Fitness is an investment, no matter how we look at it. It’s an investment in our health, our ability to provide for our families, and ourselves, an investment in the goals we have to improve how we look and the confidence we hold, and even an investment in accolades we achieve for those of us that are physique competitors.
The thing is, our fitness goals aren’t the only investments we have to make if we want a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle. We have responsibilities to our families, friends, and employers too. As we all know, time constraints are one of the single largest hindrances to fitness goals. When stuff hits the fan, fitness and health are typically one of the first priorities to go out the window.
This is a shame considering there are so many things we can do to better manage our fitness pursuits with ‘real’ life, that aren’t taken advantage of by most. Below is an outline of how I personally, as well as encourage my online clients, to approach diet & training programming to best adapt when schedules go haywire and time is at an all-time premium.
#1 Training Tweaks
Crap happens, but a flat tire isn’t fixed by slashing the remaining three. I rarely see clients as relieved and happy as when they hit an extremely demanding, busy time in their lives and then hear that we can still make a lot of progress even if it means reducing training frequency. After expecting they’re doomed if they aren’t hitting the gym 5+ times every week, the elation they experience when hearing this never gets old for me as a coach.
It’s pretty common for people (and sadly many trainers and coaches) to see progress as contingent to training frequency. ‘Newbies’ should start at 3 times per week, but absolutely have to work up to training 5-6 days per week if they want to keep making progress. Reducing frequency as an experienced athlete is blasphemy! Well, not so fast.
Sure, as a training career progresses, total training volume (total sets x reps x weight) is important for continued development in strength and size/shape . We need to focus on getting stronger, and performing more total work as we progress. At some point, having more total training sessions during the week more easily allows us to accomplish that training volume.
But on the other side of the coin, if training volume is viewed as (total sets x total reps x total weight) performed, then adding more sets (and generally extending the duration and frequency of workouts) isn’t the only way to progress. If you’re pinched for time while completing grad school or balancing that high-pressure job while starting a family, it’s also possible to continue gradually adding training volume by progressively lifting more weight.
Less is (Sometimes) More
When clients are facing an overwhelming schedule, one of the absolute best moves I make as a coach is simply evaluating their schedule, and considering lowering the total amount of training sessions they’re completing at the gym each week. Reducing exercise variety, total training sessions, and focusing training volume on foundational, effective movements like squat, hinge, lunge, press and pull variations helps us still very effectively stimulate all major muscle groups, continue progressive overload, while vastly reducing the logistical stress they have to bear through the week.
More deload weeks or training blocks with less fatiguing movements may need to be sprinkled in over the course of the coming months so they aren’t constantly beat up from tons of squats and deads. However, the progress they’re able to make during that stressful stretch far outweighs the regression they would otherwise see by simply quitting all together under the false assumption fewer workouts can’t still be beneficial.
Since there are a ton of ways to consider reducing training frequency while still focusing on progressive overload and gradual volume increases, it may be helpful to simply offer a working example of how a 5 day training split could be consolidated into a 3 day split for someone facing a three month stretch of scheduling hell.
Let’s say your current 5-day split looks like the below outline. A well-balanced split allowing each major muscle group to be stimulated well twice per week, spread evenly to maximize recovery and MPS stimulation between sessions.
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Original 5-Day Split
Mon: Upper Body
Tues: Legs & Core
Wed: Chest & Shoulders
Thur: Legs & Core
Fri: Back & Arms
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