In a perfect world, I’d exercise whenever I want for as long as I want. Nothing would interrupt or interfere with my training. Unfortunately, life isn’t perfect. It is often chaotic and unpredictable. As a business owner, coach, and parent, I never know what the next day will bring. On Monday I could be up all night with a sick child, and on Tuesday I might be traveling across the country with an athlete. Every day is different. The days of me training whenever I want for as long as I want have come and gone. What hasn’t changed however is my willingness to make time for exercise. No matter how busy I am, I always get something in. And despite my preference for long, hard workouts, I’ve come to realize that something beats nothing.
Life Changes, So You Must Too
I grew up as an athlete. Much of my life revolved around training. I was in the gym for a few hours each day. My responsibilities were simple. Keep my grades up and prepare for competition.
Looking back, I used to think I was busy, but my younger self didn’t know what busy was. At this stage in my life, I have many more responsibilities. My own training isn’t my primary concern. I have other athletes looking up to me as well as my children. Their needs come before mine.
Therefore, as much as I enjoy seemingly endless workouts, it is rare that I have time. My hectic schedule has forced me to become more efficient and creative with my training. I can’t just block off several hours in the middle of the day to lift. Instead, I need to make time, even when it seems like there isn’t time.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, the suggestions below might prove useful…
I. Something Beats Nothing
If I had a nickel for every time someone said they don’t have time for exercise, I’d be a rich man. Yet, whenever I hear this excuse, I don’t argue or belittle the person. Instead, I respond with a question.
How much time do you need?
My question is usually followed by a blank stare. Many people honestly don’t know. They just assume that however much time is needed is more time than they have. As a result, these people opt for nothing instead of something. That’s a mistake.
Just because you don’t have an uninterrupted hour or more to train doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from shorter blocks of exercise. Doing something is almost always better than nothing. Don’t let the frustration of not getting in a perfect workout stop you from doing anything. Even a single set of pushups is better than sitting on the couch whining about how you didn’t have time to exercise.
II. Bodyweight Exercise Convenience
When I ask someone how much time they need to exercise, their first thought is often how long it will take to drive to and from the gym. They aren’t just thinking about exercise time, but also the commute.
If you find yourself thinking similar thoughts, you are a prime candidate for bodyweight exercise. Its convenience can’t be beat. You don’t need to drive anywhere to perform a few sets of squats, lunges, pushups, pull-ups, etc.
I make this suggestion as someone who genuinely enjoys lifting weights. I’m a proud iron addict. I don’t always have time to lift the way that I want however. That’s no reason to skip training entirely though. I can always find time for calisthenics.
Regardless of your interests or goals, I highly recommend getting acclimated with bodyweight exercise. Once you become proficient with your body, you can essentially train anywhere. You won’t need much time (if any) to warm up and you also won’t need as much time between sets when compared to heavy lifting. In other words, you can cram a significant amount of work into a short period of time.
If you don’t believe the last line from above, see how many pushups or pull-ups you can cram into a ten minute block. I’m guessing that after ten minutes, you’ll have a change of heart. And if you are really stubborn, add a second ten minute block where you perform as many bodyweight squats as possible. Just don’t expect to walk anywhere afterward.
Training for approximately 10 to 15 minutes is what I refer to as a mini-workout. I’ve used mini-workouts successfully for many years. I actually credit these brief sessions with much of my success. Without regular mini-workouts, there’s no way I’d be where I am today.
As for how I use mini-workouts, I typically target one of the following.
- A single exercise (ex. pushups, pull-ups, rollouts, etc.)
- An objective (ex. lower arms, neck, or core)
- Conditioning (ex. jump rope or run for 10 to 15 minutes)
- Isometrics (ex. static holds or push/pull an immobile object)
As for when I include mini-workouts, I don’t take time for lunch so I squeeze in a short session instead. I’ll often do the same at night before bed. I vary what I target during each session to balance my development while also avoiding boredom.
IV. Wake Up Earlier
There’s no denying that sleep is important, but most of us can adjust our schedules to go to bed slightly earlier, thus wake up earlier to exercise. If I can wake up 30 minutes earlier, that’s 30 minutes that I add to each day. Thirty minutes might not sound like much, but after 365 days, you will have freed up over 180 hours. That’s more than a week of time.
Waking up earlier allows me to train in the morning. That’s when I perform my primary session. Mini-workouts are secondary. I always try to get the primary workout in first. And if for some reason I can’t, I’ll fall back to the something beats nothing idea later in the day.
V. Efficient Lifting
Efficient lifting to me means performing exercises that offer the most bang for the buck. In other words, look for lifts that are compound in nature and allow you to go heavy. Deadlifts are a prime example. If I don’t do anything but heavy deadlifts on a given day, I’ve still performed more work than most.
Another example of efficient lifting would be to pair an upper body exercise with a lower body movement. Doing so will minimize the total time spent resting between sets. I first mentioned this concept many years ago in my Infinite Intensity book and I still utilize it today. For example, I might pair pull-ups with glute-ham raises or perhaps a standing rollout with a one leg squat. There are countless options. Just be sure to pick two exercises that won’t interfere with each other. You’ll want to hit each movement hard, yet still be fresh when it is time for the next set.
VI. Combination Exercises
Another option is to perform exercise variations that target multiple objectives. For example, rather than just perform pull-ups, I might opt for pull-ups from thick grip handles (as seen above). This combination adds a secondary benefit of lower arm development.
Another example can be seen below. Rather than simply perform pushups, I’ve added a core component to the exercise by using an inexpensive furniture slider. It doesn’t take long for the upper body and core to be challenged with this combination.
Odd objects are also excellent for combination exercises. For example, I might shoulder a sandbag for several reps, before squatting or carrying it. Another option would be to press the sandbag overhead until you approach failure. At that time, lower the bag to the zercher position and continue lunge walking until your legs begin to shake. Repeat for a few sets. It won’t take long for the entire body to be spent.
VII. Spoil Yourself
No matter how busy I am, I always make time for at least one longer workout each week (ideally two). For me, that typically means Saturday or Sunday morning and possibly again on Wednesday. Even if it means waking up earlier than what’s already early, I give myself as much time as I need to push myself to the max.
I’m all for shorter and more efficient workouts, but I still need to feel a long, hard workout on occasion. Doing so once or twice a week is more than enough considering all of the additional work that I rack up via shorter sessions.
Clearly, the above ideas represent just a few options that have worked well for me. I’m not here to suggest that everyone follow my example. I do however have quite a bit of experience training hard despite working long and hectic hours. I’m living proof that it is entirely possible. I won’t suggest that it is always easy, but it certainly is doable. If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way.
Lastly, if you have any tips that you’ve found useful, I encourage you to comment below. It’s always useful to hear from other like-minded individuals.
“Men who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed.” – Lloyd Jones