Is Something Actually Better than Nothing??

A common question I get asked or see online is some variation of, “I’m super busy with work/kids/sports/other obligations…So I don’t have a lot of time to workout.  How can I work on my fitness without much time?”

It’s a completely valid question and one that, I too, struggle with sometimes.  Life gets in the way of our best laid plans and the first thing you have to do is respect that.  Give some credit to the physical and mental energy these other tasks and challenges take from you and don’t try to ‘power through’ it so much.  

I recently was discussing this with a client and they were afraid that with all that was going on, making the progress they desired seemed pointless since they couldn’t devote the full time to their original plan.  In this position, which we all can find ourselves in, one has essentially three options.  

  • 1 – Accept that some obligation or task must fade away so you can utilize that time for workouts
  • 2 – Adjust your goals such that the reduction in time for exercise still meets a positive outcome.
  • 3 – Bail on your plans and “hope that things slow down soon”.

I think many people would agree that despite the possibility of progress given in options 1 and 2, most people in this situation choose option 3. 

I've been running a lot so dedicated workout time has been hard to fit in.

While it may be true that your latest ‘big project’ has an end date and finishing it up would restore some time to you, it’s also highly likely that another ‘big project’ will follow that one up.  Waiting until you ‘have time to workout’ means you’ll probably never get to working out.  

It would be far better, to get in what you can get in, when you can get it in. 

So, I’m conducting a little experiment on myself.   Can I make progress doing only 2 exercises but I do the same exercises 5 days a week?

If you’ve spent 5 minutes around me over the past year you’ll know I’ve been spending a lot of time running.  This means I’ve had less time to devote to strength training.  I went through a good block over last summer and also over the winter but now that running ‘season’ is in full swing I’m not doing a lot in the gym.

With the running I didn’t want to choose a lower body exercise like squats so I chose two movements that I’m just not very good at.  Pull Ups and Bench press.  Both are superb exercises, but I’ve just never made very much progress with them.  Running a lot takes time and that’s my primary focus but I felt like over the past month I could make some headway using this protocol.

I considered doing it every day, but honestly, it would be hard to come down on weekends just for 10 minutes of exercise so, 5x week it is.

Pullups – I had some shoulder trouble using a straight pullup bar so I’ll use the TRX rings instead.  My upper limit on a set is 5 pullups with a full lockout at the bottom (No 1/2 rep pullups or kipping) for 1 set assuming I don’t take an hour between sets (lol).  So for this I’ll do 2 sets of 4 with 60-90 sec between.

Bench Press – Last summer I had topped out with sets of 3 reps at 165lbs.  Using an online calculator that puts my 1 rep max at about 175lbs.  From here I took approx 65% of that number or 115lbs and I’ll do that weight for 10 reps, also for 2 sets.  

Week 1 – Remembering to do it was more of the challenge this first week.  I hit all 5 days and it was challenging later in the week without being too hard though.

Week 2 – About halfway through this week, it still felt challenging but the reps came faster.  Not that it was easier, Just that I started feeling mechanically better and perhaps a little more efficient.  A lot of lifting progress is just proficiency.  You got better at doing the movement so more weight can be moved.  

Pull-ups are still HARD.  However, Thursday and Friday I could make out a sliver of the same sort of thing.  I’m pulling a greater % of my BW than what I’m bench pressing so that also makes sense.  While I will likely add a 3rd set to the bench at the same weight this next week I won’t do that for the pullups.

Week 3 – Three sets of 115 was fine this week.  1st and 3rd sets don’t feel any different and I could easily do a 4th or even a 5th.  The pullups are also easier and this last week I will probably add a set of 4 rather than increase reps.   

Week 4 – All week long the 3 sets at 115 was really fast. Could have done 3 sets of 15 or 5 sets of 10 no problem.  Pull-ups still hard but set 3 was no harder than set 1.  

On MAX out day I wanted to work up slowly but not burn out with tons of reps. 

So I did:

  • 1x95x15 followed up by 
  • 2x 115lb but only for 8 reps. 
  • I then jumped to 135 for 1×5. 
  • At 155×5 I set the safety bars
  • I continued up to 175×5.  The last 2 were tough so I added only 5lbs and rested, lol
  • I completed 180lbs for 3 reps and did not crush my face. yay!

However I knew that was the end,  I have no need to go for a true 1 rep max, a calculalted one is just fine by me. 

While it’s true that having maxed out on the bench it may have affected my pull-up numbers I’m fairly confident in those results as well.  Pull-ups never felt easier like the bench.  While I did feel like I could have done more, each successive pull was going to be a grind.  And it was.  I gave myself a good bit of rest before trying and burned out those first 4 just as I had been doing.  Going past that though, even number 5 was harder and then 6,7 and 8 were just brutal for me.  

It’s just a difficult exercise for me and while I’m happy to have moved from 5 deadhangs to 8 I don’t think they were particularly good reps.  Still, progress is progress, and my progress went from 0 to 8 full pull-ups and added 15lbs to my Bench press.  All just practicing consistency and effort on 2 movements five days a week.

Despite not really having a proper pre-test to start off the month, I do think it’s safe to say that when we talk about getting in good workouts regularly, shortened, consistent hard efforts can and DO pay off.  Secondly, when thinking about exercise, progressive overload tends to be emphasised as increasing the load.  But it doesn’t have to be, I moved from 10 sets of bench/week to 15 over the month and those pullups really went from zero sets for months to 10 and then 15 sets per week.  The Frequency of training you do is another variable that can contribute to progressively overloading your muscles.  

If finding time to workout is really giving you a struggle, choose just a couple of simple easy to do movements and do them consistently every day or as often as you can commit to like my 5x week.  I don’t know how many pushups or body weight lunges you can do over the course of 3 sets in your living room but it will be more of both at the end of the month.  And even if it’s not, the numbers you CAN do, will look better, be smoother, and feel simpler as your brain and your body start to communicate a little better with each other.

So, don’t feel bad about not having time to exercise.  Accept where you are and begin from there with what you CAN do, not what you CANT.  

If you want to build your own simple at home no equipment body weight routine reach out to myself or Hillary using the contact us page or you can reach us by phone as well. 

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