How to Maintain Fitness Even When Your Schedule is Crazy

Followers of my other blog know that I am in the midst of a crazy few months. I won’t get into the details here, but the gist of it is that the beginning of the school year, a house purchase and move and my wedding are all coinciding┬álike some great super storm. I’m dealing with the annual adjustment to the limited time and energy left over after a day of teaching. I’m spending my evenings and weekends packing and painting. I’m trying to cook in a kitchen at the same time I’m shutting it down and putting it in boxes.

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And through it all, I’m trying to maintain my fitness and squeeze in my usual workouts, both for the physical and mental (oh, do I need that stress relief right now!) benefits.

We all go through periods of transition where our routines are disrupted and time and energy are in very limited supply. Perhaps, like me, it’s related to a job or a move. Maybe you’re welcoming a new family member and time for yourself has become something to dream about as you’re rocking the little one back to sleep. Again.

These times are when we are the most vulnerable to falling off the fitness wagon. It’s so easy to come up with excuses not to work out when the excuses are based in reality. It’s so tempting to put it off until later: “I’ll get back to the gym once the busy season falls off.”

It’s a slippery slope. Make an excuse once and it becomes easier to make it again. Get used to not working out and it becomes a habit. Once you start to tell yourself you’re too busy, you’ll begin to live as though it were true.

Furthermore, the importance of taking time for yourself and your health is heightened during periods of stress and overfilled calendars. Here are some tips on how to stay active during periods of upheaval and stress:

Be Easy on Yourself (But Not Too Easy)

Normally on the weekends, I try to fit in a long run, a yoga class and at least one visit to the gym. For the first three weekends in September, I am letting go of this expectation. Those weekends will be filled with moving, painting and generally settling in to the new place. Trying to do all that and my usual exercise would be insane.

But I’m not giving myself three weekends in a row off, either. I’ll aim for at least one run or yoga session each of those weekends. I know that it will make me feel calmer and will help to loosen muscles tight from painting. I won’t worry about distance or time or the position of my heels during down dog; I’ll just make the commitment to take a few minutes for myself each weekend.

It’s appropriate to adjust your goals based on external factors. If you approach challenging periods with an “all or none” attitude, you’re setting yourself up for none when all becomes impossible to maintain. Look at the realities of your situation and adjust accordingly. And then do what you promised yourself.

Set a Deadline

Some transitional periods come with their own hard deadlines firmly installed, but most can drag on if we let them and even become permanent. Create a deadline for your adjusted schedule. Post it. Believe it. Follow it.

For me, I’m giving myself through October. That gives time to settle in to the new house and gets me past the wedding stuff (which is super low key anyways:) ). By November, I will put the crazies behind me and recommit to a more balanced and consistent routine.

Redefine Exercise

Are you a gym goer? Do you faithfully attend the same exercise classes? Do you walk 3 miles every morning? Whatever your routine, it can easily be disrupted during transition. But even though you may not be able to attend Monday night Zumba, you may still be able to exercise.

This is a time for (realistic) out of the box thinking. In what ways does your current situation force you or allow you to be active? If you’re remodeling, you’re most likely spending hours engaged in physical labor. New baby? I bet you’re carrying around a ten pound weight much of the day. Moving? How bout them stairs?

Recognize the exercise you are getting, even if you’re not wearing your yoga pants. It still counts. Be careful, though, not to overestimate the impact, which is especially easy to do if you’re short on sleep where everything feels more difficult.

Be Careful With “Rewards”

When we are stressed, we have a tendency to reward ourselves with comfort. Maybe it’s a cupcake or an extra cocktail. Perhaps it’s a lazy afternoon in bed or hours playing a computer game. It’s okay to treat yourself after a long day, but be careful about falling in to the trap of feeling you deserve it all of the time. Those occasional treats can become the norm and before you know it, you’re spending all day in bed and eating cupcakes every evening. (Although, I gotta admit, that sounds really tempting right now…)

Try “treating” yourself in small ways throughout the day to avoid a binge at the end. Also, look for treats that don’t negatively impact your health. I have been amazed at how much better I feel after applying hand lotion in my favorite scent at work. It’s a few seconds that I take for me in the middle of the chaos. Other treats? A few minutes alone on a seat in the sun. A break in the car listening to your favorite song. A cuddle session with your pet.

Prioritize

Yes, your life is crazy right now. But remember what is important. Be sure to make time for yourself and your loved ones. Everything else will fall into place.

And, if you’re interested in trying out painting as a new fitness craze, let me know. I have plenty to go around;)

 

 

 

The Impact of Marathon Training: An N=1 Experiment

I ran my first (and only!) marathon this past November at the age of 35. I spent five months training and, much to my surprise, even longer recovering.

Prior to the training, I was running around 20-25 miles a week, sprinting once a week, doing 2 hours of yoga a week and lifting (heavy) weights 3-4 times a week. I logged an average of 8-9 hours a week on fitness. My cardiovascular endurance was good, my strength was always improving and my bodyfat and weight were consistent (around 18% and 120 lbs, respectively). Once I started training for the race, I had to cut back on the weight training (1-2 times a week; upper body only) and I logged more like 50 miles on the trails.

The changes to my body started about halfway through the program. My weight dropped, hovering around 115. I had to add more calories and carbs (in the form of sweet potatoes) to my diet in order to maintain the energy needed for longer runs. Even though my weight was lower, my bodyfat increased (estimated at 20%) and my pants size went up. I was constantly feeling the effects of inflammation, both visually and in my respiratory and digestive systems. My strength decreased by around 30% and I struggled to do anything that was not a long, slow workout. I could not keep muscle on my frame. Even worse, I was plagued with injuries and illnesses due to overuse and the constant stress on the body.

I was dedicating over 20 hours a week to fitness and I was in worse shape than ever before.

4 months before the marathon

4 months before the marathon

Post marathon

Post marathon

8 months after the marathon

8 months after the marathon

During the race, I suffered an extremely painful IT band injury. As a result, I was unable to run for almost two months after the marathon. Instead, I happily hit the gym again, building back the muscle I had lost and rehabbing the injured leg. As I was able, I slowly added back my shorter runs and sprints, keeping my total mileage to under 25 a week.

It’s been a slow path back to where I was. Age certainly makes it harder to recover and build muscle, but I believe that my body was suffering from too much of the same thing for too long. Now that my routine is more balanced and my total time working out has decreased, I’m finally back. I feel strong again. I fit into my skinny jeans again (even though my weight is back up). I have time to relax again.

My body has definitely sent me the message that it likes to run but it doesn’t like to run distances more suitable to an Atlanta commute. This isn’t the case for every body; I have friends who can run marathons and feel no effects. I, apparently, am not one of them. I’m going to stick to half marathons and shorter from now on:)

I do not regret the marathon. It was an amazing, emotional and transformative experience. But one is enough for me. According to my n=1 experiment, I do better with more weight and fewer miles.

How about you? Any n=1 experiments you want to share?

Related: A Marathon Recap: I Won!

 

The Waterpark Workout

waterpark

My mom used to claim that the hours she would spend supporting her upper body on an inflatable raft was a form of exercise since her pecs would be sore the following day. I’m not too sure about that claim, but it is true that water activities can be a workout with just a little imagination and effort. All too often, we think that exercise has to be separate and structured from normal activities. That’s not the case. One of the best ways to make fitness a part of your life is by looking for opportunities to move all the time.

Next time you’re at a waterpark, try some of these exercises:

  • The stairs. Oh, the stairs. A side benefit of going to the park when it is not too busy is that you can get quite a workout by walking up the endless stairs. No line? Then you’ve cardio on top of some fabulous lower body work.
  • Many parks require that you carry your tube to the top of each ride. Resist the urge to roll the tube; use it to do shoulder presses or even some core rotations. If you gotta carry it, you might as well use it!
  • Standing in line is an inevitable part of amusement parks. Use that time to stretch (do some calf stretches or forward folds to work out the kinks from walking on concrete) or even do some triceps dips or incline pushups using the railings that separate the line.
  • Turn the lazy river into an active river by walking or swimming against the current. It’s like your own endless pool!
  • If you’re a strong swimmer, challenge yourself to tread water in the deep end of the wave pool. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll tire out!
  • If your park has the floating lily pads with the overhead ropes, by all means try it! It takes a great amount of upper body strength and balance to make it across. And, if you fall, it’s fun:)

Don’t undo your efforts by overindulging in the unhealthy foods offered at the park. If allowed, bring in your own cooler or pack a lunch and leave the cooler in the car. If your park is stricter about personal food items, a claim of a food allergy will often let your contraband slide (yeah, kinda underhanded but I see only offering unhealthy choices as pretty despicable). My local park has funnel cake topped with sweetened fruit, ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Yikes! Their only “healthy” options are a “salad” (iceberg lettuce only) and fruit chews (sugar pretending to be nutritious). I’ll stick with my protein bars:)