How to Fit In Fitness and Still Have a Life

By , SparkPeople Blogger
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog and subsequently led a special SparkPeople LIVE! meeting on the topic of designing your perfect workout plan.The information I shared (how intensely and frequently you should do cardio and strength training throughout the week) is important and was well received, but really, it's just the tip of the iceberg.

I've given you the basic rundown of how much exercise you need to reach your goals, but next comes the hard part: How the heck do you fit it all into your schedule? And maybe even more importantly, how can you do all that exercise and still have a life outside of the gym?

That, my friends, is the million dollar question. Like many things in weight loss and in life, most of us know what to do, but that doesn't mean that we really know how to put that knowledge into practice. Lack of time is the biggest hurdle we face when trying to fit in exercise. And now I'm telling you to do cardio 3-6 times a week for up to an hour, to strength train at least twice a week with every major muscle group and to fit in stretching each time you do either. How are you supposed to swing that without making a second home of your gym?

That's what this blog is all about. Today, I'll share with you some sample workout plans that "fit it all in" plus my time-saving tips to get you in, out—and thoroughly exercised—in less time. I'll also share my own workout plan so you can see how I structure exercise in my week. Are you ready?

Remember that I've already covered how intensely to work out, how much weight to lift, and how long each workout should last in my previous post, so look to it for reference. Here I am only going to be talking about how to fit it into your schedule. Let's break it down by exercise type, and I'll show you some examples of fitting each into your week.

To create your weekly workout plan, consider:
  • Your own life and schedule. When do you have time? How much time do you have on a given day? Are morning, lunchtime or evening workouts best for you, or perhaps a combination based on your schedule? Personally, I do a huge mix of all of these. Some nights I teach fitness classes, and so that is when I work out. A few mornings a week I run before work. Once a week I do a midday workout. Some days I work out in both the morning and the evening based on my schedule (and the fact that I'm unwilling to wake up even earlier to get it all done at once). Simply put, my LIFE dictates when I should schedule my workouts. Don't try it the other way around—creating a workout plan and then trying to fit it into your life. It will never work for you.  
  • How you can combine workouts that do more for you in less time. This is exactly how I created the SparkPeople: 28-Day Boot Camp DVD. It combines full-body strength training in specific combinations to get your heart rate up so that you're getting both the strength and the cardio benefit in a single workout. Any time you can find workout plans, DVDs or fitness activities that do more in less time, it'll be easier to fit in your workouts without doing multiple, long sessions throughout the week. Kettlebell training, circuit training, and other full-body programs that work your muscles and your heart at the same time (cardio and strength-training in one!) are great ways to do this (but not all are appropriate for every fitness level).
  • You own fitness level. Beginners can get by with shorter and less frequent workouts. More advanced exercisers will probably do more workouts in a week. Then again, as you get fitter, you can also try intense workouts that are shorter, such as Tabata training.
  • Your own fitness goals. Toning? Strengthening? Running endurance or race training? Injury rehabilitation? Whatever you want to work on will probably dominate your fitness plan, but don't neglect the other areas, even if you're just doing the minimum. This will help with injury prevention, balance, and overall fitness. Aim for a variety of activities throughout the week.
Sample Cardio Workout Plans
Start with 3 days a week, but work up to 5-6 days per week as you get fitter. Never take more than two days off between sessions, as you'll start to lose your fitness level quickly thereafter. Here are some ideas for how to structure it, depending on how many sessions you're doing each week:

  Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
3 workouts Cardio   Cardio   Cardio    
4 workouts Cardio Cardio   Cardio Cardio    
4 workouts Cardio   Cardio   Cardio   Cardio
5 workouts Cardio Cardio   Cardio Cardio   Cardio
5 workouts Cardio Cardio Cardio Cardio Cardio    

Sample Strength Training Workout Plans
Start with at least 1 session per week that targets every major muscle group, but work up to at least 2 (or possibly 3) strength training sessions each week. Always rest at least 1-2 days before training the same muscle group again. For simplicity's sake, I'm only showing a couple variations for breaking up your strength training (full body routines or upper/lower/core routines), although there are many ways to structure it.

  Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
1 session       full body      
2 sessions full body       full body    
split up by muscle group upper body lower body core strength   upper body lower body core strength
3 sessions full body     full body   full body  

Putting It All Together: Strength and Cardio in a Single Week

That may seem simple enough, but then you have to combine the two: find ways to fit in the cardio plan along with the strength training. How you do it will depend on your own workout goals, the types of workouts you do, and your own schedule, but here are some ideas that show you how to combine cardio and strength training into one comprehensive workout plan.

Sample Workout Plans (including my own!)
Note the variety of activities for cardio and how on some days you can do both cardio and strength training day (together or separately) if you choose.

  Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
Cardio Full-body strength   Cardio Pilates Cardio  
Combined workouts   Cardio + full-body strength Cardio Cardio + full-body strength   Light cardio + yoga  
No rest
Cardio + upper body strength Lower body strength Cardio + core strength Light cardio Cardio + upper body strength Cardio + lower body strength Core strength
"Bootcamp" plans
10-min. cardio video 10-min. upper body video + cardio 10-min. lower body video + cardio 10-min. core video + cardio 10-min. upper body video + cardio 10-min. lower body video + cardio 10-min. core video
workout schedule
Walking (Active recovery) Run + Pilates reformer (full body strength) Spinning + walking Run + Kettlebell training + walking Pilates + Cross-training cardio Yoga + strength-traning + walking Long cardio (run) day

Sample 28-Day Workout Plan
This simple plan mixes and matches four distinct workouts into a well-balanced plan that easily fits you’re your life. You don't have to do anything more than the days and minutes listed, yet it includes everything: the right amount of cardio, strength and stretching. Below is a screen shot from the SparkPeople: 28-Day Boot Camp DVD menu to help illustrate how easy it can be to "fit it all in" (in fewer minutes and fewer sessions per week) when you combine cardio and strengthening workouts into a single workout.

In this plan, we vary up the workouts week to week, but every week includes cardio-only days (red), rest or cross-training days (white) and combination workouts (full-body strengthening and cardio in a single workout, designated by all other colors). Plus, it gradually progresses you from the shorter workouts to the longer, more intense ones to take the guesswork out of your workouts while helping you exercise efficiently.

As you can see, there are countless ways to fit all of your exercise requirements into a plan that fits your lifestyle and schedule. The possibilities are truly endless! I hope this gives you all more ideas for structuring a sound and effective workout plan that helps you get the results you're looking for.
What is your weekly workout plan like? Does it cover all of these bases? Do you have some new ideas for optimizing your time now that you've seen these examples?