Updated: Nov 28, 2020
There is a certain word that I find myself repeating over and over again in my sessions my clients. So much so that it has become a bit of a running joke amongst us "Don't make me use the F word again..." is my usual playful response to many questions about how to improve at something. If only I had my own "swear jar" for every time I had to use this word, id be a very rich man!
The F word I'm talking about is actually "FREQUENCY". I cannot stress enough how important a factor this is when trying to make any positive change to your life. The more often you do something the easier and more second nature it becomes. This applies even more so to physical changes in the body, such as improving your strength or flexibility. New things are always going to be the most challenging the first time you do it. Lets say you are working on a new exercise or skill. The first time there might be a lot of concentration required to remember all of the correct cues for what you are trying to do, combined with potential anxiety or self doubt regarding wether or not you will succeed and you will probably get fatigued (mentally or physically) quite quickly. If you leave it a month and come back to it, you will probably just experience all the same things over again as you may have forgotten the cues and need to concentrate to remember them etc. However lets say we instead do the same activity 2 or 3 days after the first attempt, hopefully the cues are still fairly fresh in your memory along with any memories of successes during the previous session, reducing the mental load and self doubt, the only thing that has changed is you are now fully recovered and ready to resume where you left off! All of this has to do with how the brain stores information, its a lot like finding a file in a folder on an old windows computer, where all the files are sorted by date with the newest ones at the top, except for this computer (the brain) has limited storage and therefore automatically deletes files (memories) that fall too far down the list. If you try to remember what you had for dinner last night I'm sure you can remember, but what about if I ask what you ate for dinner 11 days ago? it become a lot harder to recall, the information might not even be there at all. If we keep re-opening and editing the file every few days it will never fall too far down the list and always be easy to access.
There is actually even a process in the brain that permanently backs up "favourites" (the most frequently accessed files) into long term storage which you will never forget, hence why once you have learned to ride a bike or drive a car, you can go years without doing it and still be able to do it when you need to. I'll cover that more in a future blog. So when we work on a skill, be it a new exercise or our flexibility, we are trying to find the optimum timeframe where we have fully recovered but not yet started to suffer from the deterioration that comes with not doing it. For building strength the optimum time frame is between 2 and 7 days, depending on the difficulty of the movement and the muscles involved. When it comes to improving flexibility I would say that this mantra is of even more importance, as many parts of our modern daily lifestyles add tension to our bodies, therefore in order to see visible progress in flexibility we need to return to the activity before the amount of daily tension building has exceeded the amount removed by the previous session. This is why many people fail to see progress on their flexibility, they just aren't doing it FREQUENTLY enough. For every 1 step forward there is an equal 1 step back in the time left between sessions. Although I don't use it frequently (no pun intended) there is another "swear word" in my vocabulary that I think is of equal importance, and that is the "C" Word. CONSISTENCY! We have to make sure we are returning to the same activity/memory/file in order to improve it rather than starting from scratch by creating a slightly different duplicate file, which will just make it harder to find the original in the future. This is why it is so important to keep as many variables the same as possible in order to measure progress and see your success! (which will motivate you on to more future success) Remember "CONSISTENCY IS KEY, so whatever you are trying to improve do the same thing and do it OFTEN! FREQUENCY x CONSISTENCY = The "S" Word = SUCCESS!