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Your Workout Back-Up Plan

Aug 17 2021
8 min read
Man and woman silhouetted as they run against a background of stars and sunset in the Sonoran Desert.

Even on a day when everything seems to fall into place, making the effort to exercise can be hard.

So when difficult, and sometimes unexpected, circumstances arise, getting to the gym or going for a run can feel almost impossible. In those moments, it’s easiest to surrender and chalk up skipping your workout to whatever hurdle popped up (we’ve all done it). That’s why it can be helpful to have a back-up plan in place for those situations that threaten to derail your good intentions.

By creating a guide of substitute activities you can turn to when your plans or mood change, you’ll be more likely to stay motivated right then and there, getting in a meaningful workout – even if it wasn’t as long or as intense as your original session might have been. The important thing is that you’re prepared to move in some way, helping you to continue working toward your fitness goals.

When crafting your back-up plan, consider the space you’ll have and, if time is an issue, when you’ll be able to fit it in. Think too about items (specific clothing, water, small or portable equipment, etc.) you might need, depending on the situation. Write it all down and put it on your fridge or in your glove compartment, or save it to your phone so it’s easily accessible. This may seem like an unnecessary step, but it will help take thinking out of the equation when you’re already taxed, and make getting going again a little easier.

Remember, only you know what options and activities will work for you when you have to suddenly switch gears, so be sure to tailor our sample guide below to your own lifestyle.

When You’re Busier Than Usual…

On days when your to-do list seems overwhelming (laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, and so on), think about where you’re going to be throughout the course of the day and how you can adjust the timing of things. Maybe, with the exception of a few errands, you know you’ll be home. Or, perhaps you have to leave the house after breakfast and you know you won’t return until late afternoon. Figuring out how the day might play out can help you build in an effective (and non-negotiable) 20- or 30-minute workout.

The back-up plan: If it’s one of those days that I’ll be out and about, I’ll wake up 30 minutes earlier than usual and fit in a yoga session before I start the day. I’ll keep my laptop. tablet or TV and mat ready. If I’m trying to get things done around the house, I’ll multitask: While the washing machine runs for 35 minutes, I’ll do some push-ups, squats, lunges and core exercises.

When the Weather is Bad…

If it’s predicted to rain for the next few days or a snowstorm is in the forecast, think about the best way to motivate yourself at home. Or, if it’s too cold for an outdoor workout, is there a nearby fitness facility you can use or a studio or YMCA that allows walk-ins for certain classes?

The back-up plan: If I can’t leave the house, I’ll use the space in my den to do Pilates for 45 minutes while watching the snow come down. Or I’ll turn on my favorite upbeat playlist and dance until I feel fatigued. If the cold weather is preventing me from exercising outdoors on a Tuesday or a Thursday, I’ll pop into that circuit training class at 2 pm.

When You’re On-The-Go…

Even the most hectic days have room for a workout if you think strategically. Map out some reliable spots where you can stop for a quick calorie-burning session, or use one of the locations you’ll be in to your advantage.

The back-up plan: If I’m in the car most of the day, I’ll stop at the park and take a fast-paced walk to get my heart rate up. I’ll keep an extra pair of sneakers and socks in the car and grab a bottle of water before I leave the house. If I’m at the mall, I’ll take the stairs instead of the elevator and do at least two laps around the ground floor at a brisk pace before I go into any shops.

When You Get Stuck Late at the Office…

Taking breaks at work can help reduce stress and improve productivity by helping you clear your head. An endorphin boost can certainly help you concentrate and feel energized, so it’s worth it to step away from the computer and move your body. If you don’t have a private office, find an empty conference room to use as your personal gym.

The back-up plan: I’ll take a 20-minute midday break and use the five-pound weights or exercise bands I keep under my desk to do some upper-body exercises. Later, I’ll spend another 20 minutes doing some lower-body moves, like high knees, butt kicks and walking lunges.

When You’re Exhausted…

Think about the type of activity that you enjoy most. When you just can’t muster the energy to get out of bed or are wiped out after a long day, knowing you get to do something you love will propel you to get going. Or maybe you turn to a friend who is always a dependable cheerleader.

The back-up plan: When I feel deflated, I’m going to get on my bike and head out on the road for at least half an hour. Or I’ll call Lisa and she’ll motivate me to head to the pool for a lap swimming session. If Lisa doesn’t pick up, I’m going to take the dog on a hike; he always gets me going.

When your workout buddy cancels, or the class you wanted to take is full…

When an exercise plan falls apart because of factors beyond your control, consider what else you can do to use the time in the way you had intended.

The backup plan: If I’m already at the gym and my plan has to change, I’ll walk intervals on the treadmill and get in a good stretch on the mats. If my running partner says she can’t make it and I don’t want to jog by myself, I’ll do my 30-minute circuit challenge (plank, high knees, squats, tricep dips, push-ups, lunges) while I watch one of my recorded TV shows.

When a last-minute invitation pops up…

You planned to hit the gym later in the day or right after work, but by 11 am you’ve been invited to an impromptu dinner that you don’t want to miss.

The back-up plan: If I’m not going to be able to work out later, I’ll move as much as possible throughout the day: if I’m at work, I’ll walk further to get lunch and do some wall squats and jumping jacks during a conference call (if I’m not required to speak too much) in my private office. If I’m at home, I’ll do strenuous chores, like vacuuming or carrying loads of laundry, to challenge my muscles before I head out to dinner.

After some time, you may want to tweak your back-up plan to include other activities or adjust certain options that you’ve learned don’t work well for you. Or, if you find your motivation wanes because of an obstacle you’re faced with on a regular basis, like busy weekends, you might come up with a number of substitute ideas for that specific situation.

Remember that when it comes to exercise, something is always better than nothing. A simple walk around the block, a few sun salutations, or a set of squats, lunges and push-ups is enough to keep you in the game.