Navigating a busy schedule in college and beyond can be difficult. You want to have a great job, maintain solid relationships, exceed the expectations you set for yourself and, of course, find time to do things you enjoy (saying no to brunch just isn’t an option!). So, how do you fit working out into your demanding schedule? I spoke with women who are just as ambitious about maintaining their health as they are about succeeding in their busy lives to learn their tips for prioritizing gym time. Here are six ways to fit a workout into a busy schedule and keep your motivation on track, according to women who have been there.
1. Schedule workouts ahead of time
Chances are, you rarely miss class, an appointment, or a meeting, so why should you miss a workout? Yes, life happens and sometimes things come up, but if you treat working out as an important obligation rather than an optional activity, you’ll be less likely to bail.
Mara Hyman, a graduate of the University of Southern California, says that it’s important to treat your health as a priority. “I think the key with fitting time into your schedule to work out is acknowledging the fact that your health is as much — if not more — of a priority than your job or other responsibilities,” she tells Her Campus. “Change your mindset and take ownership [of] your workouts, and you’ll find that everything else will fall into place. You’ll sleep better, you’ll be more productive at work, and you’ll feel better [overall].”
According to a 2017 study of 512 college students published in the International Journal of Exercise Science, factors like a heavy course load, time spent studying, and social media use were all negatively associated with physical health outcomes. So, the more late-night study sessions and time spent scrolling through your phone, the harder it becomes to motivate yourself to work out regularly. Remember, making time to work out ultimately benefits all areas of your life, and it’s important to take care of yourself first, especially if you’re juggling a busy schedule.
2. find workouts you actually enjoy
Danielle Smith, an Emmanuel College grad, says that it’s easier to make time for workouts when you’re looking forward to them. She tells Her Campus, “Fitness classes like boot camp and Zumba are two of my favorites, because they are not only motivating throughout the entire hour, but are also enjoyable when you get to dance to the beat and still work up a sweat!” Dancing that counts as cardio? Yes, please.
Being around others in a workout class can also feel like great motivation to prioritize your workouts and keep coming back. You may even make friends or find others who motivate you to challenge yourself. Working out doesn’t have to feel like a burden; it’s worth taking the time to find workouts you can have fun with.
3. Switch up your workout routine
Part of finding workouts you enjoy involves mixing up your workout routine and trying new things. Hannah LeBlanc, a graduate of St. Joseph’s College, tells Her Campus, “Switch your workout up as much as possible. If you are a member at a gym that offers a variety of classes, try a different one each time you go to the gym.” Sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone to try a new workout class, such as boxing or yoga, or even attending class with a new instructor, is exactly the change of pace you need to keep the gym interesting. Hannah tells Her Campus, “Trying a variety of workouts will not only challenge your muscles but also help you not get bored or stuck in the same routine.” Plus, participating in a variety of workouts means you’re engaging different muscles each time, which can help you see better physical results in the end.
4. Wake up early
I’ll wait for the groans and eye rolls to be over. Finished yet? I totally get that waking up early to work out as opposed to getting an extra hour of sleep before your busy day may seem ridiculous. Especially when one of your favorite college relationships was with your bed. But hear me out, because working out in the morning might more beneficial than you may think. According to a 2012 study of 35 women published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, morning exercise was associated with more movement throughout the day, and participants showed an increase in activity over the next 24 hours.
“If it works for your schedule, try to workout earlier in the morning,” Hannah recommends. “Yes, it might mean waking up a little earlier, but at the end of your workout, you’ll feel more energized and have the rest of the day to do what you want!” It’s true that workouts release endorphins that help make you happy, and this mood and energy boost can help you to tackle a busy day ahead of you. If you’re having trouble motivating yourself to get up earlier, think of it as getting your workout over with early on, that way you don’t have an entire day to make up excuses as to why you should skip the gym. Wake up, work out, and enjoy the rest of your day without the thought of a workout looming over you.
5. Choose your workout buddy wisely
Like many things in life, working out can be way more enjoyable when shared with a friend. Finding a workout buddy can sometimes be difficult, because you want someone who will (actually) motivate you, and we all know it’s not easy to say no to your best friend when she says to skip the gym and “treat yoself” to margaritas instead!
Ann Shoket, author and former editor-in-chief of Seventeen magazine, tells Her Campus that she rarely says “no” to an invite — yes, even a woman this successful still gets FOMO. This means that exercise sometimes takes a backseat to her other obligations. The solution? Use workouts as a chance to strengthen relationships. When asked what her favorite workout is, she tells Her Campus, “I love Pilates and spin, but it’s the first thing to fall off my calendar when I get busy. I always try to enlist a friend or colleague so we can either get bonding in or some work.” Networking during a workout? Impressive.
In her book, The Big Life, Shoket also shares great advice about “embracing the mess” — in other words, the parts of life that don’t always balance out perfectly. In fact, her thoughts on work-life balance? “It doesn’t exist,” she tells Her Campus. “And I don’t think it should.” The idea of having everything under control at all times is simply unreasonable, especially if you’re a busy college student or alum — which is why it’s okay to miss a workout here or there if needed. This is a great reminder that even the most powerful women have trouble finding time to work out, and it’s important to be patient with yourself. Progress over perfection.
6. Find a gym near your school or office
Seeing a gym or studio near campus or on your route to work every day will make it so you have no excuse but to stop in! Sarah McDaniel, a recent graduate of Indiana University, uses this trick to her advantage. She tells Her Campus, “I bought a yoga membership for a studio that’s on my way home from work and has classes at 5:30 every day. I drive past it after leaving work at 5:00, so I have no excuse not to go!” She continues, “I also use it as my one hour of ‘me’ time when I’m not focused on work or anything else, and I get to de-stress. It makes all the difference.” If you’re a student, chances are there is a fitness center on campus with lots of class options. And if you’re in the working world, there may even be a company gym right at your office! Take advantage of location and be sure to keep a change of workout clothes handy so you don’t skip out.
Taking the time to carve out a few hours a week to focus on your health is crucial to success. However you decide to incorporate workouts into your weekly routine, just be sure you’re having fun with it! Going to the gym every day can be daunting, but if you make plans to go with a friend or find new classes to take, you can find motivation to keep going. Whether you’re a busy college student or navigating post-grad life for the first time, you’ve got this. Cheers!
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Ann Shoket, author of The Big Life; former editor-in-chief of Seventeen
Mara Hyman, University of Southern California
Hannah LeBlanc, St. Joseph’s College
Sarah McDaniel, Indiana University
Danielle Smith, Emmanuel College
Calestine, J., Bopp, M., Bopp, C. M., & Papalia, Z. (2017). College student work habits are related to physical activity and fitness. International journal of exercise science, 10(7), 1009.
Hanlon, B., Larson, M. J., Bailey, B. W., & LeCheminant, J. D. (2012). Neural response to pictures of food after exercise in normal-weight and obese women. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 44(10), 1864-1870.