Ask a Swole Woman: How Do I Start Lifting Weights When I'm So Busy?
Strength is for everyone, but it's especially for women. Ask A Swole Woman is a column for people who are tired of trying to always be less, eat less, do less, and make it look perfect and effort-free. Have a question for me about the strength of training or anything related? AASW@self.com.
Dear Swole Woman,
I'm in my last year of a master's program that I have been doing while working full time, and looking eagerly forward to all the things I can do and try when I once again have some semblance of free time. Lifting is definitely one of those things! However, I am preemptively nervous, because three times a week seems like a reasonable commitment for something I would do for several months to a year, but I feel like with lifting you have to commit to doing it three times a week for eternity! And there are other hobbies I want to try, other classes I want to take, a social life I want to remember how to have. Also I am an elementary school teacher, which means, on the bright side, I get way more time off on weekdays than most people and have a fair amount of scheduling flexibility. But it also means that I work a lot, have an earlier bedtime than most adults, can't get to the gym midday on a workday, and there are some periods of time where I will absolutely be working late every day for weeks at a time (the rush of September set-up, the lead-up to conferences, etc.). I don't feel this way about the concept of working out generally, because as one of the running weirdos it's something I can do with basically zero commute time. But man, I know you keep talking about how the actual workout does not take that long at all, but the commute really adds up when you're someone who regularly has maybe three hours between leaving work and starting to get ready to turn in.
So, like... is swoleness not for those with sporadically intense schedules? What happens if you've been lifting for like eight months and then you have to stop for six weeks? Can you take breaks without ruining everything? Once you've been adjusted for a while is it OK to sometimes only go twice a week? Am I just being a baby?
You are ... perhaps being a baby, but an eminently normal baby. I've never been able to figure out what is going on and what's going on in the gym. We all really get ahead of ourselves about this, and I'm not sure why that is, especially when the best way to start is.
So here is the thing: Exercise and working out should be part of a lifestyle, as opposed to, say, leading up to the summer and then never again until your next vacation or summer rolls around. But the beauty of a living thing is that it can not be affected by anything. I've written before about how even the world's best athletes take a week or years off their training, and not that I'm a world-class athlete, but I take a few weeks off at a time, a couple times a year, too. When work gets intense, when you go on vacation, etc., even when you just get sick of what you're doing, taking time off is normal and healthy. Who will come after you, the police? You just will not be as strong when you come back, but this is, again, normal and healthy. The hidden object of the game is the great benefit of the times when you are in the middle of the world. now; of the strength of the building is tough to do when you are working. It's not impossible, but most people who do it are pretty regimented and great time managers and have made it work-most importantly-through a lot of trial and error and
As for your schedule, you are doing a lot right now; training to the degree of building strength is tough to do when you are working two jobs, or one and a half jobs (I know this firsthand). It’s not impossible, but most people who do it are pretty regimented and great time managers and have made it work—most importantly—through a lot of intelligent trial and error and slowly fitting the pieces together. When something works, like meal prepping on Sunday afternoons after a gym session, they commit to doing that; on the days of the Thursdays never work out, they try a different day; if they can not fit in a whole workout in a single session, they'll split it in the morning and evening on the same day.
However, early nights and a commute to and from the gym should not be the death of your training. A solid starter lifting program requires three training days per week-training only two days per week. So, three days a week it is, and if one of those days is a weekend, that's only two days during your workweek. If you can get to the gym right after your work it is over. I know commuting is not fun but it adds, what, an hour total? That is 0.5 percent of your week. Not even one whole percent. If the idea of that much lost time bothers you that much, find an educational podcast or get into audiobooks to listen to in the car. I know everyone's busy but I do not know how to do it. I know it's tempting to try to cram your life into edgewise; I spent too long in my life being one of those people who hoped taking the stairs instead of the escalator or doing little 10-minute circuits in my living room. But the health benefits of the giving of the room and (limited, reasonable) priority in my life. Lifting gives me something concrete I can check out when nothing else in my life is moving; it's completely occupies my brain for an hour so I do not worry about other things; and it gives me a framework for really taking care of myself in every aspect of life. Being strong, I'm not helpless. I'm not helpless. It is actually fun to be the go-to person in your office for changing the water cooler tank, and I maintain anyone who is threatened by this is not worth trying to impress anyway.
I know it’s tempting to try to cram exercise into your life edgewise; I spent too long in my life being one of those people who hoped taking the stairs instead of the escalator or doing little 10-minute circuits in my living room and so forth would satisfy me. But the benefits of actually giving it room and (limited, reasonable) priority in my life have gone so far beyond my health. Lifting gives me something concrete I can check off when nothing else in my life is moving; it completely occupies my brain for an hour so I don’t worry about other things; and it gives me a framework for really taking care of myself in every aspect of life, getting enough sleep and eating right so I can lift. Being strong also makes everything about the physicality of life so much easier, so when those moments arise that I have to carry groceries or move something, I’m not helpless. It is actually fun to be the go-to person in your office for changing the water cooler tank, and I maintain anyone who is threatened by this is not worth trying to impress anyway.
Maybe you really can not do it! This is up to you, and the important thing is for you to decide. Per the commitment of the above, a good thing to do. (Strong Curves, New Rules of Lifting for Women, and Thinner Leaner Stronger are all quite popular right now; for simplicity and a focus on strength over aesthetics, my personal favorite is StrongLifts). Twelves weeks are about the time it will take to feel like it's easy to pick up stuff, or bend down, or carry things around thanks to all your training. People will start to ask for your biceps, and completing your last set of squats. From there, you can assess whether it's something that's fits in your life, or whether some small adjustments. But before you get spooked by the lifetime commitment, give yourself a chance at loving it.
Casey Johnston is the editor of the Future section at The Outline and a competitive powerlifter with a degree in applied physics. She writes the column Ask a Swole Woman for SELF. You can find her on Twitter: @ caseyjohnston.