Life has a tendency to get in the way! I remember back to the luxurious days of having all the time in the world to workout and eat well. Then this whole “adulting” thing kind of happened.
You have to work longer hours. You have more responsibilities. More financial commitments. Relationships to upkeep. And then there are kids to worry about too! (I don’t personally have any kids yet, but I’m experienced enough to know how it is when you do!)
So, for many of us, long gone are the days of five or more gym sessions a week. In fact, for a lot of us, getting to the gym at all might be out of the question. This is why I thought I would write this post, and I call it the “help I’ve got kids and a busy job” fitness plan.
Ok, let me address this one first. I’m assuming that worst case scenario, you can’t make it the gym at all anymore. That means that equipment-free workouts are our solution. They can be done in just 30 minutes. And you can do them at home or on your lunch break at work if you have space. I’d aim to perform 3 to 4 of these short workouts per week.
Interval training (HIIT – high intensity interval training) would be one of my preferences here, since you are limited for time. Plus interval workouts can be completed quickly. The simplest method would be just to run. Warm up with a 5 minute jog, followed by 15 seconds of sprinting / hard running, then 45 seconds of walking to recover. Perform 10 – 20 sprints with walking in between, and finish up with another 5 minute jog after. Done.
Note that to prevent injury, especially if you aren’t used to sprinting, I’d suggest “bounding” into each sprint and building up the speed until you are running flat out. Build up rather than taking off like a sprinter at the start line.
Otherwise, if you happen to have an exercise bike, you could do a similar type workout using that. Ride easy for 5 minutes, building up the speed and resistance. Then crank the resistance up and ride as hard as you can for 20 seconds, followed by 40 seconds at an easy resistance. Repeat 10 – 20 times, again followed by 5 minutes of easy riding to finish.
If you can skip (jump rope), you could also do that. Same format: 5 minutes warm up, 10 – 20 intervals of skipping hard for 15 – 20 seconds then 40 – 45 seconds of easy skipping. Then 5 minutes of easy skipping to finish.
Note: only skip if you are actually half decent at it. Otherwise, if you are continuously “messing up” and have to keep stopping, it removes the benefit of the workout.
Similar to interval training, use bodyweight exercises to perform a quick hard circuit. I have done a series of videos demonstrating different equipment-free exercises you could use. The video series is called “No Gym, No Problem” and you can see them here:
Pick 5 or so exercises, preferably a mixture of upper body exercises (e.g. push ups, tricep dips, Y handcuffs) and lower body exercises (e.g. squats, lunges, burpees). Perform each exercise for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of rest. Rest for 2 minutes after each circuit. Repeat the circuit 3 to 4 times.
- Mountain Climbers 30 secs, 30 secs rest
- Lying Abs Leg Raises 30 secs, 30 secs rest
- Bird Dogs 30 secs, 30 secs rest
- Tricep Dips 30 secs, 30 secs rest
- Squat to Toe Touches 30 secs, 30 secs rest.
Rest for 2 mins. Repeat circuit 3 – 4 times.
If you are lucky enough to be able to make it to the gym, even just one day a week, then you will want to make best use of the opportunity. That’s why I would recommend a full body workout using compound free weight exercises. These will work the most muscle groups at once, will burn the most calories, build the most strength, and take the least time. Don’t waste the opportunity on “fluff” exercises like bicep curls or cable cross overs.
I’d recommend doing something like this:
- Barbell Back Squats 4 sets of 6 reps, 1 to 2 minutes rest
- Overhead Barbell Press 4 sets of 6 reps, 1 to 2 minutes rest
- Barbell Deadlift 4 sets of 6 reps, 1 to 2 minutes rest
- Lat Pull Down 3 sets of 10 reps, 1 minute rest
- Barbell Bench Press 3 sets of 10 reps, 1 minute rest
Besides the gym session laid out (if you are fortunate enough to make it to the gym at all), the workouts I’ve recommended can be done anywhere at any time and with almost no equipment.
You can do these workouts early morning before work. Or maybe on your lunch break. Otherwise, perhaps you can work out on an evening time. It can be handy if your partner / spouse can watch the kids while you do a workout. Or you can do it after you have put the kids to bed, while watching TV.
This is going to be the most important factor in staying in shape when you have a full schedule. And sadly, this is where most people go wrong, even those who have the luxury of going to the gym as much as they want. Remember that you can’t out-train a bad diet!
To lose weight, you’ll want to be eating in a calorie deficit. This means figuring out how many calories your body needs to maintain weight, and then making sure to eat fewer calories than this. The easiest way to do this is by monitoring your calorie intake using a calorie counting app like MyFitnessPal https://www.myfitnesspal.com
I talk in detail about figuring out your calorie intake for weight loss here:
If your lifestyle is mostly sedentary, in that if you spend the majority of your time physically inactive at work, and your time spent exercising is limited, then I recommend you prioritise protein and cruciferous vegetables in your diet. I’m not saying to cut out carbohydrates. But keep in mind that carbs are for energy. So, if you aren’t moving a whole lot, then you probably won’t need many.
Protein is not just important for building and maintaining muscle and for growth and repair. But protein is also very important for fat loss!
Your metabolism can slow down when eating in a calorie deficit over a prolonged time. The fancy term for this is “adaptive thermogenesis”. Having an adequate protein intake helps prevents this, so it assists in keeping your metabolism going!
Muscle mass is very “metabolically demanding”. This means that more muscle tissue creates a higher energy demand. So, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn!
Furthermore, an adequate protein intake helps with satiety. This means you will feel “fuller”, and you will be less tempted to cheat on your diet and eat more! Protein also has a high “TEF level” (thermic effect of food). This means that the process of digesting protein burns a fair number of calories in itself!
General guidelines for protein intake are to take in at least 1g of protein for every lb of lean body mass, each day.
Cruciferous vegetables are high in fibre, so aid in digestion. They are also predominantly negligible calories – they end up burning so much energy just to digest that their calories don’t count!
Fibre helps you feel fuller during meals, as well as helping you feel fuller between meals too. This mean that it will help you eat less!
Eat your protein, eat your fibre, and you’ve covered the most important elements of your diet!
I talk more about the importance of prioritising protein and fibre in your diet here:
Sample quick meals
Chicken and mixed vegetables
Cottage cheese and celery sticks
Egg white and spinach omelette
Tofu with vegetables
Whey protein shake blended with kale
Don’t eat the kids’ leftovers!
It is often tempting to snack on food leftover by your kids. But be mindful that these extra calories all add up!
Whether you choose to eat the same food you give your children is up to you, but just monitor your calorie intake. Otherwise, it is always an option to make food for the family as normal, but then make a slightly lower calorie version for yourself. For example, if you were making spaghetti bolognaise for the family, you might want to replace the spaghetti on your plate for vegetables instead. Whatever you choose to do, just remember that it is YOU who is watching their diet – not necessarily your family. And your children’s energy demands and nutrient requirements may very well be different to yours! Still though, it is always good to encourage the whole family to eat healthy food together!
IF (intermittent fasting) could be a good option for calorie control and convenience. This involves limiting the timing of your food intake to a specific time window. The most popular one is probably to fast for 16 hours, and then to eat during an 8 hour period, usually between 12pm and 8pm. Basically, all you do is skip breakfast. Of course, you could switch these times up to suit you better.
It can be convenient as it involves not having to make time to eat breakfast. Or, if you shorten your eating window to skip breakfast and lunch too, you don’t have to worry about finding “healthy” food options when you are out. You can just wait until you get home to eat.
It is often a good idea to prepare food in advance to save time, and to make sure that you always have “healthy” food to hand. This can mean preparing the kids’ packed lunches for the week, as well as your own lunches. You can also make dinner ready for the week too. As you get better at it and more organised, you’ll see how much time cooking in bulk can save you. You can use this time to squeeze in some home workouts!
Just cook food, package it up in containers, and store it in the fridge or freezer. And don’t worry about having to eat the same food each day, because you won’t. Chicken breast can be had several times a week, but just flavoured differently or served with other varying food options. It will make it into completely different meals!
You might find it useful to create a weekly “menu” too, so you can plan ahead each week for what meals to have ready-cooked on what days.
There are other time saving tips, like to be sure to order your groceries online. This saves you making time to go out and buy your food, which can be a long and stressful affair if you have to take young children with you to the supermarket.
Also, there are now various “meal prep companies” that will cook and deliver nutritious food for you. These are often quite pricy though.
An active lifestyle
Lastly, I want to talk about lifestyle change. Make an effort to include more physical activity in your everyday life. Often this is effortless and takes little to no extra time out of your day. All extra physical activity you can do helps towards burning more calories. This can be difference between losing weight and not losing any weight at all!
- Monitor your step count using a fitness tracker like a FitBit. Aim for at least 10,000 steps a day.
- Cycle or walk short journeys
- Take the stairs rather than elevators where possible
- Do your daily chores like cleaning and tidying up
- At work, walk over and talk to your colleagues rather than emailing
- Take regular breaks from the computer during work to move around. Your eyes need a break anyway!
- Get up and move during TV adverts
- Get up and walk around while talking on the phone
- Stand on the train or bus rather than sitting
- If possible, use a standing desk at work rather than sitting
- Park your car further away and walk the rest of the way.
Having a busy schedule and a hectic lifestyle doesn’t have to mean that your health and fitness goes out the window. With some time management and some organisation, you can say goodbye to your “dad bod” / “mum bod” (I don’t know if a “mum bod” is an actual thing, but I don’t like to discriminate!)