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How to Squeeze Workouts into a Busy Day
By Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCS
We were recently asked about workout routines that can be performed while driving long distances cross-country and decided it was time to share tips on how to squeeze exercise into short but more frequent workouts throughout the day. Whether you work long hours on the road, are a first-time mom, or have the life of a busy executive, if you want to include exercise in your day but are not sure where to find the time, cheer up! You will want to jump right to the “All Movement Counts” section below. If you are in a bit of a rut with your current exercise program but want to get the most out of the time you do have, go right to “Prioritize.” If you are an athlete entering off-season (or have a busy few weeks in front of you) and wish to maintain your current level of training, see “Sport Shorts.” For new moms who would like to get some ideas for how to regain pre-pregnancy condition with a newborn in tow, jump right to “Just for moms.”
One strategy I learned to incorporate as a new full-time working mom is to prioritize my workouts for the week. If your ideal workout schedule would include two full body strength workouts, three medium-length cardio workouts, and a shorter, higher intensity intervals workout (or for that matter a long, multi-hour endurance workout), decide for yourself what your top fitness goal for the week (or month) is, then determine what type of workout would best support that goal. If you are focused for the moment on increasing your aerobic capacity, for example, so that you don’t get breathless chasing a toddler, you may find it a helpful time saver to combine a cardiovascular workout with some multiple-muscle group strength exercises in a circuit format. If you are concerned about aches and pains in your wrists and arms, you may want to add a strengthening and stretching routine to build up the carrying muscles as your baby gets bigger.
If you have neglected strength training for over a week, you may decide the very next workout you squeeze in will be a full body strength workout of at least a set for each major muscle group (8-10 exercises) so that you can maintain your muscle mass (thus preventing the feeling that you have to start from scratch) until you can find more time to spend on that particular type of training. For those people engaged in activities that focus more on endurance, try to save at least an hour on the weekends to get in a slow and steady workout of your choice. For more on setting appropriate goals, visit www.bodyresults.com/E2SMARTgoals.asp.
We get plenty of client requests for workouts that can be done while traveling, in small spaces with minimal equipment, or at home. That way you can save on the traffic-jam-commute time, and hopefully cut your “excuses list” in half. With a bodyweight workout you can do anywhere, you no longer have to fight to get to the aerobics class at a certain time or make it to the gym before it closes. See www.bodyresults.com/E2shortworkouts.asp for ways to include sport-specific workouts including a circuit workout and interval training, neither of which requires any special equipment or gym membership.
ALL MOVEMENT COUNTS
You can still reap plenty of benefits from accumulating exercise minutes throughout the day in smaller chunks, even if you cannot set aside a full hour for a workout. Spend a few minutes thinking of your typical day and how you might be able to squeeze in additional movement.
ERRANDS < 1 mile
Instead of driving half a mile to the store, try taking a very brisk walk with a backpack in the morning or evening and load it up with your groceries; the added resistance on the way home will add nice toning benefits for your glutes, calves, core, upper back and shoulders, and legs. One client of mine enjoys a morning jaunt to a local latte stand; she takes 8-10 minutes to jog there and then briskly walks back home with coffee in hand. Walk stairs whenever you can rather than taking the elevator, and if you are faced with an escalator that does not have a lot of people on it, ascend it taking two stairs at a time without holding onto the hand rails.
BE CREATIVE WITH CHORES
Try putting on some upbeat music whenever you have household chores to do, and work vigorously from one chore to the next. If you add some twirls, squats, an occasional flight of stairs, or several minutes here and there of energetic dancing, you may even break a sweat. One tip I incorporate is multi-tasking, or getting several chores going at once. Instead of leaving them half-finished, I almost always keep going until I get the whole batch of them done. If your chores include moving furniture, be sure to use good form and get your legs involved in order to protect the lower back. Try carrying as many things as you can (safely) at once, in order to gain some upper body benefit. The goal is to break a sweat, have fun, and get as much done in as short a time period as possible. Time yourself on sweeping and vacuuming and see if you can get a little faster each day you do chores. Include gardening as movement, too, especially if you use a push mower, bend over to weed, or prune for long stretches at a time.
JUST FOR MOMS
DANCING WITH BABY
If you are a brand new mom, load your baby into a front carrier or stroller and go for a long walk around the neighborhood. If it is a wet, gray, gusty day, put on some music and dance inside with your child. Not only will you feel better by getting moving, but you also will be teaching your child to enjoy rhythm, movement, and music. It is never too early to teach your child about the benefits of exercise, and the time you take to care for and relax your body will leave you feeling more capable of enjoying the rest of your time with your baby. If you have an exercise ball, try holding your baby in your lap and bouncing up and down with him. Young babies love the vertical (i.e. long axis) movement and will enjoy being held close.
EXERCISING WITH BABY
Try a “baby circuit” with your baby in a front carrier. Add several sets of squats, dips, lunges, step-ups, or step-downs holding your child as resistance. With your baby lying on the floor, get on your hands and knees and do partial range pushups lowering down to kiss your baby on the nose. Do reverse corner pushups for the middle back while you have your child in a front carrier (see www.bodyresults.com/E2cornerpushups.asp for details on how to perform it). If your baby can hold his head up, lie on your back and hold your child in the air over your chest (as an airplane) and press your child up as you lift your torso off the floor to strengthen the abdominals. With your baby on your lap or in a front carrier, do triceps dips off the couch or a sturdy chair. Walk on the treadmill or elliptical trainer (if you happen to have one at home) with your child napping in his carrier.
DVD’S WHILE BABY SLEEPS
When your baby goes down for a nap, turn on your baby monitor or set up a workout area within ear’s distance of your baby’s room, put on a favorite exercise video (or better yet, a DVD, so you can pick and choose segments according to whether you think it will be a long or short nap) and do your exercises right at home. I’ve had many a challenging day when my daughter’s naps were only 20-30 minutes long, or she’s been restless with frequent wakings, and as soon as I knew she was down for a few minutes I would squeeze in a short strength segment here, some ab work there, or a fast intervals workout until I had succeeded in accumulating the desired amount of exercise time. Several of my favorite “short spots” are Karen Voight’s Great Weighted Workout (www.bodyresults.com/store/kvgd.html ) for the abs and upper body segments, and Burn and Firm Circuit Training (www.bodyresults.com/store/kvbd.html) for the ball and floor ab and legs work. It is definitely tricky to try to squeeze it all in, but it CAN be done if it is high enough on your priority list. If you are fortunate enough to have a babysitter, include a few gym workouts each week, or trade off with your partner so you each get solo time to re-energize.
If you are breastfeeding, remember that lactation uses up roughly 500 calories a day, so you will need more healthy carbohydrates rich in fiber and vitamins (fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and please do not forget protein, iron and calcium!) to provide you with the necessary energy for feeding your baby AND exercising.
ROMP IN THE PARK
If you have a pet that likes retrieving balls or sticks, use this as a great excuse to take your dog to the nearest park and throw the ball for him. Our dog is particularly fond of “keep away” and “tug” and will go out of her way to get humans to pull on one of her chew toys. Even better, take a walk with your whole family, canines included, so everyone benefits from the outing.
Remember, the goal is to accumulate movement over the course of your lifetime. Everyone will experience time periods where it is stressful or too difficult to include regular, scheduled exercise, but for those times, do the best you can and count every bit of activity in order to maintain your current health until you can find time once more to do what is optimal.