How to Make a Contingency Plan When Life Gets in the Way of Working Out

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Do you have a backup plan if life interferes with your workout plan and you must improvise on the spot? Do you pack it up and tell yourself that you tried, or do you get after it some other way?

Often the pool is closed or full, you get to the gym too late because you overslept or had to work late, your kid’s schedule interferes or other life commitments get in the way of a perfectly planned exercise routine.

Here are some classic backup plans if you have an event that derails your daily schedule.

1. Always Be Flexible

Most of us need to improve our ability to bend, not only with our daily schedules but with our bodies as well. If you cannot get to the pool to swim, gym to lift or track to run, consider focusing on the elephant in the room: your lack of flexibility.

Do a yoga class online and substitute 30-40 minutes of stretches in place of any workout you had planned, and you will have accomplished two things.

First, you worked on your flexibility, which statistics say is lacking in most avid exercisers. Second, you kept your training habit for another day.

It’s too easy to get out of good habits by skipping training. Soon you will build a new habit of skipping training. Avoid going down that road and do something, even if it is an easy walk during the time you allotted for training that day.

2. Have a Floating Rest Day

If you train often, consider adding an off-day in a seven-day week. Maybe this is a day of relaxing or maybe it’s yardwork or other chores, but take a day off from training. If you make this a floating day, you can place it any day in the week when life gets in the way of your plans. We typically train six days a week, with Sunday off. However, if we miss a day, we bump our plans to the right and finish day 6 of the training week on Sunday.

3. Take a Mobility Day

If you get knocked off your plan, consider a Mobility Day. We typically have these scheduled midweek and can do them at the gym or at the house in my carport.

It works like this:

Repeat 5 times

Cardio of choice (jog, walk, bike, etc.): 5 minutes

Dynamic and static stretch or foam roll: 5 minutes

This takes an hour. If you only have time for three sets, you only spend 30 minutes. The key to this one is to work on what ails you. Spend some of the stretch time massaging any muscle or joint pain or inflammation.

This type of focused flexibility, mobility and non-impact cardio (if available) can be a life-changing event. You will get to a point where you “never skip mobility days” during the week of training.

4. No Equipment-Needed Workout

Have a go-to upper- and lower-body workout that you can do on the fly. For some, that will be an exercise video, such as P90x, or a fun military PT session you can find on YouTube that requires no equipment if you have a place to do calisthenics. For others, you can have a favorite calisthenics workout like the PT pyramid or the Murph workout that only requires a place to run and do pull-ups. I typically find a pull-up bar in a park if I am away from home and get a quick pyramid done.

5. Meditation

Focus on the mind and do some de-stressing. You likely had a stressful day if your schedule is out of whack, so make time to focus on inner peace. There are some great meditation apps and YouTube videos to help you with the process.

6. Don’t Skip Leg Day

If you had a leg day planned with all the classic leg lifts, you still can work the legs with minimal or no equipment. My go-to leg day replacement is a bike or run.

It looks like this:

Repeat 5-6 times

Run: 400 meters fast or Bike: 3 minutes with a hard tabata interval (20 seconds sprint, 10 seconds easy)

Squats: 20

Lunges: 10 per leg

Heel raises: 20

You could add a weight vest, sandbag weight, dumbbells or kettlebells to make the reps a little more challenging. If the gym is closed and you don’t have access to weights, find a track and a place to do squats and lunges. If there are soft sand beaches, bleachers or hills nearby, it’s even better to mix these into the leg circuit.

7. Don’t Waste Time

If you find yourself missing a planned training schedule or you can’t fit everything into a session, focus more on time management. Time has a way of slipping away from us during a work or home project. Try to keep moving in the gym when you can. Avoid wasting time with too much screen time on social media before, during or after your workout. Use an active rest training circuit and “rest” by doing other unrelated exercises between sets of your primary exercise.

8. Skip It and Live to Train Another Day

If traffic, late work hours or other issues pop up out of nowhere, do not sweat it but also do not make a habit of it. Sometimes you need a rest and recovery day, and it is never a good idea to be so stressed out about missing something on your schedule that you drive carelessly, get a speeding ticket or have an accident.

Some of you hardcore exercisers need to let yourself off easy every now and then and go enjoy a nice meal with your family or friends when you miss a training session.

I hope these suggestions provide some answers to a problem we all have at least once during the training week. Life happens, so enjoy it and keep moving.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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