The Tortoise & the Prairie Dog: Consistent & Steady Wins the Race

The biggest challenge I face as a personal trainer is getting my clients to adhere to a consistent exercise schedule.

When I get to know new clients, I learn about their goals, their restrictions, their current health and fitness level, and other particulars like where they’ll exercise (home, gym, outdoors, etc), which equipment they can use, and how often they plan to work out.

These are productive conversations! And even though I can predict most people’s goals (survey says…. lose weight!) I like to dig a bit deeper to find out exactly why they want what they want.

Do they run out of steam too easily to keep up with their kids?
Do they have a race they want to run?
Is there a major event on the horizon and they want to rock a killer outfit?
Did they get a wake-up call during their last doctor appointment?

Once I have the information I need, I can get to work.

The devil is in the details, as they say, so when I begin creating a workout program for a new client, I don’t simply toss together a few random exercises. I have the big picture in mind.

I map out a progressive program, and then fine-tune it as we go based on the feedback my clients provide.

Most clients start out with great enthusiasm. They’re gung ho! They’re in it to win it! This time will be different. This time they’ll stick to it. Because they put money down, and hired a personal trainer, and their trainer is going to work her magic and they’ll get fit and strong and then we’ll toss our heads back and laugh as we high five and skip off into the sunset together.

Wait, what?

Their training begins.

The first few weeks usually go quite well, and we’re both optimistic. But far too often, the spaces between workouts and check-ins get longer and longer, and sometimes those spaces turn into… *crickets*

Life gets in the way. It happens to everyone. The real question is… how bad do you want it?

I’ve been training clients for long enough to know that I must stress up front that the first several weeks are the hardest. Clients are fighting lifelong exercise-avoidance habits. They get tired and sore after workouts. It begins to feel overwhelming or intimidating or just plain yucky, and their initial enthusiasm begins to wane.

This should go without saying, but the clients who commit to a consistent exercise program see the best results.

There’s another article to be written about those who completely fall off the wagon, but I want to address the ones who are hit-or-miss: the ones who continue to exercise, but not with any regularity.

These clients “prairie dog.” They go quiet, then resurface from time to time, sticking their heads out to ask for another workout. They do that new workout, but then go quiet again.

“Yoohooooo….” nudge nudge nudge.

I firmly believe that any exercise is good exercise, so is a workout here and there better than none at all? Done safely, you’re darn right it is.

The problem, though, is I can only give those clients random workouts. That means there’s no ‘big picture’ to their training, no overarching plan. They’re a beginner when they start.  They’re a beginner a few weeks later. Every time they prairie dog it’s starting over again.

It’s hard to make progress like that.

The clients who commit and stick to a schedule (let’s call them the “tortoises” for the purpose of this analogy) – those clients get a program.

What’s the difference? Professional athletes don’t perfect their skills by aimlessly exercising only occasionally. They put the work in and make steady progress.

You’re no different.

Do you know who makes consistent, measurable progress toward their goals? The ones getting their workouts in; the ones who spend more time working on their goals than wanting them.

Having goals is all well and fine, but it’s easy to want something. It’s far harder to commit to doing what it takes to get there.

My job as a trainer is to design the program that will help you get what you want. Your job as my client is to focus on what comes next and how you’ll do it.

If you’re a prairie dog and want a workout here and another there, I can do that. If that’s the biggest commitment you can give right now, so be it – it’s still a healthy step and I commend that.

If you’re a tortoise and want a trainer’s expertise in smashing your goals, grab your calendar and let’s get serious, because there’s no magic cure except consistency and effort.