with metabolism?

    • says

      That ain’t good. Place to start is to have your thyroid checked. And the entire blood panel with antibodies: TSH, free T4, free T3, TPO & TG antibodies.

      I discuss too much aerobic & hormone problems in my Training Principles.

  6. says

    I completely agree with the importance of consistency. I have never been so consistent in my training as I was last year before Ironman and I race has never come together for me as well before. Working with a plan, really working the plan, is incredibly beneficial both physically and mentally.

  7. Courtney says

    Do you have advice for athletes who need to travel for competition? (incorporating travel disruption into training routine)

    If a healthy aerobic paleo goes to an international competition with an 8-hour time zone change, she probably needs to get there 2 weeks early to adjust to the time zone. But then how to deal with training/food during those 2 weeks in a hotel room, perhaps without access to good paleo food? (Just bring a jar of coconut oil and find some grass to run barefoot somewhere?) Or is two weeks a short enough time that some adjustments in diet and training won’t be too disruptive?

    Alternatively, what are the most important components of diet/training to “bring with me,” versus what can I safely ignore for a couple weeks? It is a big competition so I want to feel at my peak. :)

    Thank you for your awesome website! I already owe a lot of my health and success to you.

  8. Sheri says

    Newcomer here…..LOVE this site. Thank you SO much for all the wonderful information. I was up late last night reading, reading, reading…:D

    I have a couple of questions but haven’t gotten through all your articles yet, so forgive me if you’ve answered this somewhere else.

    I have been running consistently for the past 3 years and have run 3 half marathons. I am now training for another half marathon in May and then my first full in September. I run 4 times a week right now, with 2-3 of them being tempo/HIIT runs and one long slow distance run. I also do some swimming and some biking as well. Once my half in May is done I plan to up my training to 5 days a week. My question is, how do I know if I have a good aerobic base? Is the 9month test the only way to determine this? If I do 5 work-outs a week training for a full, how many of them would be aerobic and how many HIIT runs? I’m not a fast runner by any stretch, and I see the benefits of both types of workouts, but I certainly don’t want to overtrain. I don’t believe that’s happened yet, but I have noticed an increase in my cravings for salty foods lately and am wondering if this is something to consider.

    Thanks so much for all your fantastic advice.


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