By Michael Krueger
Everyone has occasionally said, “I don’t have the time for that,” or some variation of the phrase. Then some smart guy will say, “We’ve all got the same 24 hours in our day” or some other clichéd, hackneyed old saying.
Undeniably, it is true that we all have the same hours in our day and how we use them is our business. It’s also a fact that often we don’t have as much say in how our hours are allotted as we might wish. Between work and family, it can be hard to know what to do.
I find when I change “I don’t have time” to “That’s not my priority,” it forces me to look at the questions differently and make some difficult choices.
Ultimately, I do find a way to do what is truly important to me.
Your Time, Your Priorities
To begin with, I’m going to go on the assumption that getting regular exercise on a consistent schedule is your priority. If that is in fact the case, you will come up with a way to get it done. I’m just going to give you a few suggestions that might help.
The hard part is that it’s not as simple as just deciding to work out. I see people all the time who set an exercise schedule without thinking about all the reasons this schedule didn’t work the last time or the time before that. Clients cancel and reschedule on a regular basis, and it’s not because working out isn’t important to them but because they haven’t thought through the difficulty of consistently committing to a time to train. There is a path to solving this problem, and to start you on your way you’ll need to do some serious thinking about your personality as well as your lifestyle.
If you happen to be a morning person, getting up an hour earlier to get in a workout is easy. If you are a night owl, then working out late in the day is the way to go. If you are one of those amazingly flexible people who function well both early and late, then the time of day doesn’t matter to you and you can do it whenever the opportunity presents itself. Working out when you have the energy to do so seems obvious, but when you look at your schedule, you may find yourself trying to force yourself into a time that doesn’t work well for you. A night owl trying to work out regularly at 5:00 a.m. is a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, even if you do know and plan well, it doesn’t mean that our optimal circadian time will always be available to us. If you find that you can’t work out at your ideal time on a regular basis, then you have to become creative to find a time that works long term.
There will always be a day here and there where your schedule will be disrupted in the short term. This is so minor that you should be able to shrug it off, treat it as a day off from training, and move on. These situations certainly come under the umbrella of “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Over the years, life has a way of messing with the best-laid routines. When that happens, you may find yourself having to make drastic adjustments. I have worked out early, late, and in the middle of the day. These changes were not by my choice; the reasons involved changes in family and work demands. Each time I was forced to change my schedule, I went through a few weeks of turmoil. The time I dragged my butt out of bed changed, mealtimes shifted, my bedtime moved; it was never fun or easy. Since I am a bit compulsive, I am most comfortable with a regular schedule. Changing my routine didn’t cause many physical issues, but mentally it was a challenge. For me, though, the desire to continue with my training was more than enough motivation to implement the changes, and I did it with a minimum of kicking and screaming. After a few weeks, I settled in and all was good.
Another thing to consider is which day of the week to work out. Since you will be training at least five days per week, you might not think this is a big deal, but it does matter. Putting a specific workout on each of the five days, along with planned rest days, ensures total conditioning and recovery. If you work a rotating shift schedule, it’s important to keep your training as simple and as efficient as possible. Doing full body strength training, rather than an upper/lower body split routine, and filling in on opposite days with cardio will give you about as much flexibility as you can get. So if your schedule gets messed up, at most you may need to insert two off days once in a while to keep the basic pattern intact, so it isn’t that big of a deal.
Despite the logic of weathering minor shifts in schedule, if you are like me and really like to do cardio on a particular day and have weight training on other specific days and never vary if possible, then a change in schedule can really send you for a loop. The way I mitigate the pain of this variation is to occasionally jerk myself around by choice and make changes to the days I train, “just because.” This breaks the routine and reminds me to be more flexible. I do this because I know that no matter how much I fight it, the time will come when changes will be forced upon me, so I may as well get used to it.
Since I don’t know you and I’m not familiar with your life, I can’t tell you exactly how to make this work. I can tell you that it’ll only work if you make the effort to really understand your personality, goals, priorities, and living and work situations. There isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Your life is most likely ridiculously complex, and setting your priorities will force you to make some tough decisions, but in the long run it will be worth it.
You know that your health and fitness aren’t negotiable, so that means making time for exercising. The time of day, day of week, and manner of your exercise are infinitely variable. Your goals may have to be very modest rather the grandiose; but that doesn’t matter. You just need to do the best you can.
Firefighting is demanding of your time, emotions, and physical and mental energy. Your family pulls from the same well of energy. Taking the time to be physically fit makes this well deeper and replenishes it quicker. After a while, you’ll find that your improved fitness and self-image allow you to devote more of yourself to all aspects of your life and still have some energy in reserve.
It Really Works
You don’t need to become an elite athlete to greatly improve your performance as well as your health and life. As long as you have your priorities straight, definable goals, and a short- and long-term plan for success, any reasonable level of exercise will do. If you go off without a plan, odds are you will get lost, confused, and defeated in short order.
Investing three hours per week in your physical fitness will pay back dividends like you won’t believe … but it doesn’t come free; you have to make the investment.
Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at MKPTLLC@gmail.