Consistency: the chameleon of health & fitness
Sometimes, you don't recognize great advice immediately. Well, at least I don't.
Years ago, I read this suggestion in a book on Far East philosophy and initially dismissed it as little more than clever word play: "Make the pattern, to break the pattern."
A few years later, however, I realized the advice had much merit. Without knowing it, I'd done exactly that to lose a bit of body fat and some upper body muscle mass to help me succeed in cycling races.
Years before that to improve my overall health and body composition, I'd adopted a diet as free of fat as humanly possible, ate carbohydrates indiscriminately, and shed about 30 percent my former body fat.
People told me I looked good with a body fat percentage just under double digits. I certainly felt good. At a health club, I took a test to gauge physical fitness and scored above the 99th percentile for my age.
But by my mid-30's, the desire for all-around-fitness to have the aerobic endurance to play pickup basketball all night with my brother and his buddies yet also move a fair amount of weight in the weight room gave way to seeing if I could succeed against the best cyclists my age in the mid-Atlantic states.
To do that, I was believe it or not! too fat. And at 5-11, 172 pounds or so I was also carrying too much muscle mass in places where it would not help cycling, mainly my upper body.
So the eating pattern that had produced success for years needed to be broken. I needed to make a new one.
The new pattern replaced most of the simple carbohydrates I'd been eating with protein and complex carbs while I cut back a bit on total calories. I still kept my dietary fat as low as possible, though.
I also broke my old exercise pattern. Basketball with my brother and his buddies was replaced with additional bike rides. Heavy lifting was replaced by lighter lifting for more repetitions to make sure I stayed strong without building new muscle.
With these two new patterns, my body fat percentage as well as my body weight dropped. A few friends confided that I didn't look as healthy with less muscle, but that something I learned to accept.
For at 160 pounds and 6 to 7 percent body fat I was flying up hills and riding faster for longer than I ever had before.
Two seasons later there's far more to successful bicycle racing than dropping weight and gaining fitness I did well enough to win the jersey given to the best 40-plus rider in the state. What made the award even more satisfying was that a few of the riders who had sought the jersey had previously raced professionally.
Regardless of your personal situation, the concept of "Make the pattern, to break the pattern" is essential whenever you strive to reach the next level of health and fitness. Yet people who really know me, find such a declaration from me ironic, for not only do I find comfort in consistency, but I also often preach it to those who seek my advice.
In short, you need view the quality of consistency as the chameleon of health and fitness, changing shades as your goals and circumstances change. I hope today's column provides some insight, on why breaking patterns can be as important to your long-term health and fitness as making them.
Without a doubt, patterning yourself eating certain foods in prescribed amounts at specific times of the day creates a structure that makes it far easier to handle the reduction of calories inherent in any weight-loss diet. Working out regularly at a certain time of the day makes it far less likely you'll skip a workout when you just don't feel inspired to work out.
We are all creatures of habit, take comfort in it, and fortunately enough tend to resort back to it when times are tough.
But all patterns eventually lose their effectiveness. Sometimes your mind rebels against the routine, but it's just as likely your body will engage in its own type of protest.
It's called poor performance.
That's why competitive athletes rarely maintain a peak for more than six weeks. And that's why most in the know don't even try.
An in-the-know competitive runner, for instance, will structure what I call a macro-cycle about a half year's plan of workouts this way.
She'll go from about an eight-week period featuring longer, slower runs designed to develop an aerobic base, to an eight-week period featuring hilly runs designed to promote strength. After that, she'll incorporate a number of shorter faster ones into a final eight-week period to increase speed near the end of which she competes in her most important races.
After such a cycle, her body and often her mind wants a break.
So she breaks the pattern with a bit of cross-training possibly hiking with the hubby, swimming with the kids, spinning in a health club with a friend. During this recovery time, however, she's also assessing what she did well and what she'll do differently when it comes time to make another training "pattern."
It's quite possible that she'll decide she was a bit lacking in leg turnover when she raced, so when it comes time for the next period of hilly runs, she'll stress keeping the descents fast and not worry so much about ascending all-out. Or if she decides she tired too quickly in races, she may extend the base period next time, spending two more weeks to accrue more total miles before she starts the more taxing, hilly runs.