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.

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Meal Prep! A lot of people message me asking for meal prep tips and asking about how to add variety into meal prep, because they simply cannot eat chicken for every meal, as well as how to make all of their meals for the entire week. . But just like with everything else, I suggest that people start off meal prep simple, first, picking one meal that they will prep for (instead of every breakfast, lunch, and dinner), and then making 4 of that same meal for the week. . I usually recommend people start with lunch, because that's an easy win as most people will be at work, and if you're used to going out for every lunch, bringing your lunch to work can save you a lot of money. . And yes, I recommend you make the same thing for 4 lunches to last you Monday through Thursday. And then if you eat them all, you can go out on Friday 🙂 . If you're saying that you simply cannot eat the same thing for lunch 4 days in a row – it's not that you cannot, it is that you don't want to. And that's okay. If variety is a higher priority for you, there's just going to be a trade-off and meal prep will be more time consuming and difficult. . Also, if you just give it a shot, you might find it's easier than you think 🙂 . Making a lot of meals with high variety takes a lot of practice, and while cooking itself isn't difficult, making the best use out of your time and kitchen space is a skill that you learn over time. Starting with pre-making one, simple meal, is the best way to start. . This prep is what I’m currently eating (and my favorite easy and cheap go to) – chicken thighs, broccoli, and rice. . You can find a step by step level 1 meal prep that I wrote on Nerd Fitness linked in my bio 🙂

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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. 

Ben Pollack

Ben Pollack

Ben Pollack is a professional powerlifter and holds the all-time world record raw total of 2039 in the 198-pound class. He has won best overall lifter at the largest raw meets in the world, including the US Open, Boss of Bosses, and Reebok Record Breakers.

Ben earned his Ph.D. in the history and management of strength and fitness from the University of Texas at Austin in 2018, and has published articles in a number of scholarly publications, including The Journal of Sport History, The Journal of Sport Management, and Iron Game History: The Journal of Physical Culture. He also coaches strength athletes of all skill levels, including several internationally-elite powerlifters and world record holders. You can contact Ben through his website (phdeadlift.com) or via email at [email protected]

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