A new job, kids back to school, a change in the weather, an injury, fire season if you live in the Pacific Northwest, or simply a new season - changes in our lives are inevitable and should be expected. Yet they can throw off our routines, or seemingly keep us from maintaining one when it comes to exercise and nutrition.
Obstacles can be large or small, for a short duration or long, and come with or without warning. Rather than letting these detours derail you, having a way to reroute your routine will keep you on the habitual path of regular exercise.
Recently, I was suddenly faced with having an average of 16 hours of extra driving time plus two hotel nights’ stays almost every week throughout football season. In addition, I was asked to teach a few more classes at the college, so my workload this semester also increased.
Instead of rolling over and saying, “Woe is me, I won’t have time to exercise,” I needed to adjust my training plan and nutritional focus. Because overcoming obstacles is an ongoing thing I have developed a mental preparedness for it. Adherence is the goal; planning is the answer.
The strategy I have developed is a system that breaks down and highlights barriers and potential obstacles well in advance. But like any good quarterback, you have to be able to call an audible, or change the call at the line of scrimmage because you see that your plan is just not going to work against that defense. There are five steps that I go through for long-term change. Short-term might only use one or two of the steps.
Step 1: Look at the big picture
Get a calendar out and see how many weeks, months, or even years that you will have this challenge. This could be a little overwhelming and it’s important you don’t waste the time you do have and take on the “I’ll start exercising on Monday” mentality, or the “Why should I start when I can’t finish.” The most important factor here is you continue the habit of exercise. You may have to readjust your preference of the type of training, the time you exercise, the location, and even how quickly you achieve your goals, but the habit has to be maintained.
Step 2: Identify and write down your constants and your non-negotiables
Your constants are the things you have no control over changing or getting rid of. These are things like your work schedule, travel or commute time, game and practices schedules, meal time, family time, or ongoing necessary appointments. Non-negotiables are the things you are not willing to give up. This might be sleep, watching a certain amount of TV, social media, going out to eat, certain foods or beverages that you won’t give up, or types of exercise that you are not willing to do.
Step 3: Determine realistic health and fitness goals for this time frame
This step might require some professional advice depending on your experience and current health status. You need to consider how much time you have to devote to exercise (or are willing to devote, which might go back to non-negotiables), what equipment you have access to, and what facilities or locations you have access to. Even if you’re living on the street you have a place to work out so having a place is not the issue, it’s what you do in that place.
The type of exercise that you do might be the largest factor, especially if you are dealing with an injury, have no equipment at all, or time is your barrier. These circumstances will require nutrition to play a much greater role so again, getting some professional advice or coaching might benefit you because there won’t be wiggle room for poor food or portion choices.
Step 4: Make your weekly plan
You’ve looked at the big picture but each week, or even day, will have its own unique set of obstacles; meetings, away games, work schedule and deadlines, and even weather or air quality if you planned for outdoor exercise will play a part. By reviewing your week in advance you can adjust your exercise plan accordingly. You might need to shift or swap workouts for different days, get up earlier a few days, workout at home rather than go to the gym, or do more high intensity interval training (HIIT) because you don’t have time for longer workouts. If you have a travel day, that might need to be your rest day.
Step 5: Accept, forgive and recognize
Some days you just have too many obstacles that you either don’t know how to plan for or they come up without warning. Overcoming requires effort and there is a learning process. If you get off track, accept that you did, forgive yourself for it and recognize what happened so that you can learn and strategize differently should those circumstances occur again. Being over-prepared is better than under.
Change in itself can be overwhelming and cause stress. Our bodies were meant to move and designed to function best on wholesome food, so move your body and eat food that is good for you. The ultimate goal is to maintain the habit of a healthy lifestyle.
If you are struggling to get motivated, just say to yourself, “I will, because today I can, and tomorrow I might not be able to.” I like to look at times of struggle with a competitive mindset and take on an “I will win” attitude.
I have to say some of my favorite types of training were “forced” on me because of time and schedule obstacles. I never would have tried them had it not been the thing that fit best into my life at the time.
So tackle this detour with a “taking the scenic route” attitude instead of an “are we there yet?” one. Sometimes the side roads are bumpy, dusty and full of debris, but if you keep your eyes up you might see some wildflowers, wave to a road worker, and see some countryside that you might want to come back to.