Why is it so hard to squeeze in a workout?
For some reason that phrase bugs me. "Just squeeze in a workout today." As if it makes complete sense to do a workout on the way to the grocery store or in between errands. Who does that?! You can maybe squeeze in a walk while you're at the park or some squats while you're carrying the baby...but a whole workout?
While I'm a huge proponent of workouts that are highly efficient and don't require you to spend an hour and a half at the gym, you can't ignore the fact that workouts are typically an ordeal...both practically and mentally.
For starters, doing a workout is a time commitment on multiple levels. While you're working out, you can't simultaneously be doing other things, like responding to emails or doing dishes or folding the laundry. Working out is a separate task all together that requires all of your focus. And often, if it’s a really good workout, you're going to need a shower afterward. And then on top of that, if you workout at a gym, you need to factor in travel time.
Also, if you're a mom that prefers to workout at home, we all know that it can become a huge ordeal with the kids. What should be a thirty minute workout can quickly become a full hour or more when you’re constantly interrupted.
Also, a simple workout can easily become a big mental ordeal, especially if you're just beginning. There's the anticipation, the fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar, the lack of experience for how all the logistics of a new workout fit together. It can take a lot of mental energy to get yourself motivated to even start.
It's no wonder that many moms find it easier to go for a run as their primary form of exercise. Everybody knows how to run, and all you have to do is lace up your shoes and head out the door. Minimal mental energy. And the same goes for strolling your life away on an elliptical machine at the gym. You don't have to think at all, you just do what the machine does.
But a real deal workout? The kind that makes a big difference for your body? Yeah, you can't just "squeeze" that in.
You have to make time for it.
Non-Negotiable. Before we go any further, we need to discuss your priorities. Let's call your priorities “non-negotiables”—pieces of your daily life that are required for it to function well.
If something is non-negotiable, there's simply no room for negotiating your way out of it or around it. It happens whether you want to do it or not, and whether you have the perfect amount of time to do it or not.
For example, some obvious non-negotiables are sleeping and eating, right? For you, these things are absolutely necessary to function well. Without adequate sleep and food, you’ll crash. When was the last time you went a whole day without eating? Or sleeping? We can insert plenty of jokes about this as moms, but even still...we make sure that eating and sleeping are priorities.
Other daily non-negotiables for us may be taking a shower, working at our jobs, family time, social time and even downtime. Personally, for my day to function best, I need some silence and a nap every afternoon. If I don’t get this, my day is a mess. I just don’t function well.
Is exercise on your non-negotiable list? It should be.
Everybody requires regular exercise to operate best, to stay resistant to illness and injury, and to provide energy for all the other tasks. It’s a must-do. Just like the other non-negotiables in your life, you can’t argue yourself out of it, and you can’t let other tasks get in the way. As much as you make an effort to prioritize sleeping and eating, exercising needs to happen.
There is no room for negotiation.
So let me ask you: is working out important to you and are the effects of regular exercise valuable enough for you to move workouts on to the non-negotiable list?
When your workouts finally make the cut and become non-negotiable for you, the task then simply becomes fitting it into your schedule.
Scheduling. Place your workouts into your schedule at a time that is the least affected by other variables. What part of your day is the most predictable? You should know exactly what will or will not happen at that time of day.
For some of you this may be later in the evening. The kids are in bed, dinner is over and nothing ever happens between 8:00 and 9:00.
For others, your most predictable time could be early afternoon. You’re always home to make sure your kids have their naps, so this is your best opportunity.
And for many of you, the early morning is the only sacred time that is unaffected by busyness. The rest of your day, from the moment the kids wake up until you crash on the couch late at night, is packed full. And you simply can't muster up the energy to do a good quality workout late at night. So, early morning is your best bet for a consistent workout, completely void of other commitments.
The evolution of my 5:30 am workout...For years, my own workouts happened when I had a free hour here or there. Back in the days before kids when I was doing eight or more training sessions per day, if I had a chunk of time available I would bust out a workout.
But then we had kids and I found myself home more, so my workouts happened during morning or afternoon naptimes. My workout time was never set in stone, but they always happened because they were non-negotiable.
However, the problem with my time-free-wheeling was that I never found a groove. Yes, I followed a steady, well-designed workout plan, but my body was all over the place with the different workout times. One day I would feel fresh and energetic, but the next day I would feel blah.
I was able to identify that whenever I worked out after lunch I had zero energy and motivation. Once I recognized this problem I decided to always workout mid-morning, forgetting the afternoon or evening workouts altogether.
But two problems arose:
1. My kids were awake and with me, so in order to keep them off of my body for two minutes I had to plug them into the cartoons, practically intravenously. They were watching a lot of cartoons.
2. My work and activity schedule sometimes changed, so this mid-morning workout became unpredictable. Sometimes it happened and sometimes it didn’t.
Even though mid-morning was my favorite time to workout, in reality it wasn't working well, for me or the kids. I often found myself frustrated or skipping it altogether.
There had to be a better way.
The collision of my selfishness and my selflessness. This probably sounds out of character for me to even suggest this, but you might need to be selfish a little bit. Hear me out. For me, I brought my workouts up the priority status where they were non-negotiable. I could no longer argue or negotiate or come up with excuses...they were going to get done. But I needed to find a chunk of time that the kids wouldn’t bother me and any other plans would never affect it. I prefer to get in and get out without being bothered or interrupted. In order for me to consistently train in an uninterrupted environment I had to be a bit selfish with my time.
But, I also needed to be selfless and lay aside momentary comfort, because the only time I came up with that would consistently work was 5:30 in the morning!
It’s dark and cold, and the bed is so very warm and comfortable. Committing to workouts this early in the morning was not going to be easy, but I knew it was my only choice.
It was going to require some sacrifice.
Thus, the 5:30 am workout was birthed. And believe it or not, I have come to absolutely love it. Not everyday, but most days. The house is still and peaceful. I see the sunrise every morning (well, not every morning because this is Oregon after all, not Hawaii). And by 6:30 every day, my workout is in the bag and I can move on with the rest of my day.
This feels so good.
(The rest of my house wakes up at 7:00 am, so wrapping up my working at 6:30 is imperative. I value that half hour to sit in the stillness of the house with my coffee, my Bible, and a heart that's anticipating the day ahead.)
Consistency is Fitness' Best Friend
When it comes to being truly fit, you must be consistent with real workouts, whether that's consistently two workouts or six workouts every week. But, you can't play the game of three workouts this week and one workout next. You just won't get anywhere and see any real results.
If you're inconsistent, you're probably talking yourself out of it on a regular basis. You're negotiating. Stop.
Your job, then, is to make sure exercising is a non-negotiable. Treat it as a life requirement, like showering, eating, or sleeping...therefore you must accommodate it regularly.
Look at your schedule over the course of the week and determine the days and the times of day that you can control the most. Be honest about this assessment. It might not be 5 am, but it might be. Ask yourself if you need to be a little more selfish with your time, or maybe even more selfless? Are you holding on to certain comforts that are preventing you from being consistent?
While it's true that a real workout is somewhat of an ordeal, both practically and mentally, when you view them as important enough to be non-negotiable in your everyday life, you'll make the time. It might not be the perfect time, or the most comfortable time, but you'll get it done.
Stop negotiating with yourself, starting now.
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Megan P. Dahlman
Hi friend! I'm a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Precision Nutrition Certified Coach, Wife to Scott, and Mom to two crazy boys, Calvin & Peter. I train hard, eat well, rest just enough to keep going, and do my best to maintain a heavenly perspective. I'd love to coach you to do the same. Cheers!
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