July 29, 2015

An article popped up today about the Repeated Bout Effect. The author, James Clear, explains that “The more you repeat a behaviour, the less it impacts you because you become accustomed to it.” In other words, the more you do something the easier it becomes. Repetition creates habits.

When you start a new exercise program, you’re likely to feel delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) a few days later. In those days, doing just a little bit of exercise can greatly reduce the time it takes for the soreness to pass. You’re then more likely to exercise fully again and you’ll have less soreness.

The positive with the Repeated Bout Effect is for those new to their exercise program: if you gently push through it the soreness will decrease. The negative, though, is that over time as your body becomes accustomed to the exercise, the benefits you get will not keep improving.

Imagine jogging 5km. When you first start, it might be an effort just to get to the corner of your street. Over time, the jog becomes easier until you’re happily running the 5km. Your fitness has improved dramatically, but if you continue to run just 5km your fitness won’t keep improving. It won’t get worse, but it won’t get any better, either. You need to add something new: a new exercise, a new route, a new distance, a new time.

Making change to your eating patterns is similar. At first you might cut out chocolate biscuits in the evening, and in time you find you’ve lost a few kilos. Unfortunately, your weight loss eventually stalls and while you might maintain that loss, if you’ve say 20 kilos to lose the rest will not magically fall off. The Repeated Bout Effect means that your body has become accustomed to the new eating pattern and another change is needed to make your weight drop again: cut out alcohol, eat more vegies, become accountable to someone, improve sleep patterns, deal with stress… the list goes on.

In short, one small change may show quick results, but if you have bigger goals you’ll need to make bigger changes.

Some people like to make all changes at once – like taking a broom to old habits and having a big clean-out. Others, though, are better off making a small change that they can repeat over and over, until the body no longer recognises it as a change. It becomes the new normal. They then introduce another small change.

However you think making change is best for you, be mindful of your expectations. Being “good” for a week may not give you the results you assume will occur. Just because this doesn’t live up to your expectations doesn’t mean it’s not working. It may take more time. There may be other factors stopping your progress. The change may not have been appropriate for that stage of your journey.

If you’re making changes, take heart. The Repeated Bout Effect means that the change you’ve already made has started to become normal, the habits are being set up, and your body is adapting. This is good!

While any initial small change may or may not be enough to get you all the way to your ultimate goals, the Repeated Bout Effect means that as your body becomes more accustomed to the changes, they have a better chance of becoming permanent. This makes maintaining your goals easier.