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;)

 

 

 

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Gymhacks

English: an exercise of upper back and biceps

English: an exercise of upper back and biceps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s no secret that I have spent quite a bit of time in the gym over the past 20 years. For much of that period, I would spend at least an hour in the gym on a daily basis, commonly stretching it to two hours. I was in shape but I also struggled to find time to get it all in. As I grew older (and hopefully wiser:) ), I discovered some gymhacks that allow me to be in and out in 30 minutes or less while actually improving my fitness. Try these tips to help you work harder, smarter and faster.

Hydration

Do you ever find that some days you feel like you could lift the entire squat rack or run the treadmill belt into dust whereas other days you feel like somebody turned up the gravity in the gym? Of course, there are several factors at play in how you feel each day but there is one that is easy to control. Hydration. Unless you’re training for a marathon in a southern summer, water is all you need. Aim to intentionally hydrate at least two hours before you enter the gym by drinking 12-16 ounces. Continue to sip water throughout your workout, as needed and finally drink another few ounces when you’re finished. It’s amazing how better your body functions and how much more energy you have when you stay hydrated.

Active Rest

If you go to the gym for social connections, then by all means, talk to your fellow exerciser between sets. But don’t just stand there (or even worse, sit there!). Instead, use that time for some active rest. I have three favorite moves that I do during this time, depending upon what body part(s) I’m working that day and what is still sore from the day before. Each of these requires no equipment so that it can be done where you are and also is easy enough that you can still carry on a conversation.

Push Ups: This familiar move works your chest, arms, shoulders and core while slightly elevating your heart rate. Play with variations: incline, decline, hands gripping the sides of a Bosu ball, etc.

Body Weight Squats: If your upper body is maxed out, do some squats during your rest and recovery period. These are great to keep your heart rate up as well as giving your booty a boost!

Sun Salutations: Okay, this will get you some strange looks. But if you look better, feel better and get out faster, who cares, right? I love doing these between sets on those days when my mind or body are still protesting a stressful day. This flow helps to stretch the body while it is on constant motion. Here’s a basic tutorial.

Tweak the Recipe

Do you ever find yourself standing in the middle of the gym, pondering what you should do? Or, when a preferred piece of equipment is in use, do you wander aimlessly until it becomes available? This hack can save you from that. First, develop a simple recipe for each type of workout you do. For example, on days when I focus on my back, I always do a high pulling movement, a lower pulling movement, an exercise to address the read deltoids (backs of the shoulders) and a lower back exercise. Once your basic recipes are down, brainstorm variations. For my upper pulling exercise, I can do pull-ups, chin-ups, lat pull downs, high rope pull downs or visit one of half a dozen machines in my gym that follows this basic movement pattern. By having a recipe, I’m never stuck wondering what to do and the variations keep it interesting, limit overuse injuries and give me options when equipment is in use.

Intervals

Do you spend an hour on the treadmill or elliptical moving at a constant pace? Do you get bored? Do you feel challenged? Yeah, thought so:) Try cutting your time in half and doing intervals instead. When you’re on the more difficult portion of the interval, really work. It’s worth it. That extra effort will pay dividends in fat loss and cardiovascular health later. If you are really short on time (or like a challenge!), try Tabata intervals. These are 8 rounds of 20 seconds at 100% effort followed by 10 seconds of rest. Sound easy? Yeah, I only made it through 5 rounds on my first try and spent the next 10 minutes on the floor. You can do this protocol with anything that raises your heart rate, but I find that the elliptical machines that give you the option of including your arms in the movement work the best. Look for smartphone apps to manage your intervals, Tabata or otherwise.

Nutrition

Yes, you burned calories at the gym. No, you did not burn enough to polish off that platter of wings with no net gain. Sorry:( Be realistic about the calorie demands that your body has and don’t eliminate all your hard work by following your workout with too many fork lifts. Health and weight loss is more about what you put in than anything.

Know Your Goals

When I was training for a marathon, my workouts looked very different. My goals had shifted and so my workouts had to follow suit. I knew that I would be wasting my time trying to build muscle since the long training runs didn’t allow my body to create new muscle. Instead, I shifted my focus to maintaining strength and flexibility to help prevent injury. Make sure your efforts are aligned with your goals.

Happy hacking:)