One thing I’m frequently asked is how I balance training for multisports- so swimming, cycling, running, strength training and finding time to rehab, alongside working a 40 hour week, commuting (pre-COVID) and being a functioning human being. The answer is training smart, but also checking in on yourself and making sure that whilst you may be trying to cram it all in, you’re realistic and remember to give yourself a break. Here are some timesaving hacks and essential things to consider when trying to juggle a hectic training schedule:
Workout out at a time that works for you: This is different for everyone. You might be an early bird or a night owl or a cram it into your lunch break kind of person. Whatever time you have, make it work for you. Just because you aren’t up at the crack of dawn checking yourself into the 5am or 6am club (or even earlier) doesn’t mean you aren’t going to have a productive day. Similarly just because you prefer to crash on the sofa after work rather than chase your dreams doesn’t mean you won’t achieve them. Forget the idea that there is a universally ‘correct’ or ‘best’ time of day to do your session- ultimately the only right time is the time that is right for you. Have a go at working out at different times of the day to see which suits you and your energy levels the most and don’t be afraid to be flexible with this. I love the IDEA of working out in the morning, but in reality I often find myself cancelling that early morning alarm. I find I have the most time in the evening, but I need to go straight after work because if I sit down on the sofa and get too comfy it is difficult to motivate myself. Get to know your routine and your habits, trail a few different times/sessions and see what feels best.
Claim back your lunch hour (if you’re able to that is!): I always shied away from running during my lunch hour making a load of excuses, none of which deep down weren’t really valid. When I started training for my half ironman I learned just how valuable my lunch hour can be. I would use it to do quick 30 minute tempo runs, which ticked off a weekly session but beyond that I noticed what a great improvement it had on my life. I found it helped clear my head, improved my mood and allowed me to mull over any work related issues and return to my afternoon tasks feeling refreshed. Also getting out and getting some sunlight in winter (I work in an office with very few windows) was a huge bonus.
Planning in advance: having an idea of what sessions you want/need to do that week and what other commitments you have and when can help you find gaps in your schedule to train. Planning ahead means you don’t suddenly find yourself panicking and trying to cram everything into the end of the week. Also knowing what you’re doing and when can help add a level of flexibility as you’ll be able to move sessions round when needed. You don’t necessarily need to write it down, sometimes just making a mental note can help.
Quality over quantity: When you’re time poor it is important to realise that you can’t cram EVERYTHING in and you shouldn’t try to either. However when quantity of sessions is the challenge, I prefer to focus on quality. When I’m really struggling for time I focus on what exactly I want to get from each session that week and balance this against the time I have. If I only have a short window of time to train I focus on sessions such as tempo, speed or fartlek (fartlek especially is my go to time saver session as it’s a bit of everything rolled into one). I follow a similar pattern with swimming and cycling and really make sure I remind myself to make the most of the session. I find the threat of a short session can motivate me to work harder as I appreciate the time I have. It is important to focus on the time you DO have rather than the time you DON’T.
Double Days: These aren’t everyone’s cup of tea and I wouldn’t recommend you dive straight in to doubling up every single day, but I have found that gradually introducing these over time really work for me and help me balance the training I want to do, the rest I need to take and the life I want to have beyond sports. An example of the double days I do feature a pool swim in the morning (I really enjoy swimming in the morning as the shock of the water wakes me up!) followed by a lunchtime or evening run/zwift/strength session. Or a long cycle in the morning, followed by an evening stretch and rehab session. If I need to do a longer run but don’t have the time I have split this into two sessions one in the morning and one in the evening. I avoid doing two hard sessions a day and focus on one harder and one easier session. I understand double days aren’t ideal for everyone but training this way allows me to take two rest days a week which works much better for me physically and mentally, than spreading my training out over 6 days. If you’re unsure where to begin with double days a coach can be a great guide to ensure these are introduced gradually and help avoid overtraining.
Active travel: ever heard the phrase running errands? How about actually RUNNING errands? If your day is a hectic balance of commuting, errands, traveling to places or the school run, turn it into a RUN (or a cycle). Run commuting is a great way to fit some miles in and you can chose whether to run into work, or home from work- which is arguably easier if the shower situation at your work isn’t practical, or is non-existent. During my London Marathon training I would run commute home from work one night a week, picking a slightly longer route home meaning I could run between 8 or 12 miles home- perfect for a mid week long run. Other hacks I found was getting up early on Saturdays and running to parkrun, doing parkrun then depending on the mileage I wanted to hit either, running home or taking public transport back- fondly known as the parkrun sandwich this is a great way to get the miles in and means the Sunday long run isn’t hanging over you. Similarly if you’re doing the school run, walk the kids there and run home a slightly longer route (and the reverse in the evenings) or if you’re dashing around running errands opt to do this on foot over taking the car.
Don’t forget rest is part of your training: when you’re pushed on time and you want to do it all it is sometimes tempting to constantly try to fit everything in all the time. Even though you may feel like you’re doing ‘nothing’ on a rest day these are actually really important to your overall training, energy levels and mental wellbeing. Getting enough sleep and ensuring you’re adequately fuelled is also vital
Keep Checking in With Yourself: In amongst the desire to constantly be checking things off your to do list make sure you find some time to check in on yourself. If you have a lot going on and you’re trying to do it all checking in with yourself and listening to the subtle signals of your body is essential. Burnout is a huge risk when spinning lots of plates and training hard. Burnout and overtraining can result in mood changes, fatigue, decreased motivation, frequent injuries and increased infection. Low level burnout can be somewhat offset with reduced training to create a new more balanced experience, but for more increased or intense periods of mental or physical burnout I would recommend speaking with a sports psychologist or your GP.