Training tips for the busy athlete
Keep the home life happy
Ensure you block time out for family and friends, you will need their support so get this right from the outset. Plan ahead and put family day’s on the calendar when you do no training (make this your rest day!). Make sure the family are aware of your training schedule – have it printed out and pinned on the fridge door for example so they know where you are going to be and for how long to avoid being suddenly given a load of chores to do.
Short is OK
Adaptations to short, frequent sessions of endurance or strength training are similar to longer, less frequent exercises sessions when the total volume is the same. So if you don’t have the availability to do longer training sessions in your day, but can fit in a couple of shorter sessions such as 30mins before work and 30mins after, or even multiple blocks of 15mins, this has the similar effects to a single 1hr session. Often it is easier to make time for a 30min workout than it is to do a full hour, so rather than not training because you only have 45mins spare, fit in more frequent 30min sessions throughout the week as they all add up.
Have a written plan
By knowing in advance what you intend to do, you will maximise the training time available. This is where a coach can be invaluable, helping you focus your efforts accordingly. Have written goals and benchmarks for the month, and aim to complete these at some stage over the course of each month. That way you are not necessarily locked into performing on a certain day or even week, you can fit these benchmark sets in as time/work allows. Then review your written goals at the end of each month, and adjust for the next month.
Get enough sleep
Consistency is even more important on a lower volume program, if you get run down, tired or ill and start missing sessions then the consistency will suffer.
Get it done early
Often a major time stressor is becoming overwhelmed at work; meetings running over, deadlines approaching, unexpected jobs crop up. These all cut into the available training time in the evening and if the stress levels have been high during the day leaving you fatigued and worn out, too often the training session gets binned. To avoid this happening aim to get your training session done early, before work, that way you spend the rest of the day content that your training is done and if work runs over then it’s not going to impact on your training time (it may however affect family time – another issue). If you have difficulty getting up early, then get to bed earlier. Sleep is crucial, so don’t try and cut the sleep time by setting the alarm clock an hour earlier but still going to bed late! This principle also applies to family time, by getting up and out training while the family are still asleep you don’t impact on the all important quality time with the family. To make it easier in the morning have all your kit laid out by your bed, bags packed, food prepared, etc. so there is no wasted time when you wake up.
Include your family in the workout.
With small children you can put then in a running buggy, a great strength workout and ideal for the long steady runs when you’re not aiming to do intervals at set pace or heart-rates.
Use a bike trailer to pull the kids around between playgrounds to make it an interval session.
For long rides you can ride to a specific location and meet the family for lunch, or cycle home after a trip out with the family.
Include the kids on your long runs by getting them to cycle alongside. They can carry your water and chat to you for some great bonding time.
Be prepared ahead of time by always having your kit ready the day before. You can keep a set of run kit, gym and swim kit in the car for any impromptu training opportunities that arise (cancelled meeting /client for example). If you suddenly find you have 30mins spare you can get a 20min run / gym session in quite easily and still get changed and back into work again. Every session counts, even the short ones. Using your lunch break to get an extra core session or mobility session helps break your day up, reset the body, and build the training stimulus required to make improvements to your overall fitness.
Keep a list of gyms and pool opening times / lane swimming times handy so if you find a time slot availability during the day you know instantly if you can get a session done.
If necessary, set your training targets slightly below what you think is feasible, you will feel better consistently hitting modest targets than always falling short. It is better to cut things back and be consistent than try and plan to do too much and miss sessions. If you manage to consistently hit your training targets you can add in ‘optional extras’ for when time does allow you to do a little more, provided these do not fatigue you and result in subsequent missed or sub standard sessions. As a rule, don’t add more than 5-10% of the overall weekly volume onto a particular day.
Sometimes despite all the planning and preparation, things go wrong. This is when you need to be flexible and be prepared to adapt or compensate a session. If necessary you may simply have to miss a session. When this happens and you can honestly say you couldn’t have done anything, simply move on and focus on the next day and how you will achieve that goal. Don’t waste time and energy worrying about a missed session that you can’t get back – and don’t try and squeeze it in elsewhere, if it’s missed it’s missed.
Cut unnecessary activities from your life.
Can you do online shopping and have your food delivered rather than going to the supermarket? Do you have to watch that TV program. Can you batch cook at the weekend to make it easier to re-heat frozen pre-prepared meals when you get in from work / training.
Incorporate training into everyday activities
The key one here is commuting. Can you run or cycle to work, or drive part way and run/cycle the rest of the way into work. Incorporate strength, mobility and proprioception/balance exercises into everyday life, eg. Brush your teeth stood on one leg, stretch and foam roll or hold a plank pose while watching TV.
Understand and reflect on your motivation
Spend some time reflecting on your true motivation for training and racing. Are you process orientated or results orientated? Keep training in perspective to your overall life, for most of us it is simply about being healthy and having fun.