If you want to improve your fitness, build muscle, gain strength, or burn fat, your workouts MUST be consistent. The occasional workout will not produce the results you want. Instead, you need to keep hitting the gym with Swiss watch-like regularity.
Unfortunately, life has an annoying habit of getting in the way of even the best intentions, and lack of time is arguably the biggest barrier you’ll need to overcome.
Training CAN be very time consuming, but it doesn’t have to be. Lack of time might mean you cannot train the way you want to, but it doesn’t have to mean you cannot train at all. In almost every instance, any workout is better than no workout.
Here are five strategies for fitting training into even the busiest schedule.
1. Get up early
There is something very gratifying about training while the rest of the world sleeps. Not only will the gym be quieter, but afterward you can relax and get on with the rest of your day knowing that the hard (and best) part is done.
Early morning training can be tough – especially if you are used to training later in the day. However, if you take the following steps, you should be able to adapt to working out at this time of day.
- Treat your last meal of the day as your main pre-training meal. Eat complex carbs, protein, and healthy fat so you have energy to exercise the following morning
- Go to bed earlier. If you are going to get up at 6am, you need to be in bed by around 10-11pm
- Put your alarm clock on the far side of your bedroom so you have to get up to turn it off. No hitting the snooze button!
- Pre-set your coffee machine so you wake up to an energising cup of black gold! Put it in a thermos cup so you can drink it on the way to the gym
- Prepare some food the night before for your after-training snack
- Pack your gym bag so you can get up, grab it, and go
- Take a few minutes to ease into your workout; you may need an extra warm-up set or two
- Beware of loading your spine too heavily, too quickly. After a night of being horizontal and unloaded, your spine needs extra time before being compressed
- If early morning training is new to you, take it easy for the first few workouts to avoid making it feel harder than it needs to be. Increase intensity gradually
2. Bodyweight or bust
No time to hit the gym? That doesn’t mean you can’t train. Instead of pumping iron, why not simply use your bodyweight instead?
Bodyweight exercises are often said to be best for beginners only, but that really isn’t true. No matter how fit or strong you are, you can still get a good workout from simple bodyweight exercises. They are easy on your joints, can be done anywhere and anytime, and you don’t need much of a warm up. Yes, you may need to do higher than normal reps but that’s still a much better option than not training at all.
Try this simple full body bodyweight workout that takes about 15-20 minutes to complete.
1) Push-Ups – 100 reps in as few sets as possible. Rest no more than 60 seconds between sets.
2) Pull-Ups – 50 reps in as few sets as possible. Rest no more than 60 seconds between sets.
3) Leg Complex – three sets of the following, resting 60 seconds between sets: 10 squat jumps, 20 squats, 10 jumping lunges per leg, 20 lunges per leg, 60 seconds wall squat holds.
3. Spread your workout
Every training program involves doing several exercises per workout, one exercise after another. This can add up to a lot of time. If you can’t commit to such long workouts, consider spreading your workout throughout the day. This is ideal if you have unrestricted access to a gym, e.g. at work, at school, or at home.
For example, if you normally train chest and back together, try the following:
AM – bench press (5 sets of 5), supersetted with pull-ups (5 sets of as many reps as possible)
Midday – push-ups (100 reps), band pull aparts (100 reps)
PM – incline dumbbell press (3 sets of 6-8), dips (3 sets of as many reps as possible), seated rows (3 sets of 8-12), lat pulldowns (3 sets of 8-12)
The training volume is fairly standard but is spread through the day so each workout should take no more than 20-30 minutes. The midday workout requires no specialist equipment so you should be able to do it anywhere and anytime – even at work or school.
4. Train more often but for less time
Most people can find 30 minutes a day to train, but may struggle to find 60-90 minutes at any one time. Use this phenomenon to your advantage by doing very short but frequent workouts. Limit your training sessions to just 1-2 exercises per day but train up to six days a week. For example:
- Monday: Bench press and dumbbell flyes
- Tuesday: Squats
- Wednesday: Overhead press and side raises
- Thursday: Deadlifts
- Friday: Pull-ups
- Saturday: Dips and biceps curls
- Sunday: Rest
5. Go hard or go home
High intensity training (HIT) is often associated with cardio intervals but, in fact, originates in the world of strength training. With HIT, instead of doing multiple sets and multiple exercises per muscle group, you do just one or two sets of one or two exercises. This means that a full-body workout can be completed in 30 minutes and split routines take even less time.
To do HIT, warm up and then do a single all-out set to absolute failure. You should grind to a halt somewhere in your preferred rep range i.e. 6-12 for muscle gain and 13-20 for endurance. Move quickly onto your next exercise and repeat.
The theory is that it’s muscle tension and intensity that triggers an adaptive training response and not volume. While this may or may not be true, there is no denying that, when time is short, HIT can help you continue to make progress by exposing your muscles to significant overload.
Time IS a potential barrier to consistent exercise but that doesn’t mean you have to go down without a fight! While none of these options represent ideal training scenarios, they are all better than not training at all. The next time you think you have no time to train, use one of these methods to, at the very least, maintain your fitness and strength.