As a busy mom, my schedule can be pretty hectic. In the past, I experienced erratic work hours, long sixty-hour weeks and midnight shifts…completely incompatible with normal, weekday-based training programs.
So what gives? How can you successfully incorporate consistent, effective training into your busy life without compromising other priorities, such as your children, work demands and life in general?
The answer for me – through trial and error – is what I like to call rotational training. In other words, a schedule based on training goals that rotate roughly every seven days versus rigid Monday through Friday fixed targets.
Critical to your overall health and training, create a plan that includes both cardiovascular and strength training. I’ll be the first to admit, I love running but it’s not an ideal all-around exercise solution on its own. Running is a phenomenal cardio exercise, yet it only trains a few select muscles. Cardio is paramount for optimal good health, so pair it with a solid strength training regimen.
Building lean muscle mass is not only physically ideal – aesthetically and strength-wise – it helps metabolize your food more effectively. Firstly, resistance training expends additional calories not only while being performed, but also afterwards in repairing muscle tissue. Secondly, muscle tissue is metabolically more active than fat, therefore requiring more calories to be maintained. Hence, the more lean muscle you amass, the more efficient your body becomes at processing the energy you consume from food.
More importantly, though, building and retaining muscle is critical as we age. If you want to live a significantly more active, healthier life, then you need to prioritize resistance training now and into the future.
Being skinny, ie lacking lean muscle mass, is not conducive to achieving long-term fitness goals. You can achieve a healthy, strong, lean muscular body and, from my own experience, still be a successful distance runner.
Consider the bigger picture – not just aesthetics, short term goals and quick fixes…
To begin with, start by building a fitness regimen based around 3-4 strength training days focusing on each major muscle group. To maximize your training, aim for 2-3 body specific exercises with a ratio of 3 sets at 6-12 reps apiece. If you are new to weight training, make sure you consult a professional. It’s important you not only train with weights heavy enough to challenge your body, but you must learn correct form for maximum effectiveness and personal safety. I cannot stress this enough.
As for cardio, 2-3 days with varied intensity is optimal. Short bursts of cardio (20-30 minutes) along with your strength training are ideal; otherwise it’s counterproductive to your efforts to build lean muscle. Once a week, I go for a long run, keeping my endurance levels up for half-marathons. Other cardio days, I focus on HIIT (high intensity interval training) and treadmill speedwork.
Bear in mind, as with all training, you need to vary your exercises periodically. Muscles need constant stimulation and variety to maximize potential growth and to ensure progress.
Here’s my current rotational training schedule to give you an example. This is not a rigid schedule – meaning I complete the training in sequence, not in relation to specific calendar days. This provides me with flexibility in terms of my child’s needs, life opportunities and emergencies.
Day 1 – Legs & Abs (focus on glutes, hamstrings and quads strength and endurance training)
Day 2 – Abs, back, biceps and triceps / HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)
Day 3 – Rest or Easy Run day
Day 4 – Abs, chest and shoulders / HIIT (plyometrics)
Day 5 – Run Day – Tempo, Speed or Distance
Day 6 – Rest Day
Day 7 – HIIT (emphasis on intervals and stamina building)
*NOTE: If you’re like me and love to run, keep in mind the overall muscle taxation on your lower body, especially your quads. Don’t overtrain, train smart and efficiently.*
Rest days are critical, so schedule 1-2 days per week. Ideally, rest days are best taken just prior to a leg training day and immediately after a long distance run day, especially any races.
The idea here is to be consistent with your training while being flexible with your timing. For example, when your child has a school event on a training day, make that a rest day. The next day pick up where you left off in your schedule. Likewise, if you have to work late one night and can only fit in a quick run, then count that towards your weekly cardio and make sure the following day you strength train. Also, focusing on 2-3 exercises for each major muscle group, completed with proper form and sufficient resistance, will minimize the amount of time you need to spend training. The more effective you train, the less time you need to devote to working out.
Consistent but flexible scheduling may not work for everyone, especially those folks who thrive off of planning every minutiae detail of their week, yet life does happen and you have to roll with it. Better to be consistent with your overall training approach, than give up only after a few weeks because you can’t keep your Monday spin class or your Wednesday power lifting. Don’t forget the days you’re running after your kids coaching soccer practice or shooting hoops with your friends also count towards your exercise goals. Don’t be rigid in your approach to fitness – keep it simple.
It’s all about balance…
(This article was updated on 09/28/17 to reflect my current training)