Struggling to find time for regular workouts? Between work, kids, relationships, hobbies, keeping the house in order…sometimes it feels like there’s never enough time in the day. But not to worry – there are plenty of ways to still fit exercise into a busy schedule!
Let’s take a look at ten tips that can help you meet your fitness goals in limited time. None of them are particularly revolutionary, but they are all super helpful. Next time you find yourself missing workouts or saying “I just don’t have the time”, try using one of these strategies…
Note: This post was originally published in 2017 and has been updated in 2022.
Disclaimer: This post was written and reviewed by Chrissy Carroll, MPH, RRCA Running Coach, ACSM cPT. It is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as individual advice. Consult a doctor prior to beginning any new exercise routine.
Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. As an affiliate I earn a commission on qualifying purchases.
1. Plan exercise in your calendar.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s one of the most important tips I can offer.
When you leave your workouts to “when I have the time” – odds are you’ll never actually find that time. The hours somehow get eaten up by all our other commitments. There’s always going to be a chore that needs to get done or extra work that’s pressing or some other task that seems more important.
Instead, dedicate specific days and times for your workout, and put it in your calendar just like any other appointment. Block out other commitments during that time. This time becomes a non-negotiable in your calendar, just like a work meeting – because it’s that important to your health and wellness.
This one simple step will almost guarantee that you start exercising more, and makes it much less likely that you’ll cancel on your workout.
2. Use time-based workouts.
If you’re feeling crunched for time, use specific time based workouts as opposed to open ended or distance-based workouts.
For example, if you set a goal to run 4 miles, that time can change based on how you’re feeling that day, weather, the route (i.e. hills vs flat), etc. Instead, you could say you’ll run for 35 minutes, regardless of how far you go, which can make it easier to fit in your busy schedule.
Similarly, you can find 10-minute pockets in your day where you can decide to walk or do a few quick body weight exercises. Don’t beat yourself up because it’s not longer or more intense. Any exercise is helpful!
3. Keep equipment at your house.
I’m not talking massive home gym systems here. If you add a few select pieces of training gear to your home, it makes it way easier to get in those workouts on busy days, gym closures, or poor weather situations.
Below are some of my favorite pieces of equipment. Don’t feel that you need to invest in them all, but think about what you personally enjoy doing and what you’ll actually use.
- Resistance bands – These are great for beginner exercisers and there are tons of different resistance band exercises you can incorporate at home.
- Dumbbells – Grab a set of lighter weights and a set of heavier weights and you can get super creative with your workouts. You could also get an adjustable dumbbell set instead if you find those more convenient.
- Jump rope – Holy moly, is there any better calorie-torching workout than jump roping?! Just 10 minutes of jump roping a day can make a massive difference on your health. It also happens to be one of the cheapest home gym investments – a win win!
- Armored Fitness XPO push sled – If you love a good intense sweat sesh, you’ll love this piece of equipment. It’s a push sled on wheels so you can use it indoors or outdoors, and it has a special motor resistance that automatically adjusts to how hard you push it. [Read my full XPO push sled review and find fun sled workouts in that post.]
- Bike trainer – Pop your road bike on one of these and you can continue cycling all year round in the comfort of your living room. (As an alternative, you could also invest in something like an Echelon bike, with a subscription to access live at-home spin workouts).
- Treadmill – If you love to walk or run, a treadmill can be a great investment. It’s particularly useful if you work from home; I love listening to meetings and webinars while walking on the treadmill.
4. Try lunch time workouts.
If you have an hour long lunch break, try splitting your time in half – 30 minutes for some kind of activity, and 30 minutes to eat. This can be a great way to squeeze in activity while still leaving your evenings free for the family.
When I used to teach (early in my career I taught nutrition in elementary schools), I would go out for quick runs on my lunch break. (Side note – shower wipes work magic afterwards, haha.)
You don’t have to do something super intense though. A nice walk outside can get your heart pumping and refresh your energy without leaving you dripping sweat for your next meeting.
5. Find a workout buddy.
It’s easy to sometimes push exercise aside if you feel there’s a bigger priority for work or something else that’s more important to get done. One strategy to combat this is by setting up sessions with a workout buddy.
When someone else is counting on you, you’re much less likely to bail on your workout. The key here is finding someone else that’s equally reliable and enjoys the same types of activities.[Related post: Partner running workouts.]
6. Get up earlier.
You knew this tip was coming. 😉 As much as you might hate hearing the alarm go off when it’s still dark, this is a great way of ensuring you meet your fitness goals. You’ll get your workout done before the stresses of the day have a chance to derail you.
And bonus – kicking off the day like this often results in a positive attitude and sense of accomplishment throughout the rest of the day.
Don’t forget – when you start waking up earlier each day, it’s important to also start going to bed a little earlier each night. We all need 7-9 hours of sleep for optimal health.
7. Try time-tracking.
Think there’s no way you could possibly fit exercise into your packed schedule? Try recording everything you do for a few days.
Carry around a little notebook or use an app on your phone to record everything you do. It may seem like you’re crazy busy, but perhaps you didn’t realize how much time was being spent on certain activities (social media, television, etc) that you might be able to cut back on.
Even if you don’t want to do a full time audit, at least take a look at the settings on your phone and see just how much time is spent on your device. I know personally I didn’t feel like I spent a ton of time on my phone – and I was shocked to learn just how much time I spend on social media each day.
This process should allow you to find some of the mindless or less-fulfilling activities that could be substituted with more exercise in your routine. Or perhaps you combine them – Netflix on the couch becomes Netflix on the treadmill for part of the show.
Time tracking can also help you see inefficiencies in your schedule. Are you running to the grocery store several times a week because you haven’t planned out your meals? Taking a few minutes to plan could open up more time for you throughout the week.
8. Turn your commute into exercise.
For many of us, the daily commute is a necessary evil. It’s a time-consuming way to start and end our day.
But if you’re lucky enough to live relatively close to your job, though, your commute can be a great way to get active. You can walk, run, or bike to work. Not only will you get in more activity, but you’ll save money on gas and avoid dealing with frustrating traffic.
Keep in mind – this doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. Maybe you walk or bike to work two days a week, and drive the other few days.
As a personal example: my son takes the bus to and from school most days, but on Wednesdays, he stays late for an activity. On that day each week, I walk the mile to his school to pick him up, and we walk the mile home together. It’s become a fun habit for both of us.
(You can also do this with errands instead of work/school.)
8. Develop the right mindset.
Achieving your fitness goals isn’t just about working hard – it’s also about having the right mindset. If you want to workout more, it’s important to cultivate a positive outlook and set yourself up for success.
Here are three tips:
- Focus on your why. Why do you want to workout more? What will achieving your goal do for you? Is it because you want to be around for your kids and grandkids? Is it because you want to finally prove to yourself that you can run your first 5K? When you have a clear understanding of your motivation, it will be easier to stay on track.
- Look at exercise as a privilege in your life. Remind yourself you get to do this, not that you “have” to do this. Think about how amazing it is that you have a body that is able to walk, run, dance, and move.
- Become the person you want to be now. When you think about your long term goal, what is that person like? If you want to complete a sprint triathlon – what does a triathlete do each day? How do they train? Start acting like that person today!
9. Incorporate activity throughout the day.
Incorporating activity into your everyday life is a great way to sneak in some extra exercise. Here are a few ideas:
- Got stairs in your house? Jog up and down them for an easy workout you can fit in anytime you have a few spare minutes.
- Body weight exercises can be done anytime. If you’re watching TV, you can squeeze in a few push-ups, squats, lunges, or planks during the ad breaks.
- Do calf raises or squats while you wait for that pot of water to boil for dinner.
- Turn up the radio and dance around. You can do this anytime at home for a boost of energy and fun.
- Get a mini cycler or stepper to pop under your desk.
- Have a walking meeting with a colleague instead of a sit-down meeting at a desk. Or pace around while you’re on the phone with someone (does anyone else just do this naturally?!).
- Chose the parking space farthest a way. (Bonus – less chance of your car getting dinged in a busy lot).
- Walk around the fields while your kiddo is at soccer or baseball practice.
- Plan social events around something active. Get together with your pals for a hike, a visit to an indoor trampoline park, or go roller skating.
10. Hire a trainer or coach.
If you’re still struggling with fitting exercise into your schedule, you may need some additional assistance and accountability. Investing in a trainer or coach means that you’re willing to put money down on yourself and commit to your fitness routine. These professionals can provide accountability (as you’ll be committed to showing up) and can help you develop time-effective workouts.
The Bottom Line
Fitting exercise into a busy schedule can be a challenge, but it’s definitely possible with a little planning and effort. By following the tips above, you’ll be on your way to a healthier, happier lifestyle!
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