Article by Sohee Lee
“I just don’t have the time” is no longer an excuse. I don’t care if you’re a full-time student and a full-time employee. I don’t care if you’re working 100+ hour weeks, if you have 5 kids, or if your significant other is eating up all of your time. I know people who embody these things and they manage to stay in great shape.
Yes, this may sound harsh, but I was raised with a whole lot of tough love, and that’s what I’m giving you now. If you want something badly enough, you will find a way to get it. No wall is too high; no obstacle is too hard. Your excuse, my friend, is invalid.
What about me? I’m just a chick who takes on a full class load, plays a sport, tutors, and runs a business on the side. And I’m teaching myself how to program and play the guitar in my spare time. But that’s all I do. Oh yeah, oh yeah… I also lift weights and stay fit. It’s taken a bit of trial-and-error – several of those
“OhmyGodwhydidIdothat” moments – but I think I’ve figured it out now. What’s “it”? How to maintain your fitness when you’re crazy super busy. It’s surprisingly simple. Ready?
1. Decide that fitness is going to be a priority in your life.
Cut the bull crap. Do you actually want to be fit or do you enjoy talking about how “one day” you’ll get there? Dig deep and try to figure out if getting healthy and fit is something you want to actively strive for. Make the decision that you’re ready and willing to put fitness at the top of your list – ahead of booze, ahead of late-night HIMYM marathons (guilty as charged), ahead of Chinese take-out, ahead of that profession you’ve mastered called Ass Sitting. If you haven’t made any kind of real effort yet, you’re not allowed to whine.
The couch is comfortable, yes, but glorious glutes don’t build themselves. Merely talking about how badly you want something isn’t going to get you anywhere, either.
Buckle up and put on your Big Girl – or Big Boy – panties.
2. Make your time in the gym count
What is the absolute minimum time you can devote to fitness in a week? 5 hours? Great! 3 hours? That’s good. We can work with that. 2 hours? Oof, it’ll be tricky, but it can be done.
Alright, so now that you’re in the gym… don’t stand around and socialize. This one should be a no-brainer but it’s easy to find yourself distracted. Plus, once you get sucked into a conversation, sometimes a whole 20 minutes can go by before you realize what’s happened. It’s a bad feeling.
Stick to your rest periods. You should have an idea of how much rest you need for each exercise. If you’re deadlifting, you may need more rest. Superset your exercises if you need to – that one’s a real time saver. Pair an upper body exercise with a lower body exercise or a pushing movement with a pulling movement.
Eliminate the froo-froo. Hey, you’ve only got so much time in the gym today; why are you spending the last 10 minutes doing tricep kickbacks? Don’t waste your time prancing around on the Bosu ball. No isolation exercises. Get in, foam roll, mobility work, lift, get out. 50 minutes? 40 minutes? Cool.
If you have time to afford to do more than just lift, opt for metabolic work over steady state cardio. We’re all about maximizing every minute, aren’t we? Even just a 5-minute metabolic finisher after you’re done with your training can go a long way.
3. Do what you can when you’re not in the gym.
Just because you’re not in the gym doesn’t mean you can’t work on your fitness. Set up a pull up bar or squeeze in a set of pushups every time you go to the bathroom.
Walk when you can. I make an effort to walk to and from class on my off days. Instead of grabbing coffee with a friend, go for a hike or a walk. Take a brisk walk when you want to take a mental break from work. That’s a double whammy right there.
Never underestimate the value of non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which is essentially anything that falls outside of formal exercise. Little bits of extras here and there throughout the course of a day really add up. Even just standing for an hour as opposed to sitting will burn double the number of calories.
You’ll be surprised at how easily fitness can be incorporated into your day.
4. Nail your nutrition.
Being on point with your diet is perhaps the most important factor of all, and it’s unfortunately also the hardest to get right. The less time you’re able to spend in the gym, the less leeway you have with your diet.
Develop diet staples; sometimes the less creative you are, the easier it is. This eliminates a lot of time you would otherwise spend thinking about what you should eat.
Dick Talens, co-founder of Fitocracy and workaholic, has this to say about dieting:
“Remember how busy I was in December? I was working 100+ hours a week, but that was actually the best diet month of my life by far. I was able to use the distraction of work to my advantage. Postponing my first meal of the day until the afternoon saved me an incredible amount of time in the day and, though I ate out all the time, I always got the same foods. Also, one thing I’ve been doing recently to hit my macros has been to get a foot-long sandwich at Subway with double meat and no cheese on my workout days and also prepare a bowl of casein and frozen berries. This comes out to 125g protein, 150g carbs for my first meal and takes me not even 5 minutes to make.”
Read that above paragraph again. You see what he did there? Instead of lamenting over his lack of time and grabbing fast food in the few minutes he had to chow down, he found a restaurant that offered diet-friendly foods and became a regular customer. He changed his mindset to view his workload not as an impediment to his fitness goals, but rather as an advantage.
5. Have checkpoints.
Whether you want to weigh in daily or weekly, assess yourself by what you see in the mirror or by the fit or your favorite pair of jeans, be sure to have checkpoints. Test your strength every couple of weeks or every few months. Evaluating where you are in your fitness journey allows you to make any necessary adjustments and also provides honest feedback about how you’re doing. If you’re dropping fat at an alarming rate, it’s probably a sign that you’re shedding some hard-earned muscle as well. If your strength levels are dipping, perhaps your dieting calories are too low or you’re not doing enough heavy lifting.
Along the same lines, have an accountability buddy. This is huge. Sometimes people will hire trainers and pay them just so they have someone to be accountable to. Recruit a friend to keep tabs on each other. This will make you think twice – or thrice – before you swing by that donut store on your way back from work. Remember my recent post? I made myself accountable to the entire Internet community. Knowing that there are eyes watching me really does a lot to keep me in check. The last thing I want to do is to let someone else down after I’ve committed to something.
Recall that I mentioned earlier that this was simple. I didn’t say it was easy, so don’t confuse the two. But you know what? Nothing worth having comes easily. This will be worth the ride – I promise you that.
You have everything in you to succeed. The question is whether or not you’re willing to tap into your potential and make it happen.
Sohee Lee is an FMI alum, NSCA-certified personal trainer, writer, and fulltime student. She will receive her BA in Human Biology from Stanfod University in June 2012.
When not in the gym or buried in textbooks, Sohee can be found writing fitness articles and networking with other like-minded individuals.