Monday, March 15, 2010

Make it Work Monday: Finding Time to Work Out

I know that a lot of people aren't really fans of working out, and some of you are so good at maintaining a healthy weight without workouts that I am stunned. I guess you're just better at passing up bear claws and goat cheese than I am. But regardless of whether you are at a healthy weight or not, it is good for everyone to get some exercise; contrary to what most glossy magazines will tell you, exercising is about more than just having totally ripped abs. (I exercise religiously and don't have totally ripped abs. Because I like to eat food. On a regular basis.) Because of the aforementioned penchant for pastries and cheese, I choose to work out pretty intensely most days of the week in order that my current wardrobe will continue to fit. But even I have my limits, and in order to feel good about how much I'm working out and also to encourage myself to fit it into my schedule, I've developed a system of sorts.

Before we get to the official system, I'd like to say a few words about timing of the workout. I find that it's really handy to know and accept whether you are more of a morning person or night person. I find it really difficult to work out in the morning; not only do I have less inclination to start a workout, it's just plain harder to get through it. My energy is lower, and this makes sense since I am a night owl. So for me, afternoon, evening, or night workouts are best. If you are a morning person, you might find that getting up at a time that most people would consider to be pure madness works for you. We recently had a houseguest for three weeks, and one night when I announced that I was about to work out, she looked at me, befuddled, "You're starting now? Even though it's 9:22pm?" And I was. In fact, sometimes I start later than that, depending on how early I have to get up the next morning. Other considerations for scheduling include if I'm caring for children and if they have a naptime. Sometimes working out during naptime works brilliantly, and even though I can always think of twelve other things I can be doing and am tempted to do those things instead, I find that I am always glad I chose the workout over folding laundry. I can fold laundry with children in the room; doing jump squats is not always advised, particularly if the children are small and prone to getting into everything that's not nailed down or too high to reach.

My official system is simply to define three levels of weekly workout in terms of number of workouts you'd like to do as well as intensity. There's the Ideal, the Real, and the It'll Do. For most weeks, the goal is to have the Ideal and Real be the same, with the It'll Do number reserved for unforeseen circumstances. For example, during a normal week at this time of year, my Ideal and Real workout goal is to do five fairly intense workouts. As spring descends upon us, I'll also add that I'd like to do some light, productive exercise out doors two times a week, such as bicycling somewhere I need to go anyway or gardening. The It'll Do workout schedule for normal weeks is four fairly intense workouts and light outdoor exercise as my schedule allows.

When I'm looking at a medium stress week, such as when I've got one or two extra activities or a heavier work schedule than usual, I'll keep the Ideal workout schedule, but adjust both the Real and It'll Do schedules to reflect the greater demands on my time and energy. For medium stress weeks, the Real becomes four fairly intense workouts with outdoor workouts if I have time randomly, and the It'll Do schedule is simply three fairly intense workouts.

For a high stress week, all expectations are lowered. Ideal moves to four solid workouts, Real becomes three workouts plus counting doing the laundry as exercise, and It'll Do becomes two workouts and/or outdoor activities. When I'm stressed out anyway, the last thing I need to be doing is beating myself up for not getting in enough workouts. If I meet the It'll Do requirements, I give myself a high five and congratulate myself for not collapsing in a heap.

I find that having these three levels and three different scenarios for the kind of week I'm facing allows me to lighten up. Often just giving myself permission to work out less gives me an extra bump of energy, and I find that I am able to work out more than I thought I'd be able to. I am also realistic about the kinds of workouts that are feasible. If you don't work out a lot already, it simply wouldn't do to set your Ideal at running three miles a day, five days per week. But walking on your lunch hour or throwing the kids in the stroller to walk somewhere nearby? Doable. Don't be afraid to be honest with yourself about where you are in terms of fitness and what is truly workable for you. Just because someone else can run seven miles four times a week and do two spin classes doesn't mean that you should be able to. If exercising at all is a huge hurdle for you, start small, and then feel proud of yourself when you meet your modest goals.

I must admit that I am really excited about spring arriving. While I've become really attached to my Jillian Michaels DVDs, I look forward to incorporating outdoor pursuits into my routine. Long live spring!


Laura said...

This is very encouraging so thank you for posting it. I've been a dancer all my life and my body was used to me dancing at least 5 days a week for an extended period of time. I have recently moved to a rural town that has nothing to offer and stopped working out cold turkey and I need to get back into the habit!

The problem was that I am now so out of shape (compared to what I used to be) and I didn't know where to begin. So thank you. I will start small and work my way back to where I was. Thank goodness it's going to start getting warmer so I can do outdoor activities! :)

marymuses said...

I'm so glad I'm able to help! Getting back to working out can be hard; I used to run marathons and fell off the workout wagon when I didn't have a good place to run. It was painful at first to get back in the groove, but now it just feels normal. It will be hard for a short while, but it really doesn't take that long to start feeling stronger and more fit. Good luck!