"Daddy, do you have to leave?"
As parents, we vow to spend as much time with our kids as possible. We all want to be there, especially in the formative younger years, to guide them through this amazing thing we call life. We juggle work and our personal lives like we're under the big top, walking a tightrope between selfish and selfless.
On weekdays, it's all business—emails, conference calls, talking to Brian from Accounting. But what about weekends? Weekends are a chance to unplug and spend time with our families. This is the time where bonds are formed and traditions are made.
But life doesn't slow down. Our little ones often have a busier schedule than a mid-season LeBron James. Shuttling our 6-year-olds around like they are pro athletes or world-famous performers doesn't exactly leave us a whole lot of me-time. In the off chance that there are no games or recitals, we want to spend quality time with our kiddos. We want to start traditions (hello Pancake Saturday!) and build relationships that will last a lifetime.
As a new father myself, I have come to realize that efficiency and effectiveness have to become one in the same. Time at work or at the gym means time away from my munchkin. The time management required to get it all done can be daunting.
Sound familiar? That constant feeling of going 100 miles per hour in every direction? Trying to be productive at work, trying to spend quality time with your family at home, and still trying to make progress at the gym? As much as we'd like to, we can't be in three places at once. Something has to give, and often times, it is our health that falls by the wayside.
But what if it doesn't have to? What if you don't have to spend hours on end in the gym (and away from your family) to get results? By simplifying the way you work out, you can attain more than you previously thought was possible.
Simple is not easy. Easy is easy.
Easy means there is no effort and no commitment, thus no growth. Also, easy is about putting in the minimal amount of work and energy into a task, leading to lukewarm results at best. Easy fixes are what internet gurus preach about, offering an easy solution to your problems "all for the price of 3 easy payments of $19.99."
Easy isn't why you are reading this. You're here because you value your time, which is your most valuable commodity. Simple, on the other hand, means removing the fluff and keeping what matters. Simple is minimalism. No quick fixes or ridiculous gimmicks (I see you ShakeWeight). Simple is incredibly hard to master. By making things simple, your return on investment is greatest.
1. Train Harder to Train Smarter
Unless you are an elite athlete or Olympic hopeful, forget about programs that require you to train 5-6 days a week or for several hours at a time. For us regular folk, these programs just aren't necessary. We can still progress in the gym without logging a three-hour swole sesh pretending to be Arnold.
Most people look at train harder vs. train smarter as an either-or proposition. But if you're crunched for time, increasing the intensity of your workout is often the most logical way to enhance the effectiveness of your training. This doesn't mean training in a dangerous manner, but it does mean prioritizing what matters most. Do you really need to spend a good chunk of your precious gym time walking on a treadmill for 20 minutes when you can take a walk outside at countless other points of your life?
By making a few simple modifications, you can increase the intensity and, in turn, the effectiveness of your training. My simplest recommendations for doing this include:
- Decrease your rest periods between sets to ramp up the intensity. Don't sit around playing on your phone for five minutes between sets. If your goal is muscle hypertrophy (meaning building more muscle), your rest periods should be roughly 30-90 seconds between sets.
- Change the number of reps you perform and the tempo in which you do them. This article covers the number of sets/reps appropriate for your specific goals
- Incorporate compound movements (exercises that involve multiple muscle groups) into your plan. Machines often isolate a single joint, so if they're the focus of your training, your workouts are probably going to be pretty inefficient. When in doubt, training with free weights or body weight will typically get better results.
Interval training is a great way to maximize the intensity of your workout, especially when time is limited. And there are various long-term effects, such as burning calories long after leaving the gym and increased resting metabolism, all of which are backed by science. The key is keeping those intervals short enough that you can work hard during those periods.
Creating an exercise circuit with decreased rest periods can be a simple, actionable plan. Choose 4-8 exercises, and be sure to include some compound movements (exercises like Squats or Pull-Ups) to up the calorie-burning effect. Choose a rep scheme (e.g., 10-12) or time period (15-25 seconds) to perform each exercise. Pick a weight that is challenging but doesn't cause your form to crumble like a house of cards. Move from one exercise directly into the next with no rest. Only rest once a full round is completed.
Complexes are another amazing option to build strength and torch calories in a short amount of time. By their nature, they only use one piece of equipment (such as a single barbell), making them highly efficient.
As you progress, you can continue to utilize progressive overload by increasing load, increasing volume, decreasing rest, etc.
It goes without saying, but choose exercises that you can perform safely and properly. Stay within yourself and enjoy the journey. Utilizing methods like interval training, circuit training and/or complex training can help you get in a great workout in 15 minutes or less. I know you're busy, but something is always better than nothing when it comes to fitness.
2. Make Habits, Not Restrictions
There are 168 hours in a week. A small fraction of that is actually spent in the gym, and when you're busy, that fraction is going to grow even smaller.
This is where incorporating daily habits will help you sustain your healthy lifestyle. Whether that means including mindful meditation each morning or no screen time an hour before bed, create habits that enhance your life, not restrict it.
Set yourself up for success by asking yourself what you can do to improve your health and feel better, not focusing on what you can't. Plan your meals so you don't skip out on proper nutrition or binge on Totino's Pizza Rolls. Give yourself a bedtime so you don't watch Netflix until 4 a.m. again. Put your phone down and be present with your family. It's amazing the number of things we miss when we're scrolling the good ol' FB for hours on end.
You're reading this because you want balance in your busy life. Good habits help you prioritize what is important and what is a waste of time. Take walks. Squeeze in a set of Push-Ups every now and then. Buy a resistance band and keep it around the house for easy access. Pinpoint parts of your diet that can be conveniently improved.
Those little positive choices compound over time and make a big difference. As much as many people want to blame the fact they "can't get to the gym" as the reason they're unhealthy and unfit, there are plenty of people who rarely step foot inside a gym who are in great health.
3. Take Action
A plan without action is merely a dream.
Most people are afraid to take action either because they are overwhelmed, or they aren't dreaming big enough.
Think of your goal, no matter how big or small. Now choose a couple of the smaller pieces that are essential to the larger puzzle. Make sure they are specific and measurable tasks that will help lead you on your way to accomplishing the larger goal. Put an attainable time frame on each task. Write down when and how you plan to complete each endeavor.
Now that you have a plan, it's time to take action!
Most of us are familiar with the goal-setting technique involving the acronym S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time). But I want you to take it one step further.
Do it now.
The reality of life is that there will never be a "perfect" time. You'll always be able to find a reason why it doesn't make sense to start something right now. I challenge you to subscribe to the "Do it Now" principle. It's amazing how much more we are able to get done without procrastination or the time it takes to talk ourselves in or out of doing something. By just completing the task when it comes to mind, you'll be amazed at the surplus of time you end up with.
Look, I get it. Exercise is generally at the bottom of the hamper when it comes to your laundry list of to-do's. Free time is fleeting, and fitness often suffers as a result. But something is always going to be better than nothing. And when you utilize your time efficiently, you might be amazed at the return on investment you can achieve. By implementing these three steps, you can take control of your life both inside and outside of the gym.
If you want a free High-Intensity Interval Training plan PDF, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: HIIT It! You can also find me on Trainerize.
Photo Credit: bernardbodo/iStock
- 5 Training Tips to Get a Great Workout When You're Short on Time
- 2 Full-Body Circuit Workouts for Time-Crunched Training
- How to Prepare Nutritious Overnight Oats for Busy Athletes