Even If You’re ‘Too Busy’ To Work Out, Here’s How To Squeeze It In

Start small.

by Natalia Lusinski
Sports girl runs in summer in city. Sportswear Leggings Top. Cloud stair background. Motivation for ...

When it comes to working out, it’s easy to get busy with other commitments — you know, work, meeting friends, dating — and then you decide to skip a day… and another day… and another day. But what’s a realistic workout plan so you can get back on track without losing momentum? You may think you’re “too busy” to make working out a habit, but fitness experts aren’t convinced.

“I'm not a big fan of this excuse,” Luke Zocchi, head trainer at Centr (and Chris Hemsworth's personal trainer), tells TZR in an email. “To me, all that this means is that working out isn't yet a key priority for you. I’ve yet to meet someone who truly doesn't have any time. It's just figuring out where to carve it from.” He says sometimes this can mean getting creative in how you balance exercise with your daily commitments. For example, if you're a parent juggling family life, when you take the kids to the park, you can do a workout while they play. “There is always a way to make something happen if you want to,” he adds.

Doug Setter, fitness trainer and author, agrees. “When people tell me that they are ‘too busy’ to work out, I ask if they own a television or play computer games,” he tells TZR in an email. “If you have time to watch TV or play games, you have time to exercise. I knew an arnis (stick fighting) instructor who also ran a moving business. When he was at home, he would perform leg raises, push-ups, and sit-ups while watching TV. And this 67-year-old was ripped.” Setter says some of the busiest people he knows are incredibly fit. “Just look at Chef Ramsey (triathlete), Shark Tank's Robert Herjavec (marathon runner), and Kate Middleton (CrossFit trainee),” he says. “If you have a strong enough why for wanting to exercise, you will find a way.”


So let’s say you decide to squeeze in time for a workout. How often? Every day? A few times a week? According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the average adult should get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, per week. Or, a combo of the two. So that’s 20 to 30 minutes per day of moderate exercise seven days a week, or about 30 minutes a day, five times a week. The good news is, if you cannot do all 20-30 minutes at once, you can break it up into smaller chunks. “I am a big believer in working smarter — and being fit and healthy shouldn't require loads and loads of hours in the gym,” Zocchi explains. He says if people could do a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise between three or four times a week, that would make a huge difference to their overall health and well-being.

Ahead, fitness experts share tips and insights on how to determine a realistic workout plan for your schedule and lifestyle to avoid setting yourself up for failure.

Make Your Health A Priority Like Anything Else

Zocchi says a large part in sticking to a workout plan is to “make your health a priority as much as your work, family, or other commitments. Put it in your calendar and show up as you would for a business meeting or social event.” Like Setter, he too says to think about why prioritizing your health is important to you. “Let these motivations keep you going,” Zocchi says. “And stop making excuses. You don't find excuses for things that are truly a priority, so make your health one of the biggest priorities you have.” He also stresses not to be unrealistic about the time you have. “We are all busy, so aim for three to four days per week and stick to it.” Of course, you can always up it, but this is a good starting point.

Assess Your Workout Style And Goals

Certified Master Trainer Ashley Borden, creator of The Body Foundation, a full-body, minimal equipment class, says to start by assessing your workout style and goals. She recommends asking yourself the following questions:

  • What kind of time do I have (plus travel time if you are going to a gym)?
  • What are my initial goals?
  • How do I show up the best for my workouts? Having a trainer? Committing to a program with a friend? Training alone?
  • Where is my most ideal place to train?

“When you answer those questions, you can narrow down the type of program or location you prefer to focus on and set up a win/win for you and your time,” she tells TZR in an email. She says there are many types of programs out there and that she offers a training program called On Ramp 1.0 and 2.0. “It is a progressive program that builds confidence with basic movements, yet progresses you appropriately three times a week for 12 weeks,” she says. She also says, overall, a lot of it is about mindset: “You get to work out. It’s a privilege, not a punishment.”


Follow The ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ Strategy

Setter says that a realistic workout plan follows much of the S.M.A.R.T. strategy: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-dated. He says you may have a goal like, “I think I just want to tone my muscles." But the problem is, it is too broad. A better, more actionable goal would be, “I am training three times per week — once with weights and machines, and twice with dance and my outrigger paddling team.” And being specific about when you are working out is helpful, too. Setter says training failures are usually from too much too soon and a lack of a plan. While it’s good to be ambitious, too ambitious from the get-go can be overwhelming and you can burn out before you even truly begin.

Make Sure You Enjoy It

“The best workout plan for you is the one that you will do consistently,” Thom Manning, performance Coach at Future, an app that pairs you with a world-class fitness coach who manages your ongoing fitness remotely, tells TZR in an email. “Whether you are starting a new fitness regimen or making significant changes to your current workout routine, it’s important to make sure you enjoy your chosen workout.” Plus, make sure it will fit into your current daily schedule and that you have the support you need to stay consistent, he explains. “If your new plan checks these boxes, you'll have the greatest chance of success.”

Conversely, he says that if your new routine requires extraordinary willpower or makes you feel frustrated and defeated, it's not likely to work for you in the long-term. “This negativity can take away from the rewarding, energizing effects of exercise and can even cause you to abandon your routine,” Manning says. “The good news is that you can easily avoid these pitfalls by adopting shorter workouts. Some exercise is always better than no exercise.” Speaking of which…

Start Small: Some Exercise Is Better Than No Exercise

Manning says that if you can’t carve out an hour or 30 minutes just yet, start with 20 minutes once or twice per week. “Block off this time in your schedule to do some movement you enjoy, and you will soon create a foundation of success with these shorter workouts,” he says. “If you're a runner and you're finding it hard to get back into your previous morning routine, you'll find many of the same benefits by jumping rope at home and doing calisthenics (like rear foot elevated split squats). Once you’re going strong with this initial plan, you’ll find opportunities to increase duration, intensity, or frequency.”

Flo Elkins, NASM Certified Personal Trainer and online wellness coach, agrees. “When first starting out, a realistic workout plan could start with moving five to 10 minutes a day,” she tells TZR in an email. “Dynamic stretching (including leg swings, arm circles, head rolls, marching in place, or touching your head, shoulders, knees, and toes — and then in reverse) is a great way to get your body warmed up and your muscles primed, even for the activities of everyday living. Do this three to four days a week just to get a routine started.”

Break Your Workout Up Into Pieces

Similar to the above, Elkins says that when you have a busy schedule, some movement is better than none at all. In that case, she suggests breaking your workout up over the course of a day. So if you only have 10 minutes in the morning, 10 to 30 minutes during lunch (perhaps to take a walk), and 10 to 20 minutes in the evening, do what you can with the time you have, she explains. “You don't have to go to the gym or work out at home for an hour every day, as many people think is ideal,” she adds. “Just schedule the time(s) you will work out, have a plan so you don't waste time trying to figure out what you will do when the time comes, and be consistent.”


Build On Your Momentum

Once you start working out regularly — or semi-regularly — it’s easier to build momentum. You’ll want to keep going instead of putting on Netflix. (OK, maybe you’ll find a way to do both at the same time.) “Getting fit and healthy is a cumulative thing,” says Zocchi. “The hardest part is always getting started, but you will be shocked at how much better you feel once you are in a routine of working out: You will have more energy, sleep better, manage stress more effectively, the list goes on and on.” He says to just get started. “Stay the course and, before you know it, those workouts will become a part of your day or week you look forward to.”

Manning agrees. “Simply starting can be a challenge, and you can boost your efficiency by working with a personal, virtual coach,” he says. “Your coach can design your workouts to make sure they are effective, personalize them for you as you make progress, and provide the accountability you need to stay consistent despite your busy schedule. Plus, you can get your workouts done whenever, and wherever, is most convenient for you.”

Find An Accountability Partner And Create A Reward System

It’s often easier to follow through on things with accountability. “There is always great merit in having an exercise buddy, someone to hold you accountable, and you, them,” says Zocchi. “It also adds a social element to make it more fun.” And you don’t have to exercise in the same room together or at the same time, although you can (even virtually). But the idea is more about having someone hold you accountable.

Setter says you can also employ a reward system to keep you motivated. “I use television programs as rewards for finishing a workout or a project,” he says. “Mind you, the TV can be used as motivation to complete your workout — use it as a reward, not a lifestyle.”