Congrats! You want to be more active.
But…. you have a busy life. You might be thinking “How the heck am I going to fit this all in?”
If you’ve felt like this…
- I have to join a gym.
- I don’t have enough time for an entire workout.
- I have to do things I don’t like to get fit (burpees anyone?).
- I have to workout so many times a week for it to be worth it.
- I can’t seem to stick to this workout schedule no matter how hard I try.
…I’m here to tell you that there’s a better way!
These rules that you see everywhere in the fitness industry are really just arbitrary- they work for a small section of people, but not the majority. And the best part about these rules is…. You don’t have to follow them!
The rest of this article will guide you through creating a sustainable workout plan that fits your life so you can experience the long term benefits of being more active.
Schedule your workouts to fit your life, not the other way around.
The best workouts are the ones you actually do. That’s the whole of it!
The trick to staying active when you’re busy is finding how physical activity fits into your life, instead of trying to restructure your life around fitness and expecting it to work. Changing other aspects of your life or cutting out things you enjoy to be more physically active creates an unsustainable plan that will make it more challenging to stick to and easier to drop after a week or two.
To figure out where physical activity can fit into your life, you need to have a clear picture of what your life looks like right now. Instead of jumping right into a new workout plan, I recommend taking a week to fill out a weekly tracker. Spend the week honestly inputting when you’re working, obligations/hobbies, and the other things you enjoy doing like hanging out with friends.
Now that you have your general weekly schedule in front of you, find the spaces.
Here’s the key difference: finding the spaces doesn’t mean moving things around until you feel like you have room for workouts, it means finding those times you have free, no matter how short, and adding physical activity there.
Have a compassionate mindset while doing this; physical activity should add to your life, not supersede other enjoyable things. Don’t let yourself schedule a workout during time you spend with friends thinking that it’s technically “free time.”
Whatever space you do have, it is enough. Let’s take a look at your schedule:
Where (realistically) are the spaces in your week?
The goal here is to use the time you have available instead of forcing additional time.
Your physical activity time can be at different times of day and be different lengths of time throughout your week.
For example, you might have 10 minutes on Monday and Wednesday morning free, plus 30 minutes on Thursday evenings. Go with whatever your schedule says, even if there’s only one or two short openings in a week.
Make those spaces your physical activity times
Then decide what you want to do during them (more on that below).
What are your movement goals?
If your goal is to simply get more active, do any activity you enjoy! For a more specific goal, you can choose certain activities or workouts, but don’t get stuck in the trap of thinking too hard about what you “should” be doing. Narrow down what will help you get to your goal and focus on it with the time you have available.
What else needs to happen with this physical activity?
If you’ve decided that going to a gym or other location is the best option for you, you’ll need to add in commute time. Do you need to shower? What else needs to be taken into account with your chosen activity?
If you take everything into account and can’t quite make it fit unless everything runs perfectly, then it’s time to look for a different option.
This doesn’t have to be permanent, but it’s better to start with something that can definitely work rather than something that might work. You can set up an ideal schedule for the week and have things fit perfectly, but when do weeks ever go perfectly?
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Unpredictable Schedules are common with a busy life
Having an irregular schedule can be tricky because of the lack of predictability. In this case it can be helpful to have a bank of ideas for short/simple physical activity, especially ideas that don’t involve special equipment or a separate location.
Each week, make a goal of finding times you can fit in one or two of these ideas. Having ideas ready to go can help you take advantage of free moments when you find them.
Many people find that even if they have a generally predictable schedule, it’s helpful to have a “backup planned time” in case something unexpected pops up during one of the planned workouts.
Adopt an All-or-Something Mentality
An all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to being active can hurt you and create unrealistic expectations. Something is always better than nothing when it comes to physical activity, and that something can be what works best for you.
Be truthful and compassionate about the time you *do* have and start there. You can always make changes in the future, but the goal for now is to build sustainable time for physical activity into your schedule.
Learn how to cue yourself- what can you do to set yourself up for success? What will encourage you to do the activity you’ve scheduled? What can help it go smoothly or take away resistance? This can look like filling up a water bottle and setting out workout clothes the night before or keeping a note taped to your mirror where you’ll see it at a certain time of day.
You need breaks, especially if you’re already very busy! If things are stressful in another area of your life, you might want to scale back or do lighter activity like gentle yoga. Pushing too hard can lead to burnout, overtraining, injuries, or just more stress than you need.
Realize your workout schedule can change when it needs to. Your life isn’t static, and you shouldn’t expect your workouts to remain the same during those times.
If you’re a little lost when it comes to what you should actually be doing during your physical activity times, here are some time-saving ideas:
Walking is a seriously underrated way to get active, and you can usually do it at or near your house/work! It can fill as much time as you have and happen in any location. Taking phone calls while walking is another great option.
If you’re interested in building strength, circuit training is a way to work the entire body in a short period of time- it rests some areas of the body while others are working. Try an AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) by setting a specific amount of time and getting as much done as you can during that time.
Here are two examples:
10 Minute AMRAP Circuit
5 squats (bodyweight or with extra weight)
5 incline push ups
4 rotational chops on each side (can use any object as weight)
15 Minute AMRAP Circuit
5 hip thrusts
5 step ups on each side
6 dumbbell rows on each side
5 overhead presses on each side
Yoga or Mobility Sessions
Getting active doesn’t mean it has to be intense activity. Even with 10 minutes, a yoga or mobility session can give you more activity with gentler movements. These can also act as a backup plan if you’re not feeling up to your planned activity for the day.
A busy life and schedule doesn’t mean you can’t be more active
It just means you have to find a way of incorporating it into the small spaces in your life!
Sarah Siertle, a strength and movement coach, specializes in introducing people to strength training and works to make the fitness world a more inclusive place. She has been a movement instructor since 2012 and also teaches swing dance around the US. Find other articles written by Sarah on her coach profile. Let Sarah help you get STRONG so you can take advantage of life’s adventures!