Effective Training for Busy Men
From November to mid-January I have a lot on my plate. With my family spread out from Colorado, New Jersey, Texas, and Illinois, I have a lot of traveling to do. Thanksgiving and Christmas are spent in different states and we travel an ungodly amount during these three months.
I am not a big fan of traveling – I'm a creature of habit. I love my bed, my room, my weight room, and my couch. Couple that with the busiest time of year for business, and my training time is always compromised.
I'm not alone. Any small business owner has a super busy season, usually around the holidays. Growing up, my father was a track/field and football coach and his time was always limited during these seasons. Maybe your children's activities reach a peak in the summer and your time is very limited in the gym.
Whatever the case, you have to get your work done, but you have to get your training in, too. Without training, most of us would be a wreck. It gives us some purpose, lets us get out some aggression, helps push our bodies/minds further, and really, it's just in our DNA. While training might not completely define me as a person (I'd like to think that I'm more than just a meathead), it's a huge part of me, and my life. And if you're reading this, it's part of you, too.
The trick to training around a busy or awkward schedule is priorities. Since we aren't going to give up training, it's a priority. But we can't give up our business, our jobs, or our children for more days in the weight room. Still, success can still be had – you just have to plan correctly.
During these times, we're going to have two main workouts a week. You can have more if you want (this will be explained later) but when you're busy we'll only commit to doing two big workouts a week. These can be done on any day of the week that you have time. The only suggestion I have is that you have at least one day of rest in between them. We'll call these workouts "Workout A" and Workout B."
* Assistance Work
The workouts and exercises are what I use – feel free to use different ones according to your training and your programming.
I wouldn't do more than two "big" exercises per workout. One of the early lessons I learned in training was to limit the big exercises per day – but strive to have a great workout on these 1 or 2 exercise.
These are the bread and butter. No one, no matter who you are, can have a great workout on 4 or 5 exercises per day. You may think you're having one, but something will be compromised. As I've said many times before, I'd rather do one thing great than five things average. Multitasking goals and too many exercises is like trying to talk on two phones at once – everything gets confused.
Because you're only training two times a week, you have to make these workouts count. Make sure your mind is focused on the bar on your back and not the business you left behind. Surely you can clear your mind for 60 minutes, two times a week, for something as important (to you) as your training. You should go in focused and leave satisfied.
Assistance work on these days is largely going to be based on two things: how much time you have for the workout and how long until your next workout. For example, if you have only 45 minutes to train you may have to keep the assistance work down to 1-3 exercises. If you have more time, go wild.
If you know your next workout is going to be only 2 days away, give yourself a little break on the volume of assistance work. You don't want to make yourself sore doing assistance work if it's going to compromise your big lifts the next workout.
Really, that's just common sense. It would be like stuffing your face at Taco Bell before you go to a 5 star prime rib restaurant. If you know your next workout is going to be 5 days away, go nuts and beat yourself up a bit on the assistance work.
If you're like me and like to train at your "home base" or like to train on good equipment (competition benches, Texas Squat/Deadlift bars, etc.), make sure you schedule these workouts accordingly.
For example, if I'm on the road for a long period of time (two weeks), I make it a habit to find a good gym close by. If I can get two good workouts there during the week, perfect. Most times, these gyms are hard to find and you may have to travel a lot to get there. This way you only have to commit to going to these gyms twice a week, get a good workout in and not screw up your training cycle.
Unfortunately, most people like to train 3-4 times/week, even during the busy times and when they travel. This is a reality for people that work on the road a lot and find themselves in a different city every week or even every day.
What I did for years is have an optional weight workout that can be done in basically any gym. If I couldn't make it to a good gym (or couldn't find one), I didn't want to have to bench on an 8" wide bench, pull with multisided plates, or squat with a flimsy bar. All that would do is lead to a screwed up workout and extra frustration that I don't need on the road. No thanks.
Instead I did these workouts, which are largely assistance based.
|A||Leg Press or Hack Squat||5-7||10-20|
|B||Machine Press (any kind)||5-7||10-20|
|C||Standing DB Press||5||10|
|D||Row Machine (any kind)||5||10-20|
This workout (or any variation of it) can be done if you know you're not going to have access to a good gym during travel time or during your vacation (really though – don't worry about it and take the damn vacation)!
The logic behind it is, I'd rather pump myself up with a bunch of machines than try to lift maximally on sub-par equipment.
If you're not traveling and still have time to do an extra workout during the week (provided that you've done both Workout A and Workout B), you can amend Workout C to look something like this:
|A||Safety-Bar Squat Good Morning||3-5||10|
|B||DB Bench Press||5|
|C||Bulgarian Split Squats||3|
Essentially it's a bunch of assistance exercises for the upper and lower body – you can choose anything you want. Again, "Workout C" isn't mandatory but simply a way to get another workout in if you have time. Just remember that the main workouts, A and B, are priority. Get those in first.
Weekend Only Training
I get a lot of emails from people who only have time to train the two days of the weekend. For them I propose a modified program, which is what I've used when I get very busy and continue to use as the base of my training.
Because you're training two days in a row, we separate the days into a lower body day and an upper body day. The assistance work on both days is fairly high volume with big exercises.
Workout A (Saturday)
|A||Squat – Heavy work|
|B||Safety Bar Squat||5||10|
|C||Stiff Leg Deadlift||5||10|
Workout B (Sunday)
|A||Bench Press – Heavy work (superset this with chins)|
Workout A (Saturday)
|A||Deadlift – Heavy work|
|B||Safety Bar Squat||5||10|
|C||Stiff Leg Deadlift||5||10|
Workout B (Sunday)
|A||Press – Heavy work (superset with rows)|
You're free to choose whatever assistance exercises you want but keep them high volume and "big" – front squats, leg press, dumbbell bench press, different kinds of rows, incline press, etc.
Nothing is more powerful than habit, and this can work in both positive and negative ways. Since we all have control over our habits (despite what the world may have you believe, we're in control of our lives) let's do something positive.
If you're on a busy schedule, a short mobility session each morning is something that can be easily squeezed in. The old saying, "An apple a day, keeps the doctor away," should be changed to, "Be physical every day to keep death at bay."
A short 10 minute mobility session will do wonders for your body and mind and allow you to stay with the habit of doing something physical everyday. I highly recommend doing something like the Defranco Agile 8, an abbreviated Parisi warm-up (check out the Parisi Warm-up DVD), some bodyweight calisthenics, or whatever you choose.
Whenever I travel, I always bring my Travel Rehab kit. (No it doesn't contain methadone.) I have a sawed-down PVC pipe that fits in my bag, an average band (from EFS), and a lacrosse ball.
Here's a sample mobility program that I use:
PVC pipe – IT band, 100 rolls per leg
Lacrosse ball – piriformis, about 2 min/side
Bodyweight squat – 10-20 reps
Leg swings (front to back) – 10-20 reps
Side lunge – 10-20 reps
One-leg squat – 10-20 reps
Mountain climbers (big strides and hold each rep) – 10-20 reps
Groiners – 10-20 reps
Rollback hamstrings – 10-20 reps
Hip circles (fire hydrants) – 10-20 reps
Shoudler dislocates with band – 10-20 reps
Bent knee hip lift – 10-20 reps
This can all be done in about 20 minutes or so and gets me ready for the day. It can be done in limited space and in any hotel room. You don't have to be explosive on any of these exercises and don't force the range of motion if you're feeling really tight or sore. This is not (at least I hope not) a workout; this is you getting your body ready for the day.
You can't talk about something like "habits" without mentioning food. We all know diets fail. When a diet (a good, smart diet) becomes a habit, then it can succeed. There's a huge difference.
When you're a busy person, on the road, or always moving, this is one of the first things that goes in the dumper. Like my training, my food habits are pretty simple. At every meal, I have some kind of protein (always chicken, beef, or eggs), some kind of carb (rice, potato or oatmeal), and some kind of vegetable.
I do this 4 times a day and it can easily be done no matter where you are or where you eat. If I'm hungry, I just eat another meal. If I want to gain weight, the portions increase. If I need to lose weight, the portions decrease. Keeping the meals simple and basic allows for a ton of flexibility. Don't over think this.
Train, Don't Exercise
Training is one of our priorities – you wouldn't be reading T Nation or this article if you were just a weekend warrior or into "fitness." You're into training, and training is not "exercise."
In Starting Strength, Mark Rippetoe defines training as a "physical activity done with a longer-term goal in mind, the constituent workouts of which are specifically designed to achieve that goal." We aren't "exercisers" or "fitness hipsters." Our training each day has purpose and meaning towards a bigger and more defined picture.
We don't randomly select things and strive "for a good sweat" or try to fit square exercises into round goals. We train. And those who train and are getting a bit older have a myriad of responsibilities. We have to prioritize our training around much of our life so that we can achieve those long-term training goals.
Life doesn't just throw us curveballs – it throws Niekro-scuffed knuckleballs with a bit of Gaylord Perry lube, and we all know where those are going to land. But if you plan your training accordingly, those incidents won't harm your training goals or your life outside the gym.
That's the key – the balance between maintaining a cutthroat attitude towards your training goals and your life. You plan. You execute.