Ask Stew: How to Train When Life Gets in the Way

U.S. service members started their morning off by participating in Power Yoga Fest 2015 at the Rock Fitness Center on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, July 16, 2015. U.S. Army photo by David Wheeler

Life sometimes gets in the way of a good workout, but that does not mean you cannot do something, even if that something is pure stress relief. Over the past few months, I’ve received several emails with questions from caregivers to a sick family member on how to stay fit while caring for a loved one. This time is never easy and we will ALL go through this at some point in our lives. If you are having your training time absorbed by taking up the work load of an ill spouse, taking care of a parent or child, my hopes and prayers are with you and want the following advice to help you get through this difficult time.


I really think, what I am going through now is WHY I exercise, however, I’m seeking Mental Strength. My wife has been diagnosed with Breast Cancer and is going through treatments right now.  She goes through DAILY Radiation Treatment for six weeks. And for the next six weeks it needs to be about her – not me.  I have slept in the last two mornings instead of working out which is abnormal for me.  Any recommendations for me to be better at helping, but not get sick and out of shape myself?  Tom

Tom – Your main goal with the decrease in your personal time is do what you can, when you can, even if only for a few minutes. But, you are right - family first. However, you cannot be a good caregiver IF you are not taking care of yourself. You need to be eating healthy, drinking water, washing your hands frequently, sleeping well, and yes – even adding in some quick exercise routines into your day.

That means lighter workouts, de-stressing cardio (walks, deep breathing - in the nose - out the mouth), stretching.  We all have time for that even if it is for only 10 minutes after each meal.

Focus on mobility days, light calisthenics, some weights, but follow it with an easy cardio session as mentioned above. This will help you metabolize your own stress and be less stressed when dealing with your family and friends, your wife, as well as the doctors and nurses.

For example, a typical day of trying to squeeze 5 minutes of exercise into your day and it may look like this:

Five Minute Ideas

Repeat any of the ideas below as many times as you can for 5 minutes:

  • Jumping jack 10, pushups 10.
  • Walk up and down a flight of stairs, squats 10
  • Stretch from head to toe every joint in your body even if only for a few seconds each.
  • PT Pyramid – How high can you go the pullups, pushups, core, dips pyramid. Later in the day, come back down the pyramid.

Build a 5 minute Circuit – Pick 5 exercises and do them for 1 minute each.  If you are doing an upper body day, try pushups, abs of choice, dumbbell curls, overhead press, or dips.  If you are on a lower body day, try squats, lunges, step ups, run stairs, or leg curls.

If you have a TRX, a few sets of dumbbells, and a power tower (pullup / dips bars), you can get very creative with your indoor home activities when you have a few minutes.

Walk and breathe deeply (in nose – out mouth). Focus on box breathing method of 4 seconds inhale, 4 seconds hold, 4 seconds exhale, 4 seconds hold. But you can use various methods of breathing to relax you as well as help you perform (see related post).

If you are able to get in a “full” workout which may only be 20-30 minutes these days, try the following arrangement:

Warmup well – stress has a way of making the body stiff so warmup with some light cardio or calisthenics like this:

  • PT Pyramid Warmup: 1 pushup or squat, Dynamic stretches for 25m or in place if no room, 2 pushups / 2 squats, 25m, 3/3, 4,4, 5,5. Stop at five or go to 10. Make sure you get the blood flowing before you do rigorous exercise.

Do a series of exercises in a circuit format and try to arrange them so you can “rest” with the next exercise.  Maybe like an upper body or lower body alternating system or upper body and core.

But whatever you do, follow the short, fast, moderately intense resistance training with an easy dose of cardio like jogging, walking, swimming, biking, or other but focus on deep breathing as that will help you unwind and start you back on track to handling more of the daily grind.

Take Care of Yourself Too…

Stress can become chronic if you do not manage it with proper nutrition, hydration, sleep, exercise, as well as breathing with a goal of stress relief. There is an old saying, “Live to fight another day” and it can be applied to your current situation as you need to take care of yourself in order to be the best Dad to your kids, husband to your wife, while your family goes through this challenging time.  Hang in there.

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