Three Steps to Better Time Management for Busy Strength Athletes

When I moved to Texas from Northern California in 2011, the biggest culture shock I experienced was time. People move at a bit of a slower pace in Texas, and – especially after having spent the first 25 years of my life in Washington, D.C. – I had a little trouble adjusting at first. Hell, I still can’t get used to how people drive around here.

But pretty quickly, I realized that even though Texans might walk and talk a bit slower, their lives are just as hectic as anywhere else in the world. In fact, I think it’s almost impossible to escape the breakneck pace of society, no matter where you live.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re a strength athlete who also has to deal with responsibilities like work, family, and maintaining some semblance of a social life outside the gym, you might find yourself pretty pressed for time. You might be so rushed that you start to feel stressed, your training starts to suffer, and you might find yourself wondering how you can manage it all.

I’ve got good new and bad news. First, the good: it is possible. Compared to many other sports, the development of strength isn’t all that time-intensive. For most people, even an hour or two in the gym, three or four times a week, is plenty.

Here’s the bad news: just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s easy. If you’re struggling to figure out how to squeeze your marathon training sessions into a couple of hours in the gym a few times a week – or if you’re struggling to figure out how to make time to get to the gym in the first place – this article can help.

Step 1: Prioritize

You have to start somewhere, and generally, the best place to start is by deciding what isn’t important. If you’re so pressed for time that you can’t fit training into your schedule at all, then prioritization means evaluating the activities in your life that can be reduced or eliminated.

Be reasonable, here: cutting out early from your job, asking your significant other for a “break,” or trying to swing four hours of sleep a night isn’t healthy and isn’t going to set you up for long-term success. Training during your lunch break or sleeping seven or eight hours a night instead of nine is perfectly reasonable. Yes, it might be difficult at first, but you’ll adjust.

If your issue involves spending too long at the gym, then prioritization will look a bit different. Obviously, if you’re a powerlifter, dropping the squat, bench, or deadlift from your training schedule isn’t a great idea. Dropping curls and flyes is probably a good idea regardless of whether you’re pressed for time or not. You don’t want to cut out a warm-up completely, but if you’re spending half an hour or more before you even get under a bar, you can probably optimize there.

The key question to ask yourself: “What improves my competition lifts the most?” Keep those elements of your program. Cut back on or cut out the rest.

[Here are 6 useful things you can do in-between sets during your workouts!]

Step 2: Schedule.

Again, two different perspectives here. If you’re finding it hard to make it into the gym, you want to find a time in your day when you know that you’ll be able to train, and you want to let those around you know that you’re not available for other activities during that time. For most busy people, that probably means early in the morning. If you’re training later in the day, you’re opening yourself up to the possibility that a late night at work or an unexpected errand will derail your training time.

You can look a little broader here, too. For example, prepping meals in advance or on weekends is another great way to save time on your busier days.

If you’re just spending too long in the gym, I recommend setting timing parameters along with the usual sets, reps, and weights. For example, give yourself a 20-minute limit to complete your 3×5 on squat. Not only does this ensure that you’ll get out of the gym quickly, but it also forces you to track your rest between sets, so that you can’t “cheat” yourself out of working hard. There’s other tricks you can try to speed up your sessions, too, like walking to the gym to warm-up more efficiently, or supersetting your assistance exercises. Don’t be afraid to get creative!

[Use supersets to save time and workout efficiently, why and how they work.]

Step 3: Compromise.

No matter what the details of your schedule are, if you’re a busy person, you’re going to have to make some compromises, and that’s okay. Training less, or less often; training at maybe less-than-ideal times, training alone (you’d be surprised at how much faster solo training sessions go) – nobody wants to do those things, but they’re not deal breakers.

In fact, I’ve often found that my most productive training came when I was the busiest outside of the gym. Being forced to prioritize, schedule, and compromise meant that (A) I spent my time and effort on what was important, and (B) I didn’t dwell on anything, and I didn’t worry about the future. When you’re so busy you have to take life one day at a time, you’re always living in the moment, and that’s honestly the best (and most productive) way to live.

One last word of advice for the time-crunched: get a good pair of headphones. Chatting in the gym is the death of productivity and efficiency.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Feature image from Ben Pollack YouTube channel.