7 tips for fitting workouts into a busy schedule

one of the biggest reasons people give for not working out is time. there's never enough of it. whether you're a college student, a working professional, or somewhere in between, time is always running away.

but if you look at the routines of the most successful people, or just know from personal experience, working out not only makes you happier, but it also increases blood flow to your brain, making you more productive, alert, and arguably smarter.

so who's ready to get on that workout train? these 7 tips will help you fit your workouts in, no matter what schedule you have, and make them fun and efficient as well.

1. do your research and plan ahead

nancy schedule

this is a step that most people honestly forget, but is the key to success here. before I began my second co-op, I knew that 1) I was training for a half marathon, 2) wanted to go to both boxing and yoga, 3) had a 9 AM-5:30 PM work schedule with an hour commute on both ends, and 4) had other responsibilities as well.

it sounds kind of overwhelming, and that's because it is. the solution? get it out on paper. in my case, I wrote out all the times I thought would work and then plotted it out. so your research is / questions to ask yourself are:

  • what does your class / work schedule look like now?
  • look up what studios you want to take classes in, how far they are from your class / work
  • are you a morning person or a night person?
  • if you're a runner, what times do you want to run and how long will it take you?
  • if you go to the gym, where is it? when are they open? how long do you want to spend there?

2. schedule it in

nancy chen schedule

now that you've figured out what will work with your schedule, actually write it in. yes. put it into your calendar and add an alert for when you need to leave to get there on time. pack your bag the night before so that you're all ready to go.

scheduling it in not only keeps you accountable, but also removes the anxiety of figuring out what classes you can take or what exercise you can get it in. by putting it in your calendar, you can figure out what other events you have going on and if that will impact your workout schedule - which also means you can adjust accordingly.

for example, I'll schedule out the week's workouts the week before. I have a routine I usually follow: a long run once a week, boxing 2-3x a week, yoga 1-2x a week, and if I have time, strength training or some other type of fun workout (spin, tabata, and BodyBurn by Ray are some of my favs!).

3. find what you like and do it

nancy chen TITLE

this one is pretty self-explanatory. there's no point in forcing yourself to do something you don't like if you don't have much time to do it. life is short and you should cut out the things that don't bring you joy. not saying you should cut out exercise, but rather saying that you should make those 30-60 minutes something that you don't dread doing.

many studios allow you to try your first class free, or at least drop in for a reduced rate. try something new you've never done before - you may find yourself falling in love with a new workout.

4. make it social

body burn by ray

not only are workout buddies awesome because they keep you accountable (I honestly never went to evening workout classes unless a friend was going with me) and make it fun, but you can also use your workout as a chance to catch up.

no, not during the workout per se (unless you're running or walking together), but rather use workouts as a chance to catch up with old friends you haven't seen in awhile or keep up with current friends you wouldn't otherwise get the chance to see.

it makes it more efficient - rather than going out to dinner or some other activity, you were already going to workout, so you don't have to make an extra spot in your schedule. plus, it's beneficial for both you and them to get that blood flowing! who knows, you might just find yourself another workout buddy.

if you still want to catch up after, then there's always grabbing a quick bite - the chances are that you'll be making healthier choices after you work out anyway.

5. think outside the box

workouts don't have to be your standard studio class or run, bike, or swim. there's tons of at-home workouts out there, from Kayla Itsines's BBG program to whatever's available via a quick Google search. you can also find some awesome workouts via Instagram (love my girl @jess_cfit) or Fit University's website.

there's also a ton of outdoor workouts that you might not think of. if you're traveling, try hotel room workouts (you'd be surprised how sweaty you can get there and how useful suitcases are as weights) or playground / park workouts. if you have a set of stairs anywhere, instant workout right there.

6. make it efficient

be realistic with it. if you're really crunched on time, don't go on 12 mile runs. or really, most long runs. because take it from someone who's training for a marathon / has trained for a half marathon - those runs take a good part of your day.

stick with short, effective workouts that get your heart rate up, like HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts (these are also good when you're traveling or on vacation) or try lunchtime classes that may only be 30 minutes. I used to squeeze in a short run whenever I had time (literally 20 minutes? ok, short sprint). my Whole30 alum girls Jen and Melissa do a workout during their lunch breaks at work.

if you only have 15 minutes, check out this Greatist article on workouts top trainers do when they only have 15 minutes. they're simple but effective.

7. make it part of your life

yoga on the beach

arguably the most important part. you can be a fit and healthy person without working out a lot or for a very long time. how? by being an active person.

so make yourself these mini rules (microresolutions) that you always stick with, and before long, they'll be habits. for example, I told myself I was taking the stairs every single time I go up to my apartment, no matter how tired I am - the only exception is if I'm literally unable to carry my groceries / packages up the stairs.

make it a habit to walk everywhere if you have time instead of driving, taking an Uber, or public transportation. stand up every once in awhile instead of sitting all day. pace when you're on the phone. park a little further from your usual spot. go for a walk after dinner instead of sitting on the couch.

try hiking on weekends instead of (or in addition to) brunch, throw in some yoga poses at the beach, dance it out with friends... the possibilities are endless. calf raises when you brush your teeth (a trick an old swim friend taught me), squats while you wait for the shower to warm up - be creative.

from Caroline Arnold's book on microresolutions (Small Move, Big Change), and Gretchen Rubin's book on habits (Better than Before), I've learned (and it's been proven) that habits can change your life more than single large changes can. by making being active a habit and by ingraining fitness into your life, you'll find yourself falling into the habit of exercising.

bonus note: if you're wondering how to squeeze in overall healthier habits into a busy schedule, Greatist has 35 ways for you here.

good luck!

article requested by my roommate Heather of The Mindful Garden. for blog post requests, please email me at nancylinchen@gmail.com or leave a comment below!