Bruce Lee is noted for many things. In addition to bringing martial arts to the big screen around the world, he’s the founder of Jeet Kune Do, widely considered the first mixed martial art. He’s also noted for many philosophical quotes that people apply to various parts of life. One of my favorite quotes by the master martial artist is this, “Long term consistency trumps short term intensity.” I believe this applies in training and in life. We get transfixed by the allure of the before and after pics from programs like P90X or Insanity. In truth, both of these are good programs for short periods of time. But because of how intense they are, people can generally only stay with them for short periods. Super intense programs are great for putting the proverbial cherry on top of someone physically. However they are a recipe for disaster in most cases, especially if that person hasn’t been consistently training.
In truth, the physical pounding you can take from some of these programs isn’t even the biggest issue. The real issue is that the time and commitment they require (a measure of intensity themselves) are often more than most people can sustain. It becomes a matter of willpower. I recently spoke of this in a “Chalk Talk”. As I said then, if you go to the willpower well often enough, it runs dry on you.
So what’s the answer? Do something you can be consistent with. Do something sustainable. Do something that you can plug into on a regular basis, something that doesn’t stretch you so much that you have to grind all the time to get there. And don’t misunderstand me. You WILL have to grind sometimes. But there is a season for everything. The times in between those really intense bursts are when you will lay your foundation. Honestly it’s those boring “punch-the-clock” workouts, to quote strength coach and author Dan John, where you will make the most progress.
There are two really simple and effective programs that encapsulate this thought process. The first one, you can find in a book called Simple and Sinister by Pavel Tsatsouline. The program is comprised of five TGU’s per side and five sets of ten one hand kettlebell swings per side. Every day. Seriously. That’s it. The author gives you bench marks to work towards and recommendations on when to increase the load you are working with. The object is to stick with the program until you can do all five TGU’s per side in ten minutes (I believe… it’s been a while since I read the book) and all five sets of ten swings per hand in five minutes with a bell that’s roughly half of your bodyweight. Does it get boring? Oh my Lord, yes. But does it work? Heck yes it does. Want to get strong? Get to a half bodyweight TGU for multiple reps then come back and talk to me. Want to burn some calories and increase your endurance? See my last comment as applied to swings. But the real beauty of the program is that while it’s very effective, it’s also extremely do-able. If you can’t make time in your life for 5 TGU’s per side and 100 total swings, you have life balance issues or priority problems. Or you just aren’t looking at things in the right perspective.
The second program is the “40 Day Program” made famous by the above mentioned author Dan John. Here’s the simple version. Pick 5 exercises, preferably ones that hit all the primary movements (hinges, squats, pushes, pulls, core, etc.) and complete 2 sets of 5 reps at a weight that you know you can lift for those two sets. And don’t miss a weight. Ever. When the weight gets too light, increase it a little. Rinse and repeat for 40 workouts. It sounds too easy right? How could something that easy possibly work? When I went through this, I set four personal bests out of five exercises. And I kept the weight light enough that I never missed a rep in 40 workouts. Not one. Boring? I was ready to claw my eyes out at the end but it worked like a charm.
The consistency of the work that goes into these two programs is exactly the spirit behind Bruce Lee’s quote. “Long term consistency trumps short term intensity.” Showing up consistently to put in the work, even if it’s less work than you think will do the job, will always pay better dividends than burning bright for short periods then burning out.