While there are a plethora of methods to choose from, one recurring theme in nearly all of these programs is a mandated schedule of specific days that are to never be altered within a given time frame, i.e. workout every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, while always taking Wednesdays and Sundays off, etc.
This rigid approach to training is certainly rooted in a good philosophy— the belief in persistence, hard work, and the positive gains that come as a result of this dedication—and if you are a professional athlete, able to support yourself solely off of your athletic endeavors, then you most certainly can and should abide by this type of rigid scheduling—it’s your job. However, the reality is that many of us, this columnist included, do not have the same schedule or availability week to week, and in order to lay out a consistent and effective training program we must be willing to adapt on the fly.
Between my various professional and personal obligations, it is simply impossible for me to realistically say that I can be in the gym at precisely the same time every day for several weeks at time, but this inconstancy in daily scheduling does not stop me from staying in the best shape possible, and it shouldn’t stop you either. It simply means we need to re-evaluate our approaches to scheduling workouts and recovery.
Here are a few ways I have found very effective to meet my goals in a hectic, and constantly changing schedule.
Set up a Primary Goal
Whether your goal is to increase athletic performance, become more flexible, lose weight, gain muscle, or simply work off some daily stress, it is very important to identify exactly what it is you want. You may not be able to have an exact schedule every week, but by pinpointing an exact goal, you can make an adaptive plan to ensure that this goal is realized.
Shape a Schedule to Stay Consistent With This Goal at the Start of Each Week.
While the demanding nature of my lifestyle prevents me from realistically scheduling exact days and times for my training sessions weeks or months in advance, I can certainly do my best to lay this out week to week.
To put it in perspective, as I am writing this article my primary goal is to add lean muscle to my frame. Through trial and error, I have found that for this style of training my body takes best to a 5 day training schedule paired with two rest days every week. While I know exactly what works best for me in the gym, in order to be able to get all five of these sessions in, and properly recover from these sessions without interfering with the rest of my daily responsibilities and pleasures, I adjust the timing and scheduling of my workouts week to week.
Here is an Example:
One week I may sit down to schedule my weekly workouts and know that my band has a show to play on a Thursday night. Ideally I would like to schedule my workouts for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, taking Wednesday and Sunday off; but I know that realistically I am going to be very crammed Thursday rushing home from work to get ready to play the gig, and on top of this, I am, like it or not, going to sleep less than I normally would on a typical school or workday. I do not want to cheat myself, my band, or our friends and fans by trying to cram a workout in immediately beforehand, making things stressful on everyone, nor do I want to be completely fried out at school or work the next morning, but that certainly does not mean I am just going to be lazy and skip that training session.
Instead of skipping this workout, I may go a couple of different routes: I may choose to workout Monday through Wednesday, taking Thursday completely off, and then train Friday and Saturday, or, if my morning schedule permits, and I am recovering well, then I may put the workout in Thursday morning rather than evening.
The next week, I may actually have a schedule that permits the typical Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday training days, but again, this is always changing, and I am on top of this every Sunday to ensure that the following week is a successful one in the gym.
While this seems very simple, and it is, I do often see workout programs mandating exact time frames and daily schedules, and I think it is important for people to realize that while these are very sound guidelines, they should not be taken as the end-all be-all to getting into shape.
If some days of the week you can only work out in the morning, while other days you can only workout at night, then do it that way. If these are intensive training sessions, then try your best to separate these days with a rest day, but again, like anything, do what works best for you, and listen to your body!
Plan and Prepare Meals Ahead
This has been written about so much in that I am really spinning a broken record at this point, but people still fail to do this all the time. It is extremely simple to plan healthy, easy meals on the fly, and it is absolutely imperative that you do so if you want to be in good shape. If you need any help coming up with ideas check out my article Eat and Enjoy: The Simple Pleasure of Life-Long Nutrition.
Again, to give you an example of how this plays out in a real person’s life, specifically my very unorthodox, crazy, and chaotic life, I will lay out how I spent last Saturday:
7:00 a.m. Wake up and eat oatmeal w/ flaxseed, Sunwarrior, and a banana.
8:30 a.m. Hit the weights.
9:45 a.m. Have a scoop of Sunwarrior, and make a peanut butter and banana sandwich to munch on the road.
10:00 a.m. Get on the road to Wisconsin to get tattooed, and play a show with my band that evening.
12:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Get a huge tattoo on my forearm, while intermittently munching on brown rice, veggies, and tofu out of a Tupperware during breaks—much to the amusement of my friend tattooing me at the shop.
7:00 p.m. – 11:30 p.m. Get over to my brother’s house, get all the gear loaded up, and get to the venue to load in, hangout, and check out the other bands.
12:00 a.m. (now Sunday) Play an awesome show to a very energetic and engaged crowd.
3:00 am Finally get some well needed sleep; prepare for a band practice the next day; a drive home to Chicago, and know that I am absolutely NOT going to work out until Monday.
The reason I highlighted this day is because I think it’s important to realize that you can live a real life and still be healthy. It is a huge fallacy that in order to work a serious job and have an engaging social life you have to succumb to crap food and an unhealthy lifestyle. While I may not have the luxury of always sleeping in the same place every night or having access to trendy health food stores and vegan restaurants—or even a kitchen to cook in for that matter—I plan ahead to ensure that, despite my crazy lifestyle, I will always eat clean, work out, and feel good.
Acknowledge Your Need for Recovery
While I just highlighted a typical day in my crazy life, it is also important to realize that not only do I schedule my meals and training sessions around this chaos, I also schedule recovery, or at the least the best recovery a nut like me can get.
In the past I have often just “toughed out a day” to stick to a specific plan—basically the attitude that if I planned a routine for several weeks, breaking a day would be a weak thing to do, and I just need to suck up the stress and wear and tear of the rest of my life in order to accommodate my training. This attitude comes from years of competing as an amateur and professional fighter, and is rooted in good discipline, but the reality is those other facets of life really do matter, and like training, they also absorb a lot of energy.
If you know that next Thursday is your best friend’s birthday and you would like to enjoy a couple glasses of wine and a decent “cheat meal,” then simply do yourself a favor and schedule Friday as an OFF day—giving your body the proper respect of recovery. If you keep your indulgences on that Thursday moderate, and take it easy Friday, you will have no problem getting back in the gym Saturday and having a great workout. Again, the keyword here is moderation! I am not saying be a drunken slob and expect to feel good for the next couple days, because you most definitely will not!
Feel Good About Everything!
Stress is a serious killer, and one of the easiest ways to accumulate it is by being negative. Put yourself to a high standard, but don’t confuse consistency and discipline with self-deprecation. If you had an exhausting day, and then came up short on something in the gym, do not put yourself down and further hinder your goals. While it is important to acknowledge that you want to strive to do better, think less about the fact that you failed, and more about how the next session can be improved.
It is very important to realize that everything in your life matters, and just because you had a bad day does not mean that you cannot now have a good night. Put what went wrong in perspective, and focus on a positive way to fix this tomorrow or whenever your next training session is: this is now something for you to look forward to. Once you have done this, try your best to put it behind you for the night, eat a decent meal, and engage in your favorite relaxing activity. You will feel much better, and your central nervous system will thank you dearly.
Even in a crazy lifestyle it really is not that hard to stay in shape and feel good year round. Stay focused on your goals, learn to adapt, and you will have no problem succeeding. Chaos and inconsistencies are inevitable in life, but if you learn to accept them they do not have to be hindrances to your goals: you might even realize that all this craziness is a big part of what makes life worth living in the first place—after all, who wants to always do the same old thing?
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