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For many people, the hardest part of any workout is simply getting started. In fact, finding time to exercise is one of the most-often-cited barriers to exercise, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Physical Activity Research.
I get it.
I work full-time and have a part-time job as a personal trainer on top of being a single parent to two kids. Getting in my workout is usually a struggle, but I have found several ways to make sure I keep my health a priority. Here are my tips for exercising on a busy schedule:
1. Make a Plan
It’s best if you can plan out your exercise routine in advance. On Sunday, look at your schedule for the week and identify the days when you have a pocket of time to exercise. Block it off on your calendar, the same way you would a meeting or a doctor’s appointment. Making regular exercise a part of your routine creates habits that are easier to keep.
On top of that, know what you’re doing for your workout. For example, if it’s strength training, what exercises are you going to do? If you don’t know where to start, you can look up an online personal trainer, like Future, where real coaches program workout routines to help you meet your goals. Also, these trainers can plan your exercise sessions around your busy schedule.
(Oh yeah, and GGR Readers get a Future discount of 50% off the first month. Score!)
2. Find Accountability
After you make your plan, set up some accountability. It could be that you find a friend to go to a class with you. You can also simply tell someone close to you, “I’m going to go exercise Friday morning.” Naming your goal out loud to someone you respect has actually been shown to increase your motivation.
Personal trainers are also great for holding you accountable. For example, if you use an app like Future, your coach communicates with you daily to make sure you do the work. It helps to know that someone else is expecting you to exercise, because the fear of letting someone else down is very real!
3. Don’t Sweat Long Workouts
Studio classes and workout programs have cemented in our brains that we need a full hour each day to exercise. If you add to that a shower and a commute, you’re looking at 90 minutes or more devoted to working out. That alone could make someone feel like there just isn’t enough time.
But what if I told you that just 30 minutes a day is enough? The American Heart Association suggests that you need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise each week. That’s five 30-minute sessions at moderate intensity, (think a brisk walk or a jog), or just a few more intense bouts (like HIIT training).
During moderate exercise, you should be able to talk in short or full sentences without much struggle. Intense exercise is a workout during which it would be difficult to respond to questions with much besides a “yes” or a “no.”
You can choose your own path for whatever is right for your fitness level and where you are, but just remember that even taking 30 minutes during the day to move can be enough. It’s better to start small than to not start at all.
4. Get Up Early
My favorite time of day to exercise is around 5 a.m. It’s before my kids are awake. (Admittedly, sometimes my brain isn’t quite awake yet, either.) Do I like waking up at 4:30 a.m.? Not usually. But starting my day with exercise has a noticeable positive effect on the rest of my day, from a boost in mood to even a boost in my productivity.
If you need a little motivation to get out of bed, try to find a gym that offers a group class early. Having other people who expect you to show up might do the trick. Or, if you use a virtual trainer like Future, your coach knows to expect you to check in early with a report of your workout.
5. Use Your Lunch Break
Don’t want to get up early? Then use your lunch break. This is a great time to get in 30 of those 150 moderate-intensity minutes each week. Go for a walk, bang out a short run, or hit a quick bodyweight workout. Just make sure you avoid eating a large meal for an hour or two before you plan to exercise.
6. Take Advantage of Weekends
If squeezing your workouts in during the week is stressful, turn your eyes to the weekend. Do you have more time on Saturday and Sunday you could use for exercise? I love using my weekends for my workouts because I don’t feel quite as rushed, and my mind isn’t cluttered with what I have going on at work that day.
I’m not a huge fan of doing lunges in the kitchen while I wait for dinner to cook. I prefer to have devoted time to exercise. However, that’s simply not possible every day when you have a busy schedule. So sometimes, I do jumping jacks while I wait for the popcorn in the microwave to pop, or I do air squats and burpees while listening to a call at work.
Another option is to invest in an under-desk treadmill. You can still get your steps in while in a virtual meeting or while typing up a report.
8. Involve Your Kids
As parents, we tend to put our kids before ourselves time and again. My clients will tell me they can’t make our session because they have their kids. You know what I say? “Bring them!”
Exercise isn’t just safe for kids, it’s a requirement for their well-being. There are plenty of ways to incorporate kids into your exercise routine, no matter how old your children are. Plus, you set a wonderful example for your children when you show them your commitment to your own wellness.
9. Be NEAT
NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. In layman’s terms, it’s using energy outside of sleeping, eating, and dedicated exercise. Walking from your car to the store is NEAT, taking the steps and not the elevator is NEAT, cleaning your house is NEAT.
There are many ways to increase your activity level throughout the day. And, according to a 2014 study, increasing NEAT is one way to combat the ill effects of a sedentary lifestyle, like obesity.
Tip for Early Morning Workouts
If you want to get your fitness in before the madness of the day, here are my top tips:
- Go to bed early and around the same time every night to maximize shut-eye and regulate your circadian rhythm.
- Get up at the same time every morning, regardless of whether you’re going to exercise or not, so you get used to waking up early.
- Pack your gym bag the night before if you are going to leave the house.
- Know what your workout plan is the day before so you don’t waste your time in the morning trying to figure it out.
- Eat something, even if it’s small, like a banana or a rice cake with peanut butter.
- Pre-make a post-workout shake to have with you.
- Don’t skip your warm-up! Your body is still waking up, so ease into an early morning workout.
Tips for Mid-Day Workouts
If a lunchtime workout seems to work into your busy day the best, then here’s my advice:
- Block off the time on your calendar so you keep it a priority and people don’t try to book over your exercise.
- If you go into the office, pack your workout clothes in your car the day before so you don’t risk forgetting them.
- Try to avoid eating anything heavy before your exercise. Instead, grab a lighter snack, like a piece of fruit or yogurt.
Think outside the box. If you were planning on running outside, but it’s raining, have some go-to office workouts. Can you do crunches in the conference room? Resistance band curls in the break room?
Tips for Evening Workouts
Getting in a great workout after a long work day can be challenging if you don’t plan properly. To maximize an evening workout, try these tips:
- Try to go straight into exercise after work instead of risking getting home and tied up with dishes, laundry, or that super comfy spot on the couch.
- If you work out at home, give yourself a set time of when you’ll be exercising at night, and stick to it.
- Pack your workout clothes ahead of time so you don’t have to make an extra trip.
- Eat and drink enough throughout the day so you’re energized and hydrated (though avoid eating a big meal for up to two hours before you exercise).
FAQs About Finding Time to Exercise
How do you exercise when you have no time?
The truth is, you do have time, but you might be allowing something else to take the place of exercise. The trick to getting in exercise when you have a full schedule is to treat your workout as a top priority. You have to carve out time to do it. It doesn’t have to be a full hour; start with 20 minutes of walking or doing jumping jacks, squats, and push-ups in your living room.
Some other tips:
– Make a plan: Block off your calendar and make exercise part of your daily routine
– Find accountability: Find a workout buddy or use a workout app like Future
– Work out early: Try to get your exercise in before the madness of the day begins
– Short workouts are OK: Even doing something for a short amount of time is better than doing nothing
– Consider lunch breaks and weekends: Use the time you have to exercise
– Multitask: You can find inexpensive under-desk treadmills on Amazon to keep you moving even while you’re working
How do working moms find time to exercise?
Moms who work a part-time or full-time job often feel they have little to no time to get in a workout. Some things to try:
– Work out early in the morning before the kids are awake
– Get in a workout on your lunch break
– If your kids are old enough, do workouts with them
– Write out your fitness goals and hold yourself accountable to them
What is a good workout schedule?
There is no one “right” way to exercise, but there are a few important suggestions:
– Plan to get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each week (like five 30-minute sessions) or 75 minutes of intense aerobic exercise (via the American Heart Association)
– Incorporate at least two resistance training sessions (can be tacked onto an aerobic day)
– Take at least one rest day a week to allow your body to recover
So, a typical week of workouts could be three days of a 30-minute weight training session followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, and one to two days of either just aerobic activity (like walking or running) or functional fitness, which combines aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
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