7 tips for balancing training with life
July 1st, 2011
09:08 AM ET

7 tips for balancing training with life

Since January, we've been tracking the training of Dr. Sanjay Gupta and six iReporters as they prep for the August 7 Nautica New York City Triathlon.  Now we're adding expert advice from our friends at Triathlete.com

Lack of time is the most commonly cited excuse for not exercising. But surveys suggest that those who exercise regularly are just as busy with their jobs, families and other responsibilities as those who don’t work out. So the time excuse is just that: an excuse.

Yet time is a challenge for most endurance athletes. Training is a time-consuming pursuit, and our lives are busier than ever these days. So while it might not be hard to find time to get some exercise daily, finding time to train as much was we would like to train is difficult. Use the following tips to better fit your training into your hectic life.


We’re all pressed for time, yet we all have time for our highest priorities. Before you take any other measures to fit your training into your life, consider how important it is to you. What sacrifices are you willing to make for the sake of your training, and what sacrifices are you not willing to make? There are no right and wrong answers to these questions—there are only your answers.

The chief objective of this exercise is to identify activities in your typical day or week that are not as important as your training time, so you can cut back on or eliminate them. For example, perhaps all that cooking has gotten to be more trouble than it’s worth, and it’s time to rely more on healthy prepared meals. Or maybe your Rotary Club membership can wait until running itself becomes a lower priority for you.

Make a schedule

Sit down and write out what you do and when you do it in a typical workday. Look for any waste or excess that can be addressed to create more training time. Suppose your schedule reveals that you currently watch two hours of TV in the evening. Why not cut that back to 90 minutes and squeeze in a 30-minute workout?

Create a new schedule with the waste and excess cut out and the extra training time added, and then stick to it!

Be consistent

Consistency is the most important characteristic of an effective training regimen. So if you don’t always have time for what you consider a “full workout” every day, then at least try to do more than nothing every day. Many runners mistakenly believe that a 20-minute workout is not worth the bother, but it is, especially if you crank up the intensity or use the time to work on an otherwise neglected aspect of your fitness (technique, strength, etc.).

Save the big workouts for weekends or other days when you have less clock pressure, and on the other days, just do something.

Get creative

Endurance athletes have found many creative ways to fit training into a tight schedule. Ride your bike to work. Invest in a treadmill and run on it in the evening while your kids play nearby. Take the family to the lake or pool and swim while your spouse watches the kids, then switch places and let your spouse have his/her turn.

You know what they say: Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Create an understanding with your mate

Time spent training can be a major conflict issue in couples where one member is an endurance athlete and the other is not. As with every potential source of conflict in a relationship, the best ways to minimize spousal training time resentment are communication and compromise.

Sit down with you mate and talk openly about the time you spend on your training. Let him/her know that spending quality time with him/her and working out are both important to you, and you wish to balance the two in a way that makes you both happy. Describe your idea of a fair balance and then invite your mate to describe his/hers. Be willing to give a little and don’t shy away from asking your mate to give a little too.

The result of this process will be a mutually agreed upon set of expectations that will prevent conflict in the future.

Take a seasonal approach

There is no need to train at peak levels year-round. You can have great success as a runner by training hard for six months each year (mid-spring to mid-autumn) and doing low-key maintenance training the rest of the year. In the off-season you can devote the time that is freed up by your reduced training load to other priorities that are neglected somewhat during the other half of the year. And by the same token, devoting extra time to these other priorities during the off-season will enable you to put training first without guilt or consequence in the warmer months.

Focus on quality

Most runners can get more out of the time they’re already spending on race preparation programs. So before you even look for ways to increase the quantity of your training, first increase its quality. A high-quality training program is well-rounded. Runners often make the mistake of doing too many similar workouts. Typically, they do a lot of prolonged, steady, moderate-paced aerobic training and not enough threshold work, speed intervals, technique work and/or resistance training (e.g. hill repetitions).

Balance is an essential characteristic of effective endurance training. It’s also an essential characteristic of a healthy lifestyle. I hope these tips will help you better balance your training and the rest of your life.

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Dave262

    As an avid marathoner I have found that training when most people sleep is a big help. I'm usually on the street at 4:30 a.m. Of course, I'm in bed by 9:30 p.m., but all I'm missing is TV.

    July 1, 2011 at 11:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DB

      The same here. Though I am not a marathoner but everyday I walk for 45 mins early morning and all I have to give up is late night TV watching. It is totally worth.

      July 1, 2011 at 12:06 | Report abuse |
    • Anon

      Wow, that's only 7 hours of sleep if you are asleep at 9:30pm! Everyone seems to think I'm such a weirdo for getting 8-9 hours of sleep a night but I can't function on less than that. I guess I need some better genes to keep up with you all 🙂

      July 1, 2011 at 13:23 | Report abuse |
  2. CJ

    I get up at 4:20 & am at my gym and working out by 5am. I work out from 1 to 1.5 hours M-F. I can lift weights and get in a 2.5 to 3 mile run daily. Some mornings I opt for Boot Camp – small classes! Like the others I go to bed early – usually 9pm. Totally worth it!

    July 1, 2011 at 14:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Don

    I am working out every day at 5am, which is sometimes difficult. There is something more relaxing about knowing that the only people you see are other like minded individuals who have their priorities in line.

    July 1, 2011 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Olllleeee


    July 1, 2011 at 16:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Nick

    I train every night on my couch, I can eat a bag and a half of dorritos now on average.

    July 1, 2011 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Anonymous

    ....and for those of us who aren't morning people, lunch hour is good. The best time to work out for your muscles is in the late afternoon anyway, although for a lot of people I know the best time mentally is in the morning so you're not thinking about it all day. But that doesn't matter, whoever is motivated enough will find a way to work out, and those who aren't, won't.

    July 1, 2011 at 21:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. dehcated

    It really is a matter or making time to exercise, and exercising for even a short length of time is better than not at all. I work mornings, so in the afternoon when I get home I either walk or ride my bicycle, usually for a couple hours, depending on how I feel. Later in the evening I sometimes lift some weights. Procrastination is one of my weaknesses, so I sometimes have to force myself to do it. I do find that once I'm in motion I am alright, and when finished my mind and body feel so much better for it.

    July 1, 2011 at 22:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. WonderSpring

    Get a moral purpose of living – the glory of God in Jesus. Without it, you come to realize any balance in your life was nothing after all.

    July 1, 2011 at 23:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Richard Cheese

      Go to hell and take your proselytizing with you.

      July 2, 2011 at 15:31 | Report abuse |
    • WonderSpring

      Purpose-less Americans need proselytizing more than ever. Your obssession with entertainment is really depressing.

      July 4, 2011 at 19:48 | Report abuse |
  9. PixelPixie

    I completed my first 5K over Memorial Day weekend this year but am really struggling with finding consistent time to maintain the 5K. I am a full-time working mom who commutes, putting in 10 hours a day with just that. Once home, usually after 6 p.m., I am primarily in charge of dinner and chores until I crash around 10 p.m. I've thought of adjusting my training to the evenings and doing minimal meal preps on those days. But, I'm already pooped from commuter stress and am a light sleeper; I get concerned about catching a 2nd wind before bedtime. Any suggestions? I loved crossing the finish line and want to do it again later this year. 🙂

    July 2, 2011 at 11:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. GotYouAllBeat

    I got you all beat LOL... I work a full 12 hr shift 7 days a wk, good thing there is a gym at our facility and are allowed to work out for 1 hr... I get to work at 8am hit the gym at 2PM back to work at 3PM .. off at 8PM back at the gym at 8:30pm .. shower and home at 1030pm ..

    But then again Im in Camp Victory

    July 2, 2011 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Xasthur

    It's interesting how some say that the only thing I'm missing by adding exercise routines into my life is television. Yet it's television that makes you feel like you need to look a certain way and work out to look that way in the first place.

    July 2, 2011 at 19:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Parkourguy

      Ppl exercise because it makes them feel good, or at least it should.

      July 17, 2011 at 21:35 | Report abuse |
  12. maak

    weird photo

    July 3, 2011 at 06:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • magnum

      yea, I thought that it was something else....

      July 3, 2011 at 17:21 | Report abuse |
  13. Dave C

    I use Feel Good Tracker app to track my activities, it's a simple app that helps keep me motivated.


    July 3, 2011 at 09:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Sportsmeddoc

    Not hard to stay in shape- eat 5-7 small meals a day- no refined carbs (ie no sugar, flour or processed), always eat small complex carbs, protein and good fat each meal esp at breakfast. Workout 40-50 min a day- THAT's it but intense and intervals and weight will melt off fast and stay off and fitness will improve rapidly. DO not need hour or 2 a day unless training for an event (eg marathon). Take one day OFF and 1 day for stretch/yoga only- don't over train- it does not take HOURs just dedication to do it. Food is 80% for weight, exercise 20% but for fitness, exercise more important obviously.

    July 3, 2011 at 10:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Cheyanne

    What I never see mention of is the reality pieces of life. For example if you train that hard and work for $$ that hard then how do you include stuff like–going to the grocery store in our community that is a 90+min ordeal. Add simple stuff like laundry, taking out the trash and before you know it you have a 16-20 day going, not enough sleep and injuries and sickness all the time. I know this becuz I have the misfortune to work for a bunch of fitness geeks who constantly try to push off reg living chores on ANY poor "slob" standing still. If they are not training they are doing PT for past injuries. Then as soon as they hit fifty they spend all the time in Ortho Drs office repairing all the overuse injuries they got in their 20s-30s. Def a game for the wealthy and connected and VERY hard for the avg working Joe< Juan, Maria and Jane.

    July 3, 2011 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. magnum

    americans are too stressed and worn out and full of junk food to commit to a workout schedule... they want something or someone else to do it for them like they do everything else.

    July 3, 2011 at 17:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. David Crandall

    With unemployment at all time highs, saying that people are "busier than ever" is just not true, time is not an excuse. The problem is that exercise is drudgery.

    July 5, 2011 at 08:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Kate

    This article totally hits it right on the head! For everyone—not only athletes, it's all about creating a healthy lifestyle that works for each individual and sticking to a routine to maintain it.

    –Kate, http://www.greatist.com

    July 6, 2011 at 22:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Bobby

    Get a job with a Bouncehouse Company in your area! Sounds funny but its worked for me! Ive lost 45 lbs just doing the daily work of lifting and setting up these units and I get paid, even better. Only drink water and eat every 3-4 hours.


    Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2011/07/06/youve-lost-weight-now-how-do-you-keep-it-off/#ixzz1ROWfnw83

    July 7, 2011 at 01:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Tips for Balancing Health

    Good jobs, nice blog. Visit our website and find out various ways to keep the body fit and healthy.

    August 30, 2013 at 00:09 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.