Getting through busy periods of life with fitness intact can sometimes be a challenge. If your usual training routine takes a hit due to travels and disrupted schedules, think “maintenance.” It is possible to maintain fitness with a reduced training schedule for a few weeks. The key, however, is to not stop exercising. Rather, follow the FITT mnemonic (the four elements below) to ensure you maintain a sufficient workload until you can resume your normal training pattern.
If a 5-7 days/week training regimen gets halved due to other commitments, remember that it’s not the end of the world if two or three days go by between workouts. However, since it’s easier to stay motivated (and feeling good) when that gap between workouts stays small, aim for a frequency of every other day. Try not to let more than two days in a row pass without at least getting in a short workout (see the tip under “Time” for the importance of short workouts).
One way to keep the body primed during a period of reduced training is to ensure you still spend some time at higher intensity levels. To stimulate the upper end of your aerobic system, include 5-10 minutes at tempo pace. Unstructured fartlek (i.e. “speed play”) can also be a fun way to add variety and stimulate your cardiovascular and muscular systems. Add some striders or a few short hill repeats into your runs, sprint for road signs on your bike rides, or include a handful of 25-yd sprints during your swims.
When time is of the essence, even short 20 to 30 minute workouts can accomplish quite a bit towards maintaining fitness. Remember, it is better to do something for 20 to 30 minutes than to do nothing at all. Instead of skipping a day of training entirely, get in a short workout to keep the body moving (see again the tip under “Intensity” for how to make the most of that time).
Maintaining fitness is, by and large, activity specific. Aim to get in at least one workout per week for each activity you regularly engage in during normal training. Beyond this, however, don’t be afraid to take advantage of whatever training opportunities come your way. If you’re stuck in a hotel with a stairmaster, make use of it if you can’t find a place to run or bike. If you’re snowed in, chances are the conditions are good for snowshoeing or cross country skiing. And don’t forget the value of functional strength training, which can be done in a small space indoors. Make use of what’s available to get the endorphins flowing.
Remember, it is preferable to maintain fitness with a reduced training schedule than to lose fitness altogether through inactivity. “Maintenance mode” will allow you to pick up where you left off before life got busy for those few weeks.
A version of this article also appeared in the Colorado Triathlete.