I would [start exercise, exercise more, feel physically better, lose weight, etc] ... BUT...
"I don't have enough time!"
How much time do you think you need?
Probably not as much as you think. Read on - I'll do my best to give you some strategies to sneak a workout into your schedule. First off, I am not trying to persuade you the importance of exercise. The information is out there. If you are not convinced, in lieu of reading further - go schedule a chat with your doctor.
I started my strength/exercise routine young; & it has been a part of me ever since. Long before I became a personal trainer, because of my passion for/with strength - I have had many people confide in me about wanting to start their own personal strength program. Or confess they "use to feel good when they had some sort of a strength routine". If they know the benefits of strength training-then why not start practicing it?
To clarify, I say personal strength program - other people say exercise - we are echoing the same intent.
In my experience, getting started or reestablishing the habit is the toughest.
Over the last 20 years the 2 obstacles I have heard the most are: "I don't have enough time" and "I don't know where to start".
I think the two answers are connected. Because how can you know you don't have enough time? How much time do you think you need to dedicate? I think the time allocation or inability to carve out time in a busy schedule circles back to "I don't know where to start." Often I have heard 'The Exercised' retort, "YOU GOTTA MAKE TIME!" That statement is easy to say if you have already made exercise a priority in your life. I think the message is meant to be encouraging and inspiring. But for someone "outside the fitness circle" it can be off-putting.
Back to, " I don't have enough time." and How much time do you think you need?
What do you want to achieve? If they answer is top level bodybuilder, competitive powerlifter, or elite athlete - and you are saying you do not have enough time - well unless you are a freakish phenom (*I wouldn't bet on it-because if you were; you'd already be a celebrated athlete), you probably aren't going to need to build a trophy room. But, if you just want to feel better and move better, you are in luck. You want to get better? You want to get stronger? You are in luck! It doesn't take hours upon hours. Everyone is different and finding your minimum effective dose is a journey. (I am saying minimum effective dose here - because you are telling me -you don't have time!!)
Here are some ideas to get started. Once you get started and want to dive deeper - there are many roads. Which road is the best - that depends on where you want to go. If you don't know - the road doesn't matter.
(WHERE?) You don't have to go to the gym
Skip the gym. Start at home, in a park, on the beach. After you find your groove you can join a gym if you chose. But find one that fits your expectations. Not all are created equally.
(WHAT?) What is your body "ready" to do?
I suggest not to just jump on the latest fitness bang wagon. Start feeling better and set yourself up for future success. If you haven't exercised since High School Athletics, get your body moving - you can be an action hero later. Also at this point, I am trying to minimize your time commitment -until you are ready to allocate more time (if you choose). I do this because I have seen way too many people come off the office chair marathon with great intentions & high ambitions and burn out in a blaze of glory after a week or two. So be honest with yourself. How long has it been? Do you have any hiccups in your body that need attention? Do you sit all day. Depending on what condition your body is in - you could start with some stretching. Then you could move on to some smart mobility work. If/once you are ready to move, you don't have to access all the "fancy equipment at a gym" - use what you lug around with you all day - your body can be a personal gym. You just have to learn how to properly scale the difficulty (we will get more into that below). Want to dip your toes in the weights with little commitment - get a kettlebell. Kettlebells can definitely be practiced and scaled from beginner to elite.
Stretching: What would you benefit from the most? Does anything feel tight? Is this something you should address with your doctor? If it is nothing that needs the doctors supervision, you could find a couple good stretches and practice.
Because a lot of folks talk about stretching before an athletic event I want to quickly talk about it. Before an athletic event dynamic movements are usually better than stretching. The right one would depend on the athlete and activity. Example would be doing some quick squats &/or step back lunges before jogging. If you chose to do a static stretch (stretch you hold) before an activity, stretching should be short duration 10, 20 seconds. If you are doing a stretch after an activity or just a stretching session to limber up - that's when I would hold my stretches longer - 20 to 40 seconds is my wheelhouse.
Most people have bad posture. Picking either a stretch that would focus on hips or upper body would be great for most people. Let's start with the hips because they can have a big impact on feeling better and even help reduce nagging pains from sitting too long. Now there are several options. Just to give an example that could help most everyone - I'll choose a lying floor glute stretch using the wall. <Click here for video link> Of course there are others. But I am trying to include everyone. For example the kneeling flexor stretch, I believe can be great; but in my experience a lot of folks (especially in the beginning) crank on that stretch wrong and if you already have low back pain, you can force the low back to stretch more - which normally doesn't feel good.
Stretching seems to work best for most people when practiced in short frequent bouts vs occasional long duration. Try the lying glute stretch 30 seconds each side for 2 or 3 reps every day. That's only 2 or 3 minutes.
Mobility work: What would you benefit from the most? What hurts? My next question is what did the doctor say? If it is nothing that needs the doctors supervision for - pick the one thing that bothers you the most and practice a couple drills to help make you feel better. Knees, low back, shoulders - something that after a couple weeks - you will notice, "Wow, my blah-blah-blah doesn't hurt anymore." The opportunities are going to vary from person to person. Because I have seen big improvements reteaching people how to hinge properly -Let's go with the hip hinge. <Click here for video link> For the hip hinge you are trying to keep you head - back - and butt in alignment (from a side view, basically what is briefly demonstrated with the stick in the video). Try to keep your shin (lower leg) as vertical as possible and then "hinge" your butt back.
Start with a couple reps and try to work on making the movement feel more and more fluid. Practice reps of 5 for 3 to 5 sets. Depending on how you feel, I like the idea of everyday or every other day. As you get better with the movement practice reaching back slow and snapping forward back to standing at attention posture.
Body-weight: You are moving better, feeling better - how about some strength now! No need for equipment and with a few odds and ends you can make it very scale-able. The cool thing with body-weight is, you can do it anywhere. It can be tough for anyone. You can go from a mindful controlled sit down, stand up & advance to a single leg pistol squat. You can go from a high plank hold, to a push-up, to a single arm single leg push-up. Of course there are steps in between. Let's get you started with a high plank & a mindful controlled sit down - stand up. <high plank video> <sit down stand up video>
For the plank start with 2 or 3 sets. Work on improving your time. Stop before your form suffers. If you get all sets at 1 minute - we can advance. For sit down stand up start with 5 reps so you can keep mindful of your movement and not be sloppy. Depending on your athleticism you can practice 2 to 5 sets. Every other day would be a great start for these 2. Don't force anything that hurts - if it hurts get it checked out.
Kettlebells: In a time crunch can be a massive bang for you buck - quick session. At first glace it can be easy to underestimate those weird hand held cannonballs. But as you learn the technique and begin to practice you can get some pretty intense workouts in very short amount of time. As you learn the technique, you will learn when to get tight, when to stay loose. Starting off you can practice 1 or 2 movements with the bell and get a lot out of it (build muscle, burn calories). As your practice evolves you can get into complexes; which is multiple movements back to back. This is a great way to intensify your workout and reduce your workout session time. Now a lot of people do some funky stuff with kettlebells. And just because someone is a "trainer" doesn't mean they have a clue on how to perform or teach proper safe movements. Once you are ready to use/try kettlebells - I'd recommend you seek out a good teacher. I would personally recommend either someone that is RKC or SFG certified. I personally have my SFG; but I have friends in both organizations. If you need help finding a good one send me a message and I'd be glad to introduce you to a good teacher. In the meantime, if you have the mobility you could practice an elevated deadlift. A proper kettlebell deadift is a good starting point for many kettlebell movements. <Click here for video link> It is a graduated version of the hip hinge to the wall. Some people will need to spend more time with the hip hinge to the wall, some people need an in between drill. Be smart.
If you are not ready, put in the right work to get there. You could practice the elevated deadlifts 2 to 3 times per week. I like reps of 5, and depending on the person sets of 2 to 5.
(WHEN?) Find new time
(HOW?) Break it up
Regardless of what you practice, here are 3 possibilities to break it up to fit you schedule, if that is what you need. These strategies can come into play as your workout practice expands.
1. I have read that, "Provided the intensity is the same, your body doesn't know the difference between 30 minutes of activity vs (3) separate 10 minute bouts of activity." I think this helps a lot. Because if your schedule is tight, finding 30 minutes - could be tough. But 10 minutes - everyone can find 10 minutes. Depending on the activity you may need prepare your body and joints before just sprinting back into rounds 2 or 3.
2. Greasing the grove is a strategy we use often in the StrongFirst community. Typically greasing the grove is selecting 1 skill you want to get better at and practicing a few reps many times per day. It could be every time I get up from my desk I want to practice 5 mindful squats. It could be at every red light I want to practice my mid-section brace (bracing stomach for a punch). The point isn't that you are just mindlessly doing accumulative reps. It is that you are practicing the skill of that movement over and over. Making you better and better at that skill.
3. You can also piecemeal your sessions; break them up. I practice this a lot. This can be done multiple ways. Having a young son at home some days I can get a full workout in 1 single session. But most days I break my workout sessions up. I will get my main work done. Later in the day, perhaps after a nap, I will practice some accessories work. And by all means possible I delay the conditioning work for later in the day.
Putting it all together
I don't expect you to run out and start doing all the things listed. I tried to come up with a collection of generalized ideas that you could pick from that would be good/suitable for the general population. My hope is that it will trigger your thought process outside of what is typically marketed in most fitness magazines.
Maybe you practice stretching for a few days (or) weeks if it helps. Then you try a little mobility work. Maybe you are ambitious and you try the stretching, mobility, and body-weight. Great! Listen to your body. Is it telling you it likes what you are doing - please give me more! Or is it screaming, "What on earth are you doing!?" Again you can do the superhero workouts tomorrow, start practicing something today that will make you move and feel better.
At the end of the day the quick short workout you do is much better then the perfect workout session anointed by the fitness gurus that you don't do.
Always Get Better Stronger
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