Over 20 years ago, I was sitting in a 10th Grade Algebra II classroom in Trumbull, Connecticut. It may seem funny now because I look at numbers and data every day in my coaching work, but mathematics and I were not friends (on any level) when I was in school (in some ways, we’re still not friends). At the time, Algebra II was my personal hell (though the following year, Pre-Calculus would surpass it and become the worst fiery inferno I encountered in high school).
Anyway, Mr. Leonard (Lenny) Klein was my teacher for Algebra II. Every day, there would be announcements over the school PA system and collectively, the school would say the Pledge of Allegiance. At the end of the Pledge of Allegiance, Mr. Klein would reach down and touch his toes. When asked why he did this, he responded, “If I touch my toes every day, there won’t be a day when I just wake up and it's not possible anymore.”
At the time, I had no way of knowing that this was the single greatest thing I’d learn (and remember) in high school. I couldn’t necessarily put this verbiage around it when I was 15 years old, but what Mr. Klein taught me is this:
Consistency is everything.
The Three Pillars
One of my coaching mentors, Mark Sortino of Team MPI, taught me that there are Three Pillars of Endurance Sports: Self-Awareness, Frequency, and Consistency. After so many years as a coach and after working with hundreds of athletes, I firmly believe that all three are important, but if we were to rank them and I’m being honest, my experience over the years has taught me that consistency is probably the most important of these three.
Consistency is defined by Merriam-Webster as “harmony of conduct or practice with profession.” In other words, that means that consistency is doing something repetitively and often. Many people mistakenly think that consistency is synonymous with “perfection,” but that’s not true. Consistency for athletes means doing something movement-based on most days. It doesn’t have to be exactly what you wanted to do or planned to do; when it comes to this principle, it’s more important to do a percentage of something than to be concerned about doing the “perfect” version of something.
Just 3-4 days of exercise per week reduces mortality from everything (and I mean everything) by over 60%. (No pill or magic drink can do that!) In the endurance sports world, consistency is what lays down the foundation from which any and all gains can follow. Research conducted by Dr. Philip Skiba and other leading experts conclusively shows that once you reach the age of 35, you will lose 1% of your strength and fitness every year. If you become detrained (read: you have taken months or years off of training) beyond age 35, you will never gain back what you lose during that time away from training. (That’s tough to hear, but it’s true.) The good news is that it is possible to manage this decline; you can reduce that rate to 0.1% per year if you keep up with training beyond age 35 and if you don’t take prolonged breaks from training.
The Bottom Line
The moral of the story here is this: You must stay consistent with movement and exercise. There is nothing more impactful for your overall mortality, wellness, and health than consistency of movement over time. Beyond those important things, consistency is key to accomplishing any and all performance-based goals you set for yourself in training and racing. No Olympian ever won gold by doing workouts haphazardly. No one ever qualified for the IRONMAN World Championship on a handful of workouts every couple of weeks. No one set a PR by being a weekend warrior and only being active on their two days off of work each week.
It’s odd that I first learned this lesson about consistency in an Algebra II classroom, but it is where I learned it. Little doses of thoughtful and significant actions every day add up over time to something big and wonderful. Give yourself the best possible chance of having a rich, healthy, and full life by consistently moving your body. If you choose to set goals in endurance sports beyond that, give yourself the highest probability of success by prioritizing your workouts and recovery.
Consistency is everything.
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.