How a busy day can ruin your workout

Lots of people lead very busy lives. Even if you’re really dedicated to your gym regime, life outside the gym (family, work, extra-curricular activities, chores) can sometimes get in the way. A busy day can affect the workout in a number of ways. Here are two big reasons why and suggestions on how you can try to maintain good workouts even when life is busy.

Being stretched for time

Your workout takes a certain amount of time. Each day only has a limited number of hours. When there are lots of other things going on that day, time has to be split carefully between activities. If other things have to take priority, you will have to cut your gym time short.

You may not have sufficient time to warm up: If your body requires a substantial amount of warming up, this may be cut short. This can mean the rest of your workout feels harder as you were not physically ready, or can increase the likelihood of pulling a muscle.

You may have to take less rest between sets and exercises: This may mean you find the exercises harder, or you may even have to lower the weight.

You may not be able to complete the workout that was planned: This is always a horrid thing to happen. If you have a programme, you want to follow it, you don’t want to have to miss out on what is prescribed.

You may be worrying about all the other things you have to do after the gym: This can have a big effect on the exercises you are doing. Weight lifting (especially the Olympic lifts and their variations) require an enormous amount of mental focus. If you are not completely focused on what you are doing, your lifts will suffer and they can also be dangerous.

You may not have had enough sleep: If your day is busy, you may have had to get up earlier than your normal, or you may end up going to sleep much later. A lack of sleep in terms of hours, or a lack of sleep in terms of quality (due to worrying about how much you’ve currently got on), can negatively impact your training sessions.

Having to change the time of your workout

Some people have their ‘optimal’ windows of time in which they prefer to exercise. Some people are early birds and feel most energised in the morning, others like to do it later in the day, etc. A busy day can sometimes require you to have to change the time of your workout to accommodate for all the other things you have scheduled. This in itself can be very stressful.

(I have autism and what time it is and when things are done really affects me. If I have to work out at the ‘wrong’ time, my workout really suffers as it’s just completely out of my normal routine.)

Working out at a different time, or a non-optimal time, changes all sorts of factors, such as…

The weather: This is a particular concern in the summer when it may be far more comfortable to be exercising in the morning when it is cooler. Doing your workout in very hot or humid conditions can be tough. If you are used to training in the morning and you have to move it to later in the day, your body will not be used to working in hot conditions and your workout can suffer.

When and what you last ate: Everyone has their own preferences on what and when they like to eat food and how it affects their workouts. Some people feel best working out on an empty stomach, others like to train soon after eating. Some people like to go to bed immediately after a workout, others like to eat a full meal after a workout and before they go to bed, etc. Some people like to work out after eating a carbohydrate-rich meal, some people like to eat a protein-rich meal afterwards… etc. If you have to change the time of your workout to something that is unusual for you, you will be training under different ‘eating conditions’, which can affect the workout.

What time you go to bed or wake up: If the only way you can fit your workout in is by getting up a bit earlier or going to bed a bit later, this will affect the workout. If you’re not naturally a morning person and have to train early in the morning, you’ll most likely feel very tired and groggy. If you’re not naturally a night person and you end up having to train late at night, you’ll most likely feel tired and impatient that the day is dragging on. Your workouts will probably not be as good as they usually are.

How much other activity you’ve already done: Most people get tired physically as the day goes on, or with the more activity they do. If you normally schedule your workout in for a time in which you feel you have the most physical energy, your workout will probably be a lot better than if you end up working out after for example you’ve taken the dog for a long walk or played football with your children.

Strategies for maintaining good workouts even when life is busy

The first thing to do is be organised and know what the following week is going to look like in advance. If you function independently, this is probably far easier to do than if you have a family and have to fit in around all their activities too! If you do have a family, keep track of what your spouse or children are up to so you can anticipate when it looks like a ‘busy day’ is going to happen.

Knowing that a day is going to be busy in advance allows you to make the following accommodations for your workout:

  • you can change your workout to a different one, e.g. ‘heavy’ or ‘technique’ based workouts will probably take more time than ‘lighter’ / sub-maximal workouts. Can you switch them around this week?
  • you can change your rest day so that it occurs on the busy day. You may well feel relieved by the one less burden
  • you can change your meals to accommodate for the workout – if what and when you eat really affects your workouts, you can change your meals. For example, if you find you have the most energy after your carbohydrate-rich breakfast (and the rest of your day is normally low in carbs) and that is when you usually train, you could choose to have a carbohydrate-rich lunch instead if you know on this day you’ll be training after lunch instead
  • you can go to bed a bit earlier if you know you’ve got a busy day tomorrow which may require you to get up earlier in order to fit everything in – this may mean you’re less tired throughout the day and have enough energy to exercise
  • you can ensure you have the optimal clothes for the weather – if you normally train in the morning fully clothed and you find you have to train later in the day when it’s hot, have suitable clothes ready (e.g. shorts and T-shirt, instead of full length tracksuit bottoms and long-sleeved T-shirt)
  • think about how you could make your workout more time-efficient – for example, changing the sequence of the exercises… or if your gym only has one squat rack and is often in use and you know you’ve got squats today, consider moving squats to tomorrow instead
  • clear your mind when you are at the gym – you have allocated this time for yourself (and ‘you time’ is very important for mental health) – so give yourself permission to have clarity of mind and enjoy the time you are there
  • if you can’t clear your mind, don’t even attempt the Olympic lifts as these more than any can be dangerous to do if you are not wholly focused – do something different instead. Also, if you’re not wholly focused on the Olympic lifts when you do them, you can unintentionally be teaching yourself bad techniques (and we all know that bad habits are hard to break)

I understand more than anyone how difficult, stressful and demotivating it can be to try to do your normal workout when things going on outside of your fitness regime are hectic. My workouts really suffer when I have busy days and I often come away feeling rotten. These tips do help! It’s about being sensible about what you do and planning in advance.

Always be kind to yourself – life isn’t always all about the gym and one ‘bad’ workout doesn’t mean everything is all bad. It’s fine to take a day off sometimes too!

If you start noticing that you’re having far too many ‘busy days’ it may be a good idea to re-evaluate your overall life structure.