How to create a contingency plan when life gets in the way of training

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Do you have a backup plan if life is upsetting your training plan and you need to improvise on the spot? Do you wrap it up and tell yourself you tried, or are you trying another way?

Often the pool is closed or full, you arrive late to the gym because you overslept or had to work late, your child’s schedule is disrupting or other life obligations stand in the way of a perfectly planned sequence of movements.

Here are some classic backup plans when you have an event that derails your daily routine.

1. Always be flexible

Most of us need to improve our ability to bend over, not just with our daily routine, but with our bodies as well. If you can’t get to the pool for a swim, lift to the gym, or run, your focus should be on the elephant in the room: your lack of flexibility.

Take a yoga class online, substituting 30-40 minutes of stretching for a scheduled workout, and you will have accomplished two things.

First you worked on your flexibility, which statistics say most avid exercisers lack. Second, you kept your exercise habit for another day.

It’s too easy to break good habits by skipping workout. Soon you will develop a new habit of skipping training. Avoid going this trail and doing anything, even if it will be an easy walk during the time allotted for training that day.

2. Treat yourself to a swimming rest day

If you exercise frequently, consider adding a day off in a seven-day week. Maybe this is a relaxing day, or maybe it’s gardening or other chores, but take a day off from exercising. If you make this a floating day, you can put it on any day of the week that life gets in the way of your plans. We usually train six days a week, Sunday is off. However, if we miss a day, we bump our plans on the right page and finish day 6 of the training week on Sunday.

3. Have a mobility day

If you’re getting thrown off your plan, consider the following: Mobility day. We usually have these scheduled during the week and can do them in the gym or at home in my carport.

It works like this:

Repeat 5 times

Cardio of your choice (jogging, walking, cycling, etc.): 5 minutes

Dynamic and static stretch or foam roller: 5 minutes

This takes an hour. If you only have time for three sets, you will only be spending 30 minutes. The key to this is to work on what is suffering from you. Spend some of the stretching time massaging muscle or joint pain or inflammation.

This kind of focused flexibility, mobility, and stress-free cardio (when available) can be a life changing event. You come to a point where you “never skip mobility days” during the training week.

4. No equipment-requiring training

Get an upper and lower body workout that you can do in a jiffy. For some, this is an exercise video like P90x or some fun military PT meeting You can find on YouTube that no gear is required if you have a place for calisthenics. For others, you can have a popular calisthenics workout like the PT pyramid or the Murph workout that only requires one place to run and pull ups. I usually find a pull-up bar in a park when I’m not home completing a quick pyramid.

5. Meditation

Focus on the mind and relieve stress. You’ve likely had a stressful day when your schedule got out of hand, so take the 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 the leg day

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

Lunge steps: 10 per leg

Heel Rise: 20

You can add a weight vest, punching bag 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 stretch and space to do squats and lunges. If there are soft sandy beaches, bleachers, or hills nearby, it’s even better to mix these into the leg stretch.

7. Don’t waste time

If you miss a planned training plan or can’t fit it all into one session, focus more on time management. Time can slip away from us during a work or home project. Try to exercise in the gym if you can. Don’t waste time with too much screen time on social media before, during, or after your workout. Use an active resting training circuit and “rest” by doing other, unrelated exercises in between sets of your main exercise.

8. Skip it and live to exercise another day

When traffic, late working hours, or other issues pop up out of nowhere, don’t sweat, but don’t make it a habit either. Sometimes you need a day of rest and relaxation, and it’s never a good idea to be so stressed out, miss something on schedule, drive carelessly, get a parking ticket, or have an accident.

Some of you die-hard exercisers need to relax and enjoy a delicious meal with family or friends every now and then when you miss a workout.

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

Stew Smith is a retired Navy SEAL and fitness writer who was certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook shop when you want to start an exercise program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to [email protected]

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