How To Fit Exercise Into Your Busy Life
My work is often a top priority, which is good for my career, but it has one major drawback: I let myself slide during stressful periods. At least, that was the case in the past.
You probably know this from your environment and the news. People who are mainly devoted to their work or politics tend to look unhealthy: too fat, too pale, and too tired.
I was a hybrid: in stressful times, I let myself slide, but then in less stressful times, I tried to make up for it by eating healthy and exercising a lot. This avoided the worst but also led to a yoyo effect. That was not sustainable either.
Now I know that health and exercise must be my top priority to maintain my performance and pleasure in life. I also learned to achieve it without compromising my professional and personal goals.
I move up to 4 hours daily and burn an additional 2000kcal to my basal metabolic rate on regular working days, in addition to 8 hours for the job and 2 hours for personal projects. My colleagues are always quite stunned when I tell them this. But it's doable. Here's how:
Allocate fixed time slots to start habit building
I have fixed time slots for exercise, which I now perform as if automated. Willpower management is essential, and the more routinely you conduct your activities, the less mental energy and overcoming it will cost you.
My daily program looks like this:
- 07:45 - 08:45: High-intensity exercises: depending on the goal, running or weight training. In winter, I also like indoor cycling instead of running.
- 11:30 - 13:00: Low-intensity activity: A long walk where I schedule work meetings that I can do on the go, i.e. with sound only. When there are no meetings, I listen to podcasts or audiobooks. When I'm stressed, I listen to music.
- 17:00 - 18:00: Low-intensity activity: Another walk, including work meetings.
- 18:00 - 18:30: Medium intensity: Indoor cycling or rowing every other day
This may sound overwhelming when considering incorporating such a program into your day. Of course, this didn't happen overnight for me, but over the years. My recommendation: start with just one thing.
My starting point was walking because it combines many advantages:
- Walking doesn't take as much effort, overhead (changing clothes) and overcoming as running.
- You can do mental tasks during the walks (meetings, listening to audiobooks, thinking about problems, ...)
- Walking triggers creative problem-solving in your mind.
- It burns a surprisingly high number of calories. In my case, it's 400 kcal per hour. However, I am also quite heavy at 110kg. In comparison: Running is about 1000 kcal per hour for me.
This means that if it is only about losing weight, you would also get along great with a mix of healthy food and two walks a day. For cardio fitness, however, intense exercise sessions are helpful in addition.
Create exercise options at home
Well, you can quickly adapt to running and walking for yourself. The next point may be a little more difficult for you to implement.
I am lucky that my wife and I now have a large apartment of 100 square metres (= 1077 square feet). This allows me to have my study with 13 square metres (=140 square feet), where I put some exercise equipment for weight training beside my desk.
I used to go to a gym with my friends a couple of years ago. That worked well for me at the time, but honestly, it was always a lot of overhead: Driving there, changing clothes. Then the actual weight lifting. Waiting for equipment to become available. Sometimes the gym was very crowded. Then again, showering, changing and walking home again.
Two hours are gone in no time, with only half of that time as exercise.
So I can only recommend having some workout equipment set up at home if space allows.
I'll show you how I set up my home gym to inspire you. As you'll see, it's already quite sophisticated. This is why at the end of this article, I will also recommend a minimal viable setup - the two pieces of equipment sufficient to start a comprehensive full-body workout.
Welcome to my home gym
You can see that when you come through the door of my room. I have the following equipment:
- A walking pad that allows me to do indoor walking while doing work meetings
- A power cage that allows for advanced barbell exercises, dips, pull-ups and cable exercises (lat pull and rowing)
- A bench
- A set of adjustable dumbbells up to 42kg (92lbs) each
- A barbell with weights up to 170kg (375lbs)
- A rowing machine
- A dual pulley system
- An indoor biking setup
Let's go through the devices and their advantages and disadvantages in detail.
As already mentioned, I am a big fan of simply walking. Walking alone can lift substantial health benefits. The problem: even for that, sometimes you don't have the time.
The solution can be purchased relatively cheaply. For 300-500 €/$, you get such walking pads. They are more compact than treadmills and work primarily only for walking speeds. The cool thing is that they are foldable and easily transported into the apartment.
I added a gripper arm from Amazon Basics to my walking pad to put my notebook on it. So I simultaneously have a standing table at which I can even walk.
When buying, you should pay attention to the following:
- Is it sufficient for your weight? (With 110kg (240lbs), I needed a slightly better model)
- Sufficient width (the very cheap devices are sometimes too narrow to comfortably walk on for a big person)
- Sufficient speed. I got myself a device that works up to 12km/h (7,5mph) since I like to walk fast-paced. This would also allow a slow-to-medium-paced jog.
- It should be collapsible to make room when you don't use it.
When I explored the buy options a year ago, the original "WalkingPads" was the best choice. I think Xiaomi makes them.
The Power Cage seems enormous and cost me 1199€, but I do not want to miss it anymore. It frames the bench and serves the following purpose:
- It accommodates the barbell at different heights (e.g. low for deadlifts, mid for bench presses, and high for squats)
- It has bars that securely catch the bar during the bench press if you lose strength. So in an emergency, you will not be crushed by the barbell if you adjust the height of these bars appropriately.
- It allows for "dips" and pullup exercises.
- It even has a cable pull that you can use for lat pulls or rowing.
I bought the cage linked below, but I guess you can't get that model in the US, where most of my readers come from, since it's a german store. But I'm delighted with that choice, so maybe it serves you as a reference model.
I guess you'll find similar models on Amazon US. I recommend you, in any case, not to save on quality here. Under 1000€/$, I would be honestly sceptical whether the Power Cage will support you in all situations and not break down.
Bench & Dumbells
If you're wondering what the "Minimal Viable Equipment" is, it is a weight bench and dumbbells. The bench can be adjusted to different angles and, together with the dumbbells, allows for a full-body workout from top to bottom.
The dumbbells' uniqueness is that you can adjust them via a twist handle in steps from 4 to 42kg (93 lbs).
With the bench, my tip of not buying too cheap applies again. It must be able to withstand your body weight + the dumbbells. Under 300€, I would honestly be somewhat sceptical. This one looks nice and should be available in the US. My bench is from the brand "Hoist".
The dumbbells are from Bowflex (450€ x 2), but there are many similar systems in the market. The advantage is that they don't take up as much space as if you had all these dumbbell weights individually. And the change in weight levels goes in an instant.
I have a conflicting relationship with my "Dual Pulley" tower. On the one hand, I love it because it allows me to do varied exercises and isolation exercises in my workout. And it is super compact.
But actually, you can do all the exercises with the other equipment, so that's a bit duplicated. And for that, it was expensive, about 1800€, and the construction takes some time (I hope I don't have to relocate soon).
I didn't get everything squeezed into my room after all. In addition to my weight training equipment, I also have a rowing machine that allows cardio exercises for the upper body & core stability. It doesn't burn as many calories as biking and running, but it is a nice change.
The rowing indoor trainer model is called "Waterrower". Tall people should take the extra-long version. For the wood choice, I recommend walnut.
Those smart indoor biking trainer are incredible. It is a Bluetooth-connected flywheel ("Wahoo Kickr") in the back that can simulate a natural ride or be set to a fixed wattage. Since it connects to your phone via Bluetooth, you can also do virtual rides with apps like Zwift.
I even have two extras at the front: a wind machine (otherwise, it gets very hot on the bike when you're training hard) and a height adjustment ("Kickr Climbr") that tilts the bike's front during virtual rides, depending on whether you're going downhill or uphill.
I don't need it in the summer, but in the winter, when it's too cold for me to run outside, I use it almost daily. You can then do super meetings on the bike for more leisurely rides.
Feel inspired and get started.
Combining work, personal goals, and health is essential.
At the minimum, it should be plenty of walks because they cost nothing and bring a lot of value to the table. For those who want to do more, various workout equipment can turn the study into a home gym.
I hope this article inspires you a little about these possibilities. All I can say is that since I've been able to work out at home every day, I no longer have weight problems and feel more comfortable in my skin.
If you think about what can be the first equipment for weight training at home, I recommend you start with the weight bench and a good set of dumbbells. With them, you can do great full-body workouts and train most areas of your body.
Feel free to add your tips and thoughts to this page's comment section, Twitter or LinkedIn!
-- Martin from Deliberate-Diligence.com