How I keep a consistent workout schedule

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 at full speed usually looks like this:

Monday: BJJ 6-8PM.
Tuesday: Gym early morning, BJJ 9-10PM
Wednesday: Yoga in the morning, BJJ 8-10PM.
Thursday: Gym early morning, BJJ 7:45-8:45PM
Friday: BJJ 6-7PM
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.

Cultivating jiu-jitsu (or any other passion) away from the action.

Six weeks. Six weeks away from the mats. This is what I was given yesterday by the doctor who performed the follow-up visit to my shoulder, which dislocated during a Brazilian jiu-jitsu sparring session last week.

We sportspeople know very well how agonising it is to stay away from our favourite activity, but I strongly believe we could still somehow cultivate our knowledge of the sport while being far from the action.

This is how I intend to spend my 6 weeks away from the mats. Jiu-jitsu is a niche sport, so hopefully you’ll be able to adapt these tips to the sport you practice.

Organising my knowledge

I normally train 4 or 5 times per week, which means that I’m normally exposed to many new techniques—attacks, escapes, takedowns and whatnot. Flow charts or diagrams help us get a better grasp of those and organise our knowledge so that the many things we learn find their place in the grand scheme of things.

Here’s a flow chart from Rickson Gracie that you can easily find on the Internet:

As you may know I’m a big fan of Trello, and I believe that Trello boards can be used for jiu-jitsu too. This is an example of a BJJ Trello board that I’ve found online, built by some BJJ practitioner, so you can build yours from this. You can use Trello to list principles, gather techniques, track your progress, the sky is the limit.

Watching high level matches and breakdowns

We’re lucky enough to live in an age of mass video content production and distribution: this little thing called YouTube is full of high level matches that you can watch whenever you want, wherever you want. All you need to do is searching for your favourite grapplers—you’ll find matches, but also post-fight analysis and conceptual breakdowns.

While YouTube has content for several lifetimes, you might really want to go for the extra mile. In that case, subscribe to UFC Fight Pass. It’s well known among MMA fans, as it provides you with the whole UFC history at a monthly cost of $7.99–$9.99 (£4.99–£5.99 here in the UK), but many people don’t know its catalogue also features professional jiu-jitsu tournaments such as Polaris, Eddie Bravo Invitational, Combat Jiu-Jitsu, and several documentaries, original shows, and in-depth analysis of UFC fighters—there’s one on Demian Maia you really shouldn’t miss.

In case you didn’t know, this doesn’t force you to watch stuff on your laptop, tablet or phone—both YouTube and UFC Fight Pass can be enjoyed on your big screen via devices like Chromecast, Apple TV, Xbox, and Amazon Fire TV.

Cardio, stretching & flexibility

Ask me what’s the one thing I don’t want to lose during my 6-week forced holiday from jiu-jitsu, and I’m probably going to answer “flexibility.” I’m not the most flexible person around, so I don’t want to get things worse. If you’ve been doing the same stretching sequences for a while, scan YouTube for static & dynamic stretching exercises, and create new routines frequently.

I like starting from the bottom, stretching ankles, then proceeding with knee rotations, hips mobility exercises (super important for people like us who work in front of a computer all day), and stretch all the various parts of my body all the way up to my neck. Good range of motion is crucial!

Don’t forget to warm yourself up a little bit before stretching. If you’re at home, just doing some jumping jacks or running on the spots for 5 minutes does the trick, depending on your current condition / injury. I’ll abuse indoor cycling at the gym, because I don’t want to lose my current conditioning.

Solo grappling drills are also pretty good, do those that don’t affect your injured side of the body.

Studying from resources

Again, YouTube is full of instructional videos, but there are also great books, DVDs (or digital-only version of those, which I happen to prefer), podcasts, etc. I don’t have unlimited time to dedicate to jiu-jitsu, so when I’m able to go to the academy I prefer to spend my jiu-jitsu time over there. Staying away from the academy because I’m injured means I have more time to consume that kind of content.

I’ve got two great books on Jiu-Jitsu—Mastering Jujitsu written by Renzo Gracie and John Danaher, and Jiu-Jitsu University from Saulo Ribeiro. Podcast-wise, The Grappling Central Podcast and Jiu-Jitsu Brotherhood are two I like. The Joe Rogan Experience has plenty of jiu-jitsu-related moments—don’t miss the episodes with John Danaher, Georges St-Pierre, Rickson Gracie, and so many other.

Bonus tip: Manage information overload!

No matter what you do, information overload is always around the corner. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many techniques, too many books, or unnecessary facts: excessive quantity of daily information will only confuse you.

Whatever your sport is, whatever the thing that make you feel alive is, we all experience some time off from time to time. If you have any other tip on how to maximise your days away from the action, hit that comment section below!