So many of our clients have to juggle a demanding work and family schedule with trying to achieve better health and become fitter and stronger in the process. It is the modern lifestyle whether we like it or not, and we can’t see this changing any time soon. As personal trainers we can be a little ignorant in our understanding of life in an office or on the road. But for 2 years I worked for a gym equipment supplier, which involved endless hours stuck on the M25 car park and chasing my own tail when I got home trying to make up for lost working time. Sound familiar?
I wanted to use this post to share my thoughts on trying to maintain a fit and healthy lifestyle whilst on the road or in the office working long hours because, let’s face it, 90% of us fall into that bracket. As a PT, your office is the gym, and you have to practice what you preach, so sometimes it can feel a bit patronising hearing this from someone in that situation. But we’re busy too, perhaps being in the health & fitness industry helps us to maintain this “healthy lifestyle” a little more efficiently but we still face similar issues. Hopefully the fact that I have been in a role more relatable to most of you reading this will add a bit more substance to the words.
Don’t get me wrong, I made my mistakes and some of my recommendations are based on what I didn’t do well rather than what I did do well, especially in the first 6 months. I was travelling around on my own for 75% of the week and sitting in Costa with all those cakes staring straight into my soul proved very tempting. But there are a few things I readdressed and managed to get back to where I wanted to be physically and mentally, hopefully you find some of it useful and can take it on board in your busy working life.
1 – Be honest with yourself when planning your week:
Take a look at your working week, and understand where you can and can’t fit training in to. If you have a manic week where 4 out of the 5 days you are leaving at 6am and not back until late evening, then realistically it’s not going to be a strong training week for you. So plan around it, for example you could train on the one day you’re not out at 6am, then make the most of the weekend time you have by training twice more. The worst thing you could do is convince yourself that you will fit training in 5 days a week when you know it’s impossible. You will miss the first session or 2 and end up writing the whole week off, which becomes demoralising. Being realistic also allows you to plan your training sessions appropriately, so that you’re not missing out a certain element of your training completely. Because chances are you will put back a session that you are weakest at as you like it the least, and before you know it you’ve missed the same session a few weeks in a row and that weakness has fallen even further behind.
Planning your day and week in advance allows you to maximise the amount of time to spend on YOU. So put the training sessions you have planned to do into your diary and tick it off your ‘to do list’ when you’re finished. One job for the day done!
But also remember, your daily activity is also vital to your health. Not your training sessions, but how active you are day to day, walking being on your feet, housework, all of these activities contribute to staying healthy and burning those calories. So if you are struggling to train during the week, your daily activity becomes even more important to stay on top of.
2 – Make time:
I found that the easiest thing for me to do was put back my training at the end of the day to do some more work. Being stuck in a car meant I often didn’t get everything I wanted done before the end of the working day, so I would sit down for an extra couple of hours when I got home and before I know it I’ve got all the excuses in the world, it’s too late and I’m too tired to train.
This was not ok. The work we have to do is never ending, and we are doing all we can to get it done. When it stops you from doing the things you know are vital for you stay fit and healthy, you start resenting your work schedule and it becomes a burden. Whether you’re a sales person, an engineer, a business owner, is getting a couple more hours of work done more important than your health? Absolutely not.
So I made some changes to how I set out my day. Which brings me to my next point….
3 – Train in the morning (if you can):
This gave me one less excuse. I got my training done early, so I couldn’t keep putting it back. For those of you that are or have trained in the mornings, you know that getting into the habit is tough. Cutting your sleep a couple of hours early to get up and force some food down you isn’t easy. But for me the positives far outweighed the negatives. I’d walk out of the gym with a spring in my step ready to take on the day. My first few hours of the working day were more productive as I was wide awake and feeling good about myself, and not worried about trying to squeeze a session in at the end of the day whilst still thinking I had a mountain of work to get through.
4 – Prepare:
Ok, Ok, this is the biggest cliché in the industry. But seriously, PREPARE! Whether its sorting your kit out the night before to make sure you go to the gym in the morning, or cooking a few meals on a Sunday to take to work with you, preparing yourself to take on the week how you want to take it on is the biggest part of the battle. Having meals prepared is huge. If you’re busy, the last thing you will have time to do is cook or find a nice healthy meal to eat for lunch. If you enjoy cooking then block out a couple of hours at the weekend to cook the weeks meals in bulk, then freeze them and defrost them as the week goes on. If, like me, you have zero interest in cooking (I know, shame on me!), then there are alternatives. I buy ready cooked healthy meals online, they are delivered to me ready to go and all it takes is a few minutes in the microwave.
Prepare yourself for training, too. A little trick I picked up when training in the mornings is I have a caffeine tablet ready, I take it when I wake up and in 30-45 minutes its kicked in and I feel ready to train. Personally, I have to get some calories in before training or I feel sluggish. If I’m pushed for time I will have a protein shake and some easily digestible carbs and fats, such as fruit (berries preferably) and nuts. If I have a little more time then I get a good meal down me, which I would always favour in an ideal world.
5 – Train smart:
Training isn’t just a numbers game. It’s not about how many times you can train a week, or how much weight you’ve picked up (although it all helps). Having a training plan week in, week out gives you focus, and it maximises your time spent training. If you walk into a gym thinking “I have 40 minutes to train, I will just do whatever I can in that time”, it’s certainly better than doing nothing but what are you aiming to achieve in that 40 minutes and in the long-term? My sessions have a clear end goal of what I am aiming for. I usually have 2 goals for each session, but it depends on what I am training for. To put it simply, I may want to work on my upper body strength, but I may also need to do some mobility work. So I will plan my sessions around what I want to achieve, and I know exactly what I need to do when I enter the gym to achieve it.
This is all easy for me to say as I am a PT and I know how to achieve this, I hear you say. But we all need help some way or another, so…..
6 – Don’t do it alone:
If health & fitness isn’t your strong point, it may feel like you don’t even know where to start. Having some support along the way can be priceless. Whether that be a friend or partner helping you out, or you get yourself a professional, it all helps. Whilst I was on the road I still either had a personal trainer or an online coach to help me, yes I did my own thing for a while and put my own training and nutrition plans together, but having someone else gave me that extra boost to really stick with it and push myself. Having to train with or check in with someone regularly means you are being closely monitored and more likely to stay on track. It also means you are accountable to someone, and a good PT will be just as driven to help you get to where you want to be as you are.
7 – Put your health first:
Your fundamental health is the most important factor here. Your job probably involves long hours and a lot of stress, and you may have neglected your health for a very long time. So it’s vital that your main goal in any programme is TO BE HEALTHY. Obviously, there are some health issues that exercise and good nutrition can’t fix, but it sure as hell won’t make it worse. Being leaner, fitter and stronger are the reasons 99% of people exercise, but the programme must suit your needs. For example, I do not have any health issues but I have a few long term injuries that I have to manage, tendinopathy in both knees and ankles for one. Rather than getting the better of me and becoming idle, I have worked with trainers and physios to make sure I am managing the injuries and my programme does not aggravate this, in fact they are feeling better now than when I rested them for 2 months.
8 – Count those calories:
One of the simplest ways to help avoid excess fat gain, is ensuring your calorie intake does not exceed your calorie expenditure. It’s a very fundamental outlook on nutrition, and one which may help when you’re on the go constantly. If I knew I wasn’t going to be able to train much in a certain week, I would look at reducing my normal intake by around 300-400 kCal per day, purely because I knew I would not be expending as much throughout the day. What I tend to do is take most of these reduced kCal’s from my carbohydrate intake, and a small amount from my fats, and try to keep protein intake a constant no matter what. This is because with the sort of high intensity training I do, most of my energy source for the sessions are from carbs. If I’m not doing those sessions that week, then why do I need the extra carbs?
I use the MyFitnessPal app to track my intake, it isn’t 100% accurate but it also gives you an idea of what your intake should be per day based on your resting metabolic rate (RMR). This is an estimate of your daily energy expenditure based mainly on your weight and lifestyle. From that information you can then work out what you can eat per day without going over your RMR. But don’t go overboard, reducing your intake significantly below your RMR will do more harm than good so avoid the silly calorie restricted meal shake plans. Chip away at it and you will be far more likely to stick to it and still have energy to train. And if you are training a lot, take that into account as your daily calorie expenditure will be well above your RMR.
Below is just an example of some basic data you get through MyFitnessPal. This was a training day for me, in a period where I was trying to lose fat. My protein intake is way above their guidelines, but I use a high protein diet for fat loss. If I was not training that day, I would simply take a portion of carbohydrates out, usually from my dinner. So if I was having rice at dinner for example, I would remove it completely from my meal.
9 – Do something you enjoy:
Last and by no means least! This is a big one for me. Having played a variety of sports all my life, I am quite lucky in that I enjoy most of them. Whether it’s playing 5-a-side football, going for a run, boxing, taking the dog for a long walk, or throwing some heavy weights around the gym, make sure you are doing something you enjoy. If you’re enjoying training and exercise, you’re much more likely to stick with it, and the sessions will feel a lot less taxing. For all of you footballers out there, how often have you played 5-a-side, running around like a headless chicken for an hour and got to the end of it without once feeling like you were doing a fitness session?
I’ll be honest though, it’s not all fun and games. This should supplement your training programme rather than take up all of it (unless your passion is lifting weights and conditioning sessions). And give yourself a goal that will help you to perform your hobbies better. If you get puffed out running around with the kids for 20 minutes, make it your goal to be able to do that for longer without feeling shattered and needing a glass of wine to ease the pain. Or if you want to get back into playing Sunday league football after 10 years of not playing, make sure you or your trainer is setting a plan to reach that goal and then some. Get fitter, stronger, faster, leaner, ready to take on the hungover Sunday morning Ronaldo’s. Then when you’ve got there, what’s the next goal? Play 90 minutes regularly? Play a higher level? Or maybe take on a completely different challenge. Whatever it is, make it realistic, and something you really want to do.
Hopefully you can take at least one of these points away and incorporate it into your day to day life. I know it helped me whilst I was on the road to stay focussed and correct some of the errors I was making in looking after myself which, without trying to sound too self-indulgent, is the most important thing. After all, if you’re not looking after yourself, how can you look after your family or work to your full capacity?