by Tim Ford
Having successfully lost weight and kept it off and seen my race times continue to come down since I entered the sport, I am constantly being asked about ‘the secret’.
I think I have said this more times than I can count, but it really is all about consistency. I remember when I was younger and panicking that I wasn't getting fast enough. I asked a pro triathlete and friend of mine Clint Kimmins, what should I do. He told me, “Just keep doing what you’re doing! It’s clearly working!”
It is weird those pieces of advice you actually take on board and those that you don't. This piece of advice from Clint definitely changed my approach. Where before I was getting frustrated because my program was always very similar, I now understood it didn’t need to be different every week. When I first started coaching I felt that pressure to give different sessions week in and week out. But then that voice came back and I realised that consistency is really much more important than giving flashy trainer sets every week.
I have now been coaching for 5 years and I think that trying to make athletes be patient and consistent are two of the biggest challenges I have faced. Some athletes took up so much of my time and effort because I was constantly trying to convince them to do less and to stop looking for short cuts, while others would train the house down for a week or two then drop right off.
I recently asked a group of athletes what is the thing that they would need help with. The overwhelming response was consistency. This made me think, is consistency something you can teach people, or is it purely down to the individual to suck it up and force themselves to be?
I am conflicted. No one taught me how to be consistent but I am now at a point in my life and training where I don’t see it as optional. I plan my days as much around my training as I do my work. It isn’t always fun or easy but there is rarely a day or week (or month) where I simply didn’t have time to train. I make it happen automatically.
But did I really do this myself or is it something that I was taught by my coach and mentors?
I genuinely think that consistency does come down to a person’s own will. As a coach, I cannot force a person to actually do the workout. But I now definitely think there are things I can do as a coach to help people find ways to develop their own consistency.
Central to my approach to coaching is to set up my athletes for success. What does this mean? It means I am not going to try and force my athletes to train 20 hours a week if they already work 80 hours a week. I will not try and force them to fit into my programming. I try and make my programming fit their life. By making a program achievable (not easy) it makes it easier for them to get it done and therefore make it part of their routine. I think this is a big step to developing consistency.
One tool I really love to use that I know a lot of my athletes don’t love is benchmarking. This isn’t science-based. I am not going to get into the benefits of a 20-minute FTP compared to a ramp test. But I like to use three key tests to help my athletes see the benefits or the losses because of their level of consistency. If someone has been training better and better but might start questioning why they seem to be doing so much of the same training, there is no better response than a 15-watt increase in FTP, taking 3 seconds off their CSS, or a drop of 5 seconds for their threshold run pace. Similarly, if someone has been less consistent than they should be, it can be a great way to shock them into that realisation. (Although the excuses I hear after a bad threshold test usually put a smile on my face.)
Another way I think I am able to support my athletes to become consistent is to closely manage their fatigue. This is something I use the most as a coach. One of the things I love about Today’s Plan as a coaching platform is that it monitors both objective and subjective metrics. So if someone has abnormally high fatigue, I can see if that is purely from training or because they might have had a fight with their partner. By effectively managing fatigue, I am able to back off the load when it is needed, push when it can be pushed and make changes on the fly – because even the best-laid plans can change.
I have had so many times when an athlete has reached out to me and go “How did you know I needed a rest day tomorrow?” I often lie and say it is because I am just an amazing coach. But in reality, it is because I know how to read their numbers and have a good understanding of them as an athlete.
Coaching consistent athletes is easy. They are a lot less demanding. They get their program, ask questions if they aren’t sure, but for the most just get it done. As a coach, this is usually my first priority; I want to help them become consistent. Not just because it means it makes my life easier, but also because it is the single best way for them to improve.
So if you are struggling to be consistent, try and use some key things to help you develop good habits. Perform your own benchmarking. This might be a 2km loop you run every 2 weeks or a certain Strava segment you attempt every week or even a certain pair of pants you want to fit into. Once you develop these good habits, just keep doing them! You will see better results in the long run than you ever will by looking for short cuts in the short term.
Tim Ford is the CEO of MX Endurance and a member of our team of coaches. He has gone from being a complete novice weighing well over 120kg to a top athlete with a 4:06 PB for a 70.3. Through his time in the sport he has learned skills which help him to assist athletes of all levels and abilities.