How to Fit In Fitness and Still Have a Life

By , SparkPeople Blogger
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog and subsequently led a special SparkPeople LIVE! meeting on the topic of designing your perfect workout plan.The information I shared (how intensely and frequently you should do cardio and strength training throughout the week) is important and was well received, but really, it's just the tip of the iceberg.

I've given you the basic rundown of how much exercise you need to reach your goals, but next comes the hard part: How the heck do you fit it all into your schedule? And maybe even more importantly, how can you do all that exercise and still have a life outside of the gym?

That, my friends, is the million dollar question. Like many things in weight loss and in life, most of us know what to do, but that doesn't mean that we really know how to put that knowledge into practice. Lack of time is the biggest hurdle we face when trying to fit in exercise. And now I'm telling you to do cardio 3-6 times a week for up to an hour, to strength train at least twice a week with every major muscle group and to fit in stretching each time you do either. How are you supposed to swing that without making a second home of your gym?

That's what this blog is all about. Today, I'll share with you some sample workout plans that "fit it all in" plus my time-saving tips to get you in, out—and thoroughly exercised—in less time. I'll also share my own workout plan so you can see how I structure exercise in my week. Are you ready?

Remember that I've already covered how intensely to work out, how much weight to lift, and how long each workout should last in my previous post, so look to it for reference. Here I am only going to be talking about how to fit it into your schedule. Let's break it down by exercise type, and I'll show you some examples of fitting each into your week.

To create your weekly workout plan, consider:
  • Your own life and schedule. When do you have time? How much time do you have on a given day? Are morning, lunchtime or evening workouts best for you, or perhaps a combination based on your schedule? Personally, I do a huge mix of all of these. Some nights I teach fitness classes, and so that is when I work out. A few mornings a week I run before work. Once a week I do a midday workout. Some days I work out in both the morning and the evening based on my schedule (and the fact that I'm unwilling to wake up even earlier to get it all done at once). Simply put, my LIFE dictates when I should schedule my workouts. Don't try it the other way around—creating a workout plan and then trying to fit it into your life. It will never work for you.  
  • How you can combine workouts that do more for you in less time. This is exactly how I created the SparkPeople: 28-Day Boot Camp DVD. It combines full-body strength training in specific combinations to get your heart rate up so that you're getting both the strength and the cardio benefit in a single workout. Any time you can find workout plans, DVDs or fitness activities that do more in less time, it'll be easier to fit in your workouts without doing multiple, long sessions throughout the week. Kettlebell training, circuit training, and other full-body programs that work your muscles and your heart at the same time (cardio and strength-training in one!) are great ways to do this (but not all are appropriate for every fitness level).
  • You own fitness level. Beginners can get by with shorter and less frequent workouts. More advanced exercisers will probably do more workouts in a week. Then again, as you get fitter, you can also try intense workouts that are shorter, such as Tabata training.
  • Your own fitness goals. Toning? Strengthening? Running endurance or race training? Injury rehabilitation? Whatever you want to work on will probably dominate your fitness plan, but don't neglect the other areas, even if you're just doing the minimum. This will help with injury prevention, balance, and overall fitness. Aim for a variety of activities throughout the week.
Sample Cardio Workout Plans
Start with 3 days a week, but work up to 5-6 days per week as you get fitter. Never take more than two days off between sessions, as you'll start to lose your fitness level quickly thereafter. Here are some ideas for how to structure it, depending on how many sessions you're doing each week:

  Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
3 workouts Cardio   Cardio   Cardio    
4 workouts Cardio Cardio   Cardio Cardio    
4 workouts Cardio   Cardio   Cardio   Cardio
5 workouts Cardio Cardio   Cardio Cardio   Cardio
5 workouts Cardio Cardio Cardio Cardio Cardio    

Sample Strength Training Workout Plans
Start with at least 1 session per week that targets every major muscle group, but work up to at least 2 (or possibly 3) strength training sessions each week. Always rest at least 1-2 days before training the same muscle group again. For simplicity's sake, I'm only showing a couple variations for breaking up your strength training (full body routines or upper/lower/core routines), although there are many ways to structure it.

  Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
1 session       full body      
2 sessions full body       full body    
split up by muscle group upper body lower body core strength   upper body lower body core strength
3 sessions full body     full body   full body  

Putting It All Together: Strength and Cardio in a Single Week

That may seem simple enough, but then you have to combine the two: find ways to fit in the cardio plan along with the strength training. How you do it will depend on your own workout goals, the types of workouts you do, and your own schedule, but here are some ideas that show you how to combine cardio and strength training into one comprehensive workout plan.

Sample Workout Plans (including my own!)
Note the variety of activities for cardio and how on some days you can do both cardio and strength training day (together or separately) if you choose.

  Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
Cardio Full-body strength   Cardio Pilates Cardio  
Combined workouts   Cardio + full-body strength Cardio Cardio + full-body strength   Light cardio + yoga  
No rest
Cardio + upper body strength Lower body strength Cardio + core strength Light cardio Cardio + upper body strength Cardio + lower body strength Core strength
"Bootcamp" plans
10-min. cardio video 10-min. upper body video + cardio 10-min. lower body video + cardio 10-min. core video + cardio 10-min. upper body video + cardio 10-min. lower body video + cardio 10-min. core video
workout schedule
Walking (Active recovery) Run + Pilates reformer (full body strength) Spinning + walking Run + Kettlebell training + walking Pilates + Cross-training cardio Yoga + strength-traning + walking Long cardio (run) day

Sample 28-Day Workout Plan
This simple plan mixes and matches four distinct workouts into a well-balanced plan that easily fits you’re your life. You don't have to do anything more than the days and minutes listed, yet it includes everything: the right amount of cardio, strength and stretching. Below is a screen shot from the SparkPeople: 28-Day Boot Camp DVD menu to help illustrate how easy it can be to "fit it all in" (in fewer minutes and fewer sessions per week) when you combine cardio and strengthening workouts into a single workout.

In this plan, we vary up the workouts week to week, but every week includes cardio-only days (red), rest or cross-training days (white) and combination workouts (full-body strengthening and cardio in a single workout, designated by all other colors). Plus, it gradually progresses you from the shorter workouts to the longer, more intense ones to take the guesswork out of your workouts while helping you exercise efficiently.

As you can see, there are countless ways to fit all of your exercise requirements into a plan that fits your lifestyle and schedule. The possibilities are truly endless! I hope this gives you all more ideas for structuring a sound and effective workout plan that helps you get the results you're looking for.
What is your weekly workout plan like? Does it cover all of these bases? Do you have some new ideas for optimizing your time now that you've seen these examples? 

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74KGSTU 5/17/2020
Thanks Report
CECELW 4/29/2020
I like kettlebells. I haven't used them in a while though Report
RAPUNZEL53 4/23/2020
Great Report
CKEYES1 1/6/2020
I like kettlebells. Two for one Report
Emailed to myself so I'd be able to reference back! Thanks! Report
Great article. Thanks Report
Great info! Thanks! Report
I am just starting back to 10 minutes a day after an injury. Report
I figured out last night my OWN health and fitness (and spiritual) well being only take 1 1/2 hours. But, outside of time with my kiddos, that is the most important part of my day. Report
Thanks Report
Fitness Goal!!! Report
Great article very useful Report
Great article. Report
Thank you Coach Nicole! Great article! Report
The schedule that's provided seems all well and good....unless you can't even answer the first question at all. When do I have time to work out in my life? I wish I knew. Between an extended work week, a lengthy commute, church, volunteer commitments, and caring for any kids/family members/pets you may have waiting for you at home? Plus I need to plan and cook all my own meals and get eight hours if sleep a night? Yeah, right. What I think I need is an article titled "How to Properly Perform a Full-Body Exercise Routine Using Your Toddler for Weight Resistance." Report
Sometimes I do struggle with trying to do my fitness plan and continue to run a household. I found this article reassuring and manageable! Report
This kind of plan is great if you are single and just go to work, no family to take care of, no spare time to live your life. Report
Thanks Coach Nicole. You always do have the answer to my questions! Great Blog. I have made a workout sheet for weekly workouts! So far I have been consistent in marking them done! I just love the 28 day bootcamp too! What a great plan! Thanks again! Report
Thank you for this! It's broken down simple enough to help me break up my day and get my activity in. I'm definitely going to try it out :-) Report
I'm more interested in cardio for fat burn. I would like to stretch after every workout. Strenght training makes me sore and its hard to get back to working out. I can try a few reps. Report
great article; great video; and thanks for telling us to fit exercise into our lives rather than trying to live around an exercise plan Report
AM cardio works best for me, whether it's walking the track at our high school or hitting the treadmill at home. A couple of days a week I try to hit the gym so I can do strength training on the weight machines. Having a workout partner makes it all much easier! Report
AM- Early morning run/walk 4-5 miles. M-W-F Hydro Spinning 45 min class; Tues- Thurs should be strength training but, I am not as consistent as I'd like. This month I am really focused on making S.T. apart of my program. Report
I am a big fan of yours! Another informative, inspiring blog. Your work outs are manageable and real. Coach Nicole for President! Report
Thanks Nicole, great article. Report
For me, lack of time is also a huge obstacle. I could workout at every which hour of the day, but I always have to shower after - I always feel dirty if I don't. That being said, I also like to go to bed feeling clean - therefore, I HAVE to shower at night as well. Do you think it's bad for your skin to be showering twice a day? Report
I don't think I'm at the beginner fitness level anymore as I have noticed that certain workouts aren't intense enough for me anymore. However, I am still struggling to find the balance between cardio and strength training. I know I'll eventually figure out a system that fits into my schedule but it certainly helps when I have Coach Nicole in my corner. Great article! Report
Wonderfully sound, practical always! I've found the only way to work out for me is to do it every morning before anyone's up. It's a drag getting up at 4:45, but that's my "me" time, and NOBODY interferes - I can get in an hour of exercise, guaranteed, 5 days a week. Report
I'm starting to think about how to get that done while we travel across country and back in 2 weeks this summer visiting family, around 4500 miles) ...ack! I'm gonna have to get creative when it comes to weight training activities! We'll have limited space to carry equipment and don't want a lot of extra weight. We'll see... Report
I think that there are many ways to get your workouts in. I use walking to town to go to the bank and paying bills as my cardio when I need to. I am usually gone for 1 1/2 to 2 hours walking. I have been known to fill my backpack with something to drink, eat and my bible and go for a nice long hike. Report
Great article. I have saved it to my favorites. Report
Excellent article. Have been working the graveyard shift part-time for the past six months and it's been killer on my sleep schedule, and therefore my workouts. I go to fulltime next week and I'm hoping that will help me see when the best times for me to workout will be. Report
this sounds like something i need . cause it seems that i can loose a little weight and then its like i gain some of it back and i do need something like this Report
Perfect article for me as I just joined the Y, work full-time plus and am getting a puppy this weekend - planning on walking that puppy a lot to increase cardio! Report
My weekly workout plan is the Sparkpeople Bootcamp. It covers all of these bases! I'm thinking about getting the SparkPeople: 28-Day Boot Camp DVD to give myself a litte more time. :D

I try to work exercise into my life by making it part of my "other" life. For example, a friend and I have a weekly walking date where we chat and walk (pretty vigorously!) for 2.5 miles. Or my hubby and I will go for a bike ride. Of course, I do plenty of solo exercising, too (I HATE strength training with others), but having a buddy is great. Report
For me, it "lack of time" is a reality. And I want to smack people who say "just make time". They need to come live my life for a week... 2 kids, full time job, disabled husband and daughter, active on 2 boards... and that's just the tip of the iceberg. For me, the secret to getting my exercise isn't "making time", it was finding ways to multiplex on top of busy time.
1) Son has a baseball game? I run or walk around the outer fence of the baseball diamond while he plays.
2) Daughter has doctors appt? I go up and down the stairs in the office building while she is getting her therapy.
3) Family going to Church? I let Dad drive home while I walk or run home after church.
4) Daughter needs some sensory input? I bounce her on the ball while squeezing it with my thighs. Or I drag her around the house in a sheet for 10 mins.

When I DO find a little time for myself, my cardio of choise is running. I can be out the door at 5:30 AM, run 30 minutes and burn 400 calories and be back by 6:00 AM before anyone even wakes up! Report
M - run (hills/fartlek, 3-8 miles)
Tu - full body ST (heavy)
W - run (easy - 3-8 miles)
Th - run (speed: tempo or intervals 4-10 miles)
F - full body ST (easy)
Sa - long run (10-20 miles)
Su - rest/yoga or recovery run/yoga

this works perfectly for me, but I don't have much of a life: eat, sleep, work (I have 3 jobs), exercise, take care of toddler. Report
I commute to work on my bike. It's about an hour each way (10 miles). I wash up at the gym when I get to work, and I try to fit in a few minutes of stretching and strength training while I'm there. I also sometimes do that in the evening at home; it varies. I have videos (including yours), foam rollers, dumb bells, a kettlebell, a BOSU and a stability ball. My foam rollers do double duty as exercise props and physical therapy equipment (stretching and relaxing my neck and shoulders). If weather is a problem for my commute (I have the right clothes, but I draw the line at thunderstorms, ice, flooding, and temperatures in the teens) I go to the gym, but it's definitely a compromise. The sun, the breeze, and the rhythmic pedaling do wonders for my spirits. Biking actually gets me out of bed in the morning (and I'm not a morning person), and my commuting time doubles as exercise time. Report
Great information. Thanks for the article. Report
I make time for coach Nicoles workout videos, and strength training, either at home or the gym in the early mornings (5am is my favorite time) but my favorite way to get in workouts is active commuting. Its like finding extra time! I work 5 miles from home all uphill! It takes 45 minutes to bike there--a great interval workout-- and 20 to bike home. So thats 65 minutes of cardio. It would take me 40 minutes- on a good day- to drive to work and back. So, I get a 65 minute workout for 25 minutes! What a deal! Same with the gym--its a mile from my house. Walk there and back, thats 30 minutes of walking for 15 minutes. Free time! Who cant use that! Report
Now that my kids' spring sports are starting, I need to be more structured in my workout time. My planned schedule looks something like this:
Monday- Rest (son's soccer practice)
Tues- strength training (daughter's cheer practice)
Wed- Zumba!
Thurs- strength training (daughter's cheer practice)
Fri- Zumba! (kids' Tae Kwon Do)
Sat- Zumba (kids' Tae Kwon Do)
Sun- walk/run with the whole family

Now, how am I going to fit in cooking and eating healthy dinners? :) Report
"Lack of time to workout" is a crock. It's adult equivalent of "the dog ate my homework". If you had to spend an hour a day fiddling with complicated equipment and medications to stay alive I'm pretty sure you'd find the time. That's how I see exercise. At the end of the day, it's pretty simple - you do it or you don't.

And yes, I work full-time, shiftwork in a physically and mentally challenging job, I've got a family. what I don't have is excuses. Report
Just got the boot camp video going to try it today! Report
Excellent column.

Here's my current schedule:

M - Tae Kardio at lunchtime, Body Pump Class in the evening
Tu - XC ski at lunchtime (if there is snow), Spinning in the evening
W - Tae Kardio at lunchtime, Body Pump Class in the evening
Th - Tae Kardio at lunchtime, Spinning in the evening
F- Rest, stretching, sometimes a deep tissue massage
Sa - Playing outside (kayaking, XC skiing, snowboarding, road cycling, etc.)
Su - Playing outside and 4hr kayak rolling / skills session

I have a nice 30-minute kayak-specific yoga routine I need to work into the rotation somehow. At the moment it's falling off the radar because I only do it when I 'feel like it.'

I may also investigate some kind of light cardio for my recovery Fridays instead of the passive recovery I'm currently doing. Thanks for the suggestion. Report
A great plan, Nichole. I usually get in all the exercise that i can when I'm able. I have a workout book that I use for my calesthenics. I keep it open to what I just finished doing. if I did the upper body one day, I move to lower body the next then core. If I used weights on Monday, I move to the exercise ball for Tuesday. If I ran on Wednesday, I do the workout video the next time.
It works for me. Report
I am the beginning level and I keep losing ground. I am going to try the bootcamp plan. Thank you for the information. Report