Don’t let life get in the way of achieving your fitness goals!
Very few of us have the opportunity to pursue running full-time, which means we have to balance training for our athletic goals with a career, family, social life, and numerous other obligations. Especially in corporate America, the pressure to work longer hours to progress our careers can leave us mentally drained and limited on time to perform our best athletically.
However, the methods below have allowed me to progress my running ability and career in consulting simultaneously, without sacrificing time with family and friends. Whether you are training for your next marathon or simply exercising to stay fit, you can optimize your life with these techniques.
Flexibility is an essential trait to adapt to any situation that is thrown your way in an already busy schedule. If you have a big workout planned for Wednesday morning, but Tuesday night ends up being a late night at the office, it may be beneficial to push the workout back a day or two when your mental capacity and stress levels are back to normal. On the contrary, if you have a planned easy run but feel like a million bucks, you can elect to take advantage of it and execute your workout instead.
Another option is to modify a planned workout. If you are short on time or your head is just not in it on a day you are planning to do a longer tempo run, for example, you can modify it to be a fartlek run with reps of 1 minute on/off throughout and focus on giving an honest effort instead of hitting specific splits. That way, you are still getting a quality effort in but are adapting to the situation presented.
I must point out that this should not be an excuse to repeatedly cut workouts short or skip them entirely. If you find yourself in a long-term rut, there is likely a separate issue that needs addressed (more on this below). Nonetheless, adjusting workouts by a few days or tweaking them will not affect your long-term fitness progression as long as you stay consistent over time.
Train Smarter, Not Always Harder
In the business world, decisions are often made by predicting the return on investment (ROI) of a particular initiative. In life, my preferred economic measure is return on time invested (ROTI) to help me decide how to best utilize my time. With this mindset, I focus on the activities that deliver the greatest results. As humans, we only have so much mental capacity to dedicate to the plethora of tasks we need to complete each day, so making the most of the actions we take is key.
If I am pressed for time, I may elect to cut my run a few miles short in favor of lifting weights to get a higher stimulus to build strength, power, and speed. Or I may only do 4 mile repeats instead of 6, but will run each rep faster. Perpetually increasing workload isn’t the only way to increase performance. Our performance can also be enhanced by simply training smarter and ensuring we maximize quality.
Take Care of Your Overall Self
There has been ample research indicating that performance is affected by both physical and mental health, so it is crucial to take care of your overall self to perform at your maximum potential. Some best practices include eating nutritiously, sleeping plenty, and maintaining healthy stress levels, to name a few. If you only focus on executing the training itself and bypass all of the other factors that affect overall health, you are leaving money on the table when it comes to achieving peak performance. For more on achieving peak performance, I highly recommend the book "Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success."
Thanks to technology, it is relatively cheap and easy to track a number of biomarkers so you are cognizant of, and can correct, any latent health concerns before they have a larger impact on your training and life. Measuring Heart Rate Variability (HRV) daily has been pivotal for me because of its ability to assess my overall well-being and indicate when my body is ready to push or needs to rest. I have found the EliteHRV app and the Polar H10 Heart Rate Monitor are the most advanced and accurate combination out there. It can also be useful to track other metrics, such as sleep, steps, and stress via one of the many wearables available on the market today. If you are not a big fan of technology, you can achieve a similar outcome by simply being conscious of and assessing how you feel physically and mentally. Our brains are pretty smart at telling us when we need to back off.
Set Up Each Day for Improvement
The easiest way to 'hack’ your day is to eliminate the possibility for yourself to make any decisions that will negatively impact your progress toward your goals. Studies have shown that the more decisions we have to make in a given day, the harder it becomes to make a good decision as the day wears on because of mental fatigue. Thus, setting up our day so that the potentially hazardous choices are already made will give us the greatest improvement holistically. In addition, we can develop healthy habits that warrant growth in all facets of our lives.
Some examples include meal prepping to avoid selecting unhealthy food choices, taking the stairs, using a standing desk or sitting on a yoga ball at the office, taking regular walks throughout the day, meditating, focusing on posture, etc. Even in a job that requires sitting for the majority of the day, incremental fitness improvements can still be made by developing good habits throughout the day. Each of these examples not only promotes increases in physical health, but also improvements in mental health that will cascade progress in all you do.
Without a doubt, enjoying what you do is the recipe for success. It may be cliche, but it is true that life is too short to not do what makes you happy. If you are truly doing what you love in all areas of life, then balancing your fitness goals with a career and personal life is not about finding a balance at all (balance implies a trade-off); instead, it is about creating a harmony for your holistic self where all pieces of your life are integrated to create synergies. If you are happy in one aspect of your life, that spills over onto everything else.