HOW TO TRAIN WHEN YOU'RE PLANNING A WEDDING (or are just really really busy)
Our Guide to Training on a Shoestring Time Budget
By Courtney Kelly
Total Read Time: 12 - 17 minutes
Introduction: (1 -2 minute read)
Change your mindset; redefine success: (3 - 4 minute read) How to shift your mindset to promote the best possible training results.
Make your training schedule realistic: (1-2 minute read) How to structure your training so you can make the most of a tight schedule...safely.
Deploy some program wiles: (6-8 minute read) Some programming strategies that can make you more efficient.
The Gist: (1 minute read) This blog post in a nutshell.
(1 - 2 minute read)
Have you emailed the caterer? You’ve got another dress-fitting today. Oh! And your mom called-- she wants you to pick out china. Also, have you finished the designs for the invitations? Make sure everyone’s address is right! What about where your guests are going to stay? And...this is probably a good time to tell you...the band cancelled. “Irreconcilable differences” between the bassist and the drummer.
Just like that, your weekend has become another maelstrom of wedding tasks. You sigh and think back to the days when you could fit five training sessions into a week. When you were following your program consistently, when you were on track to meet your health and performance goals, and when you didn’t give a s*** about table linens.
Now, with wedding planning sucking all of your free time into bottomless trenches of to-dos, you can’t make it into the gym that often, and when you can, it’s not for very long. Which doubles your stress. Because training is how you clear your head. It’s how you shift out of overdrive so you can relax. It’s how you meet your aesthetic, athletic, or competitive goals. And those mean a lot to you, dammit!
We know your goals are important. And we know how critical exercise is to your mental and physical health. We want to help you take back what is yours from the email chains and spreadsheets and voicemails that multiply like the Night King’s dead army. So we’ve created this guide on how to train sustainably when your time is *very* limited, whether that’s because you’re getting married or for some other reason. Brides, grooms, new parents, entrepreneurs, and other exorbitantly busy folk: This one’s for you.
II: Change your mindset; redefine success.
(3 - 4 minute read)
If you want to be successful when you’re training on a shoestring time budget, you’ve got to redefine success. So take a look at your goals. Recognize what’s realistic and what isn’t. Here are some considerations:
Strength Sport Athletes:
Prepare for slower progress. The reality is: You won’t be able to train as frequently as necessary to keep up the progress you’re used to. That doesn’t mean your progress has to stall, but it does mean that you’ll have to be patient with your gains.
Consider shelving progress (just for now, not forever!) and shifting your focus to maintenance. Building a maintenance phase into your training program can position you to make bigger gains later, when you have more time to lift.
Prioritize! There are probably tons of reasons that you train, but which is the most important? Is it to improve your lifting technique? Your strength? Is it hypertrophy? Is it having fun? If you try to accomplish too many goals with limited time, you won’t be able to achieve any of them. Your efforts to achieve one, in consuming precious minutes, will detract from your efforts to achieve another. So pick your priority and program accordingly.
You won’t be able to put in the miles required for imminent long-distance events, but you will be able focus on improving your strength or hypertrophy. This can reduce your risk of injury and position you to perform better when you do have the time to put in serious mileage.
No matter how you train or what you train for, it’s important to remember that doing something is better than nothing. Worrying about the quality or quantity of your workouts will only add to your heaping helping of overwhelm. Instead, treat each training session as a stolen success. After all, if you can figure out how to squeeze in a workout when you’ve got mountains of other stuff to do, you’re something of a mastermind. And that’s worth a pat on the back.
So, learn to celebrate your effort during your training sessions, not the numbers. When you’re exhausted or distracted, you might not be able to hit the lifts or get the times you expect yourself to. And that’s okay. If you’re continuing to exert a high level of effort each training session, even if the outcome isn’t what you want, you can still be on track to maintain or even advance your progress.
And that’s because progress doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, consistency, and a big picture perspective. One training day won’t make or break you. When you zoom out and examine yourself after a month or three months or however long this busy season lasts, and you find you’re capable of more than when you started, that’s progress. If you end up with the same capabilities, then that’s maintenance.
While you’re at it (doing something), having some structure is better than no structure. Structure can keep you motivated. It can help you achieve your goals. And it can serve to keep you safe. You know what’s worse than being exorbitantly busy? Being exorbitantly busy with a new injury. So keep reading for tips on creating a sustainable training structure that fits into your mad-house schedule.
III: Make your training schedule realistic.
(1 - 2 minute read)
To create a sustainable training structure with limited time, you gotta plan ahead. Determine the length and number of sessions you can realistically fit into a week. And don’t try to wrestle them in when you should be sleeping! Sleep is critical for cognitive function, metabolic efficiency, and muscular recovery. It’s better to train less than to short change your Z’s.
Sidebar: If you want to learn more about the importance of sleep, click here to check out Episode 47 of our podcast: Jamie Tartar on the Bran, the Body, and Sleep for Chronic Stress Reduction & Longevity.
If you find yourself choosing between fewer, longer training sessions and more numerous, more frequent training sessions, consider the latter. Particularly if strength is your priority. As Greg Nuckols wrote in his article, “Training Frequency for Strength Development: What the Data Say”, training movements more frequently can lead to faster strength improvement.
This is especially true in the case of upper body pressing strength (for what it’s worth). Higher training frequencies can enable people to perform more total reps of a movement (volume) per week, which can also lead to accelerated strength gains.
If your schedule doesn’t support a high training frequency and you have no choice but to opt for the fewer, longer training sessions, no sweat! You can still make that work to your advantage. Remember: Something is better than nothing.
So figure out when you can train, then create your training schedule. If this leaves you feeling a little deflated, we get it. It’s not easy to make friends with the reality of limited workouts. But, chin up! There are tons of strategies you can deploy to make that shrink-rayed time count!
IV Deploy some program wiles.
(6 - 8 minute read)
You’ve got your schedule, now you can fill it with workouts. When planning your program, there are a few tactics you can use to make sure you’re attending to your priorities in an abbreviated time frame. We’re about to go over some, but keep in mind that what follows is not an exhaustive list, and you don’t have to apply ALL of these tactics at once.
Importantly, these strategies are not equally effective for every type of training goal. And some are more or less applicable depending on your training experience. When it comes to physiology, they’re are oodles of variables, and we can’t possibly cover all of them in one blog post. So bear that in mind as you review our suggestions for maximizing training session efficiency.
1. Consider making more of your training days full-body days.
When you’ve got normal-to-a-lot-of-training time, you have the luxury of declaring specific days for specific parts of your body. But when you have limited-to-almost-vaporized training time, you can’t afford to go who-knows-how-long without exercising your upper or lower body. (Unless, of course, you’re only interested in training one of them.)
In order to do the minimum amount amount of work needed to improve a muscle group’s strength/ size, you have to achieve what Dr. Mike Israetel has termed the minimum effective volume (MEV) or minimum load for that group. In order to maintain a muscle group’s strength/ size, you need to achieve what Dr. Mike Israetel has termed maintenance volume (MV) or maintenance load. Though these metrics can vary from person to person and do vary from muscle group to muscle group, making each of your training days full-body days can ensure that you’re doing at least the minimum you need to improve or maintain.
2. Minimize distractions!
Both the psychological and physiological kind! Let’s start with the psychological. Here are things you DON’T have time for during short/ infrequent training sessions:
Instagram photos/ videos
Worrying about stuff
Try to keep your mindset present and your intention focused when you’re in the gym. It’s amazing how much you can get done in a small window of time when you’re not checking your phone or fretting about that appointment you forgot to schedule.
Psychological distraction is a pretty familiar concept, but what’s physiological distraction? In the context of a full-body workout, it’s the performance of movements that frustrate your performance of other movements designed to target a different muscle group.
Take this example: Say you have the goal of improving both your upper and lower body strength. Now, say you’ve just performed two challenging sets of Romanian deadlifts. You should not try to do barbell rows immediately after (without adequate rest) because your back will already be fatigued in the hinged position (due to the Romanian deadlifts).
Such fatigue will prevent you from challenging your back properly through of the barbell row. By hindering the objective of your barbell rows, Romanian deadlifts “distract” from them. You can avoid this distraction effect by pairing a different exercise with the Romanian deadlifts, one that targets a muscle group not heavily involved in RDLs— like a seated dumbbell press.
3. Consider some HIIT. But be calculated about it!
High intensity interval training (HIIT) gives you that, “I’m gonna keel over” feeling, and in as little as five minutes (sometimes less) to boot. In this way, it suits tight training schedules well. But before you go slathering your program with high intensity intervals, consider your priorities and the larger context of your training. Here’s what HIIT can assist with:
Hypertrophy: If you’re doing numerous reps of a movement during a HIIT session, you can contribute to muscle growth.
Improving your VO2 Max.
FUN! CrossFit, Orangetheory, Soul Cycle, Track Workouts —just about every variation of HIIT except assault bike sprints— are a whole heck of a lot of fun. Especially in groups. So if your priority is having fun, well then, have at it.
But! Have at it carefully. Plan your interval workouts in a way that minimizes the distraction effect. And make sure they allow for proper recovery. If you continually target a single muscle group without recovering adequately, you could get hurt.
Also important: HIIT is not great for improving strength. Or technique. So if either of those are your priority, don’t skip a lift in favor of a spin class.
4. Integrate myo-reps.
Myo-reps are designed to create a stress response with a very light load. The advantages they offer include:
Accumulating a massive amount of volume within minimal sets
Minimizing warm-up/ rest time
There are two especially efficient kinds of myo-reps you might consider when working within a tight time frame.
Giant Sets: A giant set is a single set of a movement performed at an extremely low percentage of your max intensity (say, 30%). The goal during a giant set is to accumulate an extremely high volume of reps all at once. This not only cuts down on warm up time, but it also cuts down on rest time.
So, strapped to get your back squats in and your goal is hypertrophy? Well, take 30% of your max and do as many reps as you can with close proximity to muscular failure. Avoid technical failure, which is when you start to recruit muscle groups that shouldn’t be as involved in a task. In other words, when you’re starting to get tired, don’t turn your squats into good mornings.
Rest/Pause Sets: These are great when performing a movement that fatigues you quickly but that you want to perform during an abbreviated session. Rest/Pause sets include built-in 15-30 second breaks. This enables you to accumulate more volume than if you attempted sets without any pauses. And since 15-30 seconds is still less time than say, 1-2 minutes, rest/ pause sets keep your intra-workout recovery time minimal.
Example: Let’s say you want to program push ups, but you really can’t afford to be resting 2 minutes between your sets. Also, let’s say the absolute max amount of push ups you can do is 10. A giant set wouldn’t be a great option in this case because you’d only perform 10 reps or fewer. A rest/pause set with 15-30 second rests built in, on the other hand, will enable you to accumulate a lot more volume.
5. SUPER SETS!
Want another way to cut down on your rest time safely? Try staggered super sets! A staggered super set is a combination of 2 or more (non-distracting) movements that are intercut so your recovery time can be converted into work time.
Example: Say you’ve programmed 2 sets of shoulder presses and 2 sets of stiff leg deadlifts during one training session. Instead of completing all of your shoulder presses and then all of your stiff leg deadlifts, do one set of shoulder presses, then one set of stiff leg deadlifts, then shoulder presses, then stiff leg deadlifts. You won’t have to rest as long between movements because the movements don’t distract from one another, so you’ll complete your reps faster than you would otherwise.
6. Keep your RPEs in the 7s, 8s, and 9s.
RPE, or rate of perceived exertion, is a great way to calibrate the amount of effort your workouts require. This measurement is particularly useful when you’re especially stressed. Since physical performance is subject to psychological overwhelm, you won’t always be able to count on volume or intensity markers to accurately reflect your training progress. What you can rely on is the amount of effort you’re exerting during each session.
Here’s an illustration of this concept: Suppose you’re especially wigged out this week. And suppose that when you hit the gym, you’re not able to bench press as much as you could last week, even though this week’s bench session still feels challenging. More challenging, in fact, than last week’s.
Though confusing, this is a perfectly normal result of stress, lack of sleep, and all of the other difficulties that come with busy-ness. In the scenario above, when measuring RPE, you’d probably find that your rate of perceived exertion is higher this week than last week, even though your performance is lower. And a higher RPE is a sign that you’re still contributing to progress or maintenance over the long term.
But how do you calculate RPE? It’s measured on scale between 1 and 10-- 1 representing the amount of effort it takes to splay out on the couch and watch Netflix, 10 being maximal effort. Here are some indications that you’re at RPE 7, 8, or 9:
7. Except when performing some bodyweight movements-- those can be taken to failure every now and again.
Push ups, air squats, and ab work don’t involve extra loading, so they can more safely be taken to failure than weighted movements. (Note: Pull-ups and dips are not safe to repeatedly take to muscular failure because they put much more stress on the body than push-ups, air squats, and ab work.) So, instead of doing 3 sets of 10 air squats, you can do one giant set until your quads are on fire and then move on with your life. Also, don’t be afraid to get creative with your bodyweight exercise selection!
V The Gist:
(1 minute read)
When you’ve got limited time, you don’t have to give up training. You just have to change your approach to it. And that requires shifting your mindset. It requires some planning. And it requires you to get wily with your programming. In summary:
Keep your mindset positive and don’t stress out about slowed or stalled progress.
Remember: Something is better than nothing.
But also! Some structure is better than none.
Plan! Figure out how much you can REALISTICALLY train before you write your programs.
Consider implementing some of the following strategies:
Making more of your training days full body days
Integrating some HIIT (but be calculated about it)
Opt for myo-reps
Combine non distracting movements in super sets
Keep your RPEs in the 7s, 8s, and 9s
Unless you’re performing bodyweight movements— you can take those to failure every now and again.
So! Create a stress response during your workouts when you can, but don’t stress out about it. Your body, your mind, and your future, less busy self will thank you. Whatever is keeping you so busy-- whether a wedding or something else-- chances are, it’s a big deal. And you don’t want miss out on things like your bachelorette party or a wine tasting because you had to train. Workouts are important, but they’re not the most important thing in life (and if we’re saying that, you know it’s gotta be true).
We hope you found this article useful! If you have any feedback or questions about this topic, feel free to contact us by clicking here! Happy training!