The Best Workout Plan for the Busy Athlete.
If you live a busy life with a million other responsibilities (kids, work, school, commuting, etc.), you know how difficult it is to manage your life outside the gym while at the same time trying to optimize your fitness and performance.
It’s tough to balance for sure! I feel that.
We all don’t have the freedom everyday to dedicate the perfect amount of time to a given training session. And when we think we do, something else tends to interrupt us.
But I’m here to tell you that you can still make great progress and see results with a busy schedule.
It’s not impossible by any means, you just need to be efficient and flexible with your training sessions and the plan you have laid out.
So below, I have written 6 important training variables that will help you optimize your training, see results, and help reduce your overall stress.
1. Limit volume in a given session.
Pretty simple rule. Most busy athletes aren’t going to be able to stick around for more than 1-1.5 hours at the gym. That means volume is going to need to be adjusted and kept reasonable. Performing a long EMOM, multiple strength movements, a high intensity WOD, and some low threshold aerobic work is going to be a bit much in one session. Keep the volume, or total amount of work, dependent on the time you have available. Focus on quality over quantity in that time. Also, lower volume means better ability to recover on a week-to-week basis.
2. Frequency is king.
So with shorter sessions and less volume, the frequency or number of sessions you have a week can be a little bit more. This also allows you to recover more efficiently (pending you’re not going all out 5 days a week hitting 80-90% of your heart rate max). A higher frequency allows you to hit your fitness from different angles and because you’re keeping the volume lower, you don’t have to spend so much time in the gym. More bang for your buck with higher frequency, lower volume.
3. Zone 2 heart rate training is your best friend.
For the busy athlete, there is a lot going on which means stress levels may be a bit higher. So some sessions where you were scheduled to hit a pretty intense WOD but you just don’t have the time or the energy, you can still get some incredibly effective exercise in. Enter zone 2 heart rate training. Zone 2 is a level where you can move (for example bike, run, row, etc.) and still have a conversation. It’s fairly easy and is essentially 60-70% of your max heart rate. And the best part is you get a ton of reward without increasing training fatigue and/or taking more time to recover. Benefits of zone 2 training include more efficient fat utilization for energy, better lactate clearance, and it helps to preserve glucose which means more energy later on. I’m not going to go into all of the benefits but here’s a quick summary from one of the leading experts on endurance training and the benefits of zone 2.
4. Plan for the long term and don’t overstress the short term.
With a busy life, you need to plan for the road ahead. The fitness journey you are on will take time like anything worth having. That means PR’s will come with time. Attempting to chase some quick validation by adding more volume/weight and putting excessive pressure on yourself to achieve some result in the short term is a bad idea. Fatigue increases, the risk of setbacks increases, and it’s not sustainable. Enjoy the journey and keep in mind it’s a process.
5. Utilize slow controlled reps in your strength training.
So if you’re frequently making it to the gym 4-5 days a week, you should have at least 2-3 days where you’re working on some type of slow controlled movement in the form of strength training. This in itself is not only going to increase your muscle mass and protein synthesis, but it’s also going to prevent injury when you start pushing the workload in your more intense WODs. Just a few movements here and there dedicated to slowing things down will work wonders in the long haul. It’s therapeutic!
6. Nutrition doesn’t have to be perfect, just has to be consistent.
I’m sure you hear this all the time, so I’m just giving you a reminder here. You don’t have to perfectly count out every macro, drink exactly 8 cups of water, or eat exactly 12 servings of vegetables a day… just be mindful and eat intelligently for your goals. So for the majority of the week, eat as "good" as you can. Meal prep. Do what needs to be done. But don’t put excessive pressure on yourself to be perfect, especially when you want to go out and enjoy yourself on a Friday night and have a drink or two. You need to enjoy the journey, "rigidity" is not sustainable. Flexibility and mindful adjustments create better, long term results!
Optimizing performance and living a busy lifestyle is tough but it’s not impossible, remember that. When in doubt, break down your plan into smaller goals and chip away at what you can realistically accomplish in your given time. Take the pressure off yourself first to bring back the enjoyment and adjust from there.
Work with your busy lifestyle, not against it.
Now go out and have a freaking awesome day!!
The Element 26 Team is over here rooting for ya :)
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Element 26 Co-Founder