I’ve been asked recently how I keep up with my workout schedule. I’m not even remotely a professional athlete, but I’m serious about what I do with my body. And as my life is full of personal and professional commitments, if I want to work out consistently I need a process. Here’s mine.
You need a goal.
Reaching my full potential as a Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioner. Nothing less, nothing more. That’s my goal.
A good grappler is strong, fast, flexible. Has better, much better-than-average conditioning. I know myself, I know where I am right now, so to get where I want to be I can’t expect to improve significantly by just going to the BJJ academy on Monday-Wednesday-Friday. I need to train my jiu jitsu, and complement it with lifting some heavy stuff, and doing some yoga. At the very least. No excuses.
Your goal is obviously unique to you, and can’t be enforced from outside. It can be anything or everything, it’s yours and doesn’t have to be shared or justified to anyone else.
Maybe you’re planning a trip to a big city that you’re visiting for the first time and you don’t want to get tired after walking for one hour. Maybe you’re single and you want to get in better shape to increase your chances to find someone. Those are perfectly good goals. Just maybe don’t say things like “I want to be healthier”, that’s too vague and it’s not how humans work.
Planning is key
Normally, I try not to work out on a Sunday, but if I do, I do it on a Sunday morning. Sunday afternoon is all about relaxing. If there’s one reason for me to get my laptop on a Sunday afternoon, is planning my workouts for the week.
Here’s what I normally do. I open my calendar—nothing fancy, I use the macOS built-in calendar, with personal and work calendars on. I hide all the work events that I don’t have to attend. I only want to see when I’m actually busy.
Then I start putting workouts wherever I can, so that I can still do whatever I need to do (personal or work). At Human Made we don’t have working hours, but I want to have a strong, uninterrupted day of work, so I always workout very early in the morning or late afternoon / evening.
My weekly schedule usually looks like this:
Monday: gym early morning, BJJ 8-10PM.
Tuesday: BJJ 7:15-8:15AM. Gym late afternoon.
Wednesday: Yoga 6:30-7:15AM. (active rest day)
Thursday: gym early morning, BJJ 7:45-8:45PM
Friday: BJJ 6-9:30PM
Saturday: BJJ 9-10AM. Gym late afternoon.
Sunday: Gym in the morning, if I had something else to do on Saturday afternoon.
When to skip a workout
Do I really do all those workouts? Sometimes I do, sometimes I skip a workout or two. But I have a clear process to decide when to skip a workout.
I may skip a workout for two reasons: my body is sending me clear, unequivocal signals that it needs to rest (i.e. I’m sick, there’s some body part that’s sore but it’s not good pain, etc.), or I have something important to do / somewhere important to be, that wasn’t in my calendar when I planned my workout week.
Because after all we’re all human, it happens sometimes that I ask myself if I can just stay home. The answer lies in those two reasons. I scan head-to-toe, is there anything unusually sore? I check my heart rate, is it uncharacteristically elevated—which would mean the body is fighting something back? Is there a commitment in my social life or work (a meeting, a conference, someone’s birthday, etc.) that I can’t give up?
If the answer to all those questions is “No”, then I have no choice. Pack the gym bag, and head to the gym or the BJJ academy, wherever I planned to be. Thoughts like “but it’s raining!”, “but I just don’t feel like it!” have no chances to be considered, because they go against my primary goal, and having my workouts clearly planned on my calendar puts me in a mental state where working out at that time of the day is just not negotiable.
You don’t have to kill it every single time.
You don’t need to do personal bests all the time. You don’t have to go to failure, or destroy yourself to reach that last rep every workout. Stop putting unnecessary pressure on yourself.
If you’re in the gym and you find your flow, you’re doing already more than enough. You find your flow when what you’re doing is neither too easy (you’d get bored) nor too difficult (anxiety and disappointment in yourself kick in). H/T Firas Zahabi for this.
Recovery never stops.
Maintaining a workout schedule where you train twice a day is possible only if you look after yourself when you’re not training.
Tim Ferriss’ podcast episode with LeBron James and his top-secret athletic trainer Mike Mancias highlighted a concept that I adopted immediately: recovery never stops.
Sleeping 8 hours per day, eating enough protein, use ice packs on critical joints (knees, elbows, shoulders, etc.) are all things I constantly do. CBD oil, rollers for the back, the occasional dynamic stretch at home, those are all good complements to your recovery. Essentially, when you’re not training, you’re resting from the previous training session, and at the same time preparing for the next one.