Fitting Your Workouts Into a Busy Schedule

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Editor’s Note: This article by Nick Smoot (Smootfitness.com) originally appeared on Machine Muscle.

I just started back at ODU for the fall semester, and as my free time began to dwindle, my respect grew for those who make time for fitness goals despite being MUCH busier than I am. Unfortunately, strength training is not our only obligation.

School, work, raising kids and social activities are unavoidable priorities even though they may fall within our prime time to train. If you are truly motivated to reach your goals, you will find a way to workout no matter how hectic your schedule. It just takes a willingness to sacrifice along with unrelenting determination.

Mental Toughness and the Development of Consistency

Mental ToughnessWhile reading Alan Aragon’s book Girth Control the other day, I came across a diagram of the six components of a fitness program: resistance training, cardiovascular training, food and fluid intake, supplements, rest, and psychology/motivation. What struck me as unique about this diagram was the psychology/motivation block formed a border around all of the other components of the plan. Without motivation, the entire program would fall apart, and this is an important principle to remember.

Personally, I have a passion for training and there is a better chance of me skipping my other obligations than missing a scheduled workout. Weird, obsessed, whatever you want to call it, making time to train has never been a problem for me. For many individuals, especially those who view working out as something they are forced into because of health complications, making time to workout is a daily struggle only compounded by an increasingly busy schedule.

Whatever your stance on working out, you cannot allow lack of motivation and/or mental strength to become an excuse for missing training sessions and stalling progress. To be successful, you must be consistent. To be consistent, you must develop mental toughness and make time to train at all costs. Commit to your workouts on the days they are scheduled and do not allow anything to interfere.

Learning to Train in the Morning

My first tip for fitting workouts into a busy schedule is to train first thing in the morning. There are a few reasons for this. First and foremost, many people work 9-5 shifts, so they have a few hours (depending on how early they wake up) to train before work officially starts.

Secondly, the majority of social activities and/or surprise obligations pop up in the afternoon resulting in much greater temptation to skip your workout. For me, there is nothing like starting the day with a challenging training session. Success in the weight room seems to carry over to all other tasks during the day, and the post workout endorphin release is something no stimulant can provide.

I know the morning just won’t be the same without six cups of coffee and two hours of Sport Center re-runs, but sometimes sacrifices must be made. It will take time, but eventually your body will adapt and you will perform just as well (if not better) than at any other time of the day.

Be Flexible and Squeeze It In

Sometimes morning and afternoon workouts are just not possible, so flexibility is extremely important. A single mother might be busy all morning getting her kids prepped for school before racing to after-school activities the moment she gets off work.

This woman barely has a moment to breath, but an hour lunch break is more than enough time to squeeze in a brutal training session. You may be tired and inconvenienced, but those are the conditions that generally breed some of the best training sessions.

Woman Cleaning a Barbell

Many people work 9-5 shifts, so they have a few hours (depending on how early they wake up) to train before work officially starts.

Adjust Your Training Split

Generally speaking, most training programs break down in to 60-120 minute workouts three or four days per week. These programs have plenty of frequency and volume for optimal muscle stimulation while providing enough rest days for sufficient recovery.

It’s great if you can set up your training programs in this fashion, but what if your daily schedule only allows you thirty minutes to workout? Well you certainly don’t abandon your program and spend those thirty minutes trolling popular YouTube channels. Just increase your training frequency (the amount of days you are in the gym) to maintain enough volume to stimulate adaptations.

Sometimes it may not be possible to get in to the gym more than once or twice per week. In that case, increase volume (and consequently workout duration) on training days to make up for the lowered frequency. Is it optimal? Probably not, but abandoning your training all together is a quick way to detrain and lose previously acquired adaptations.

In a recent article, strength and conditioning coach Eric Cressey wrote about the difficulty of gaining strength, but the ease of maintaining it. Whether or not you spark new growth training once or twice per week is largely dependent on your training age. Advanced lifters will probably just end up spinning their wheels. At the very least, training in this fashion will allow you to maintain previously gained adaptations until your schedule gets back on track.

Conclusion

I want to leave you with a lesson from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Imagine you have a bucket, a pile of big rocks, a pile of small rocks, and a pile of pebbles spread out on a table in front of you. The big rocks represent top priorities/obligations, the small rocks represent less important priorities/obligations, and the pebbles represent social events, hobbies, watching TV, etc. The goal is to get all of the rocks and pebbles to fit in to your bucket.

If you try to fill the bucket with the pebbles first, you will waste space and not be able to get all of the big rocks in to the bucket. The only way to succeed at this task is to start with the big rocks, place the small rocks in next, and allow the pebbles to fall in between the cracks. Learn to view working out as a big rock and a major priority of your day; if you can turn your back on excuses and face adversity with a smile, you will become an unstoppable force that only stops at the finish line.

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