Training with Time Constraints

November 2, 2018

Pip asks: “If you only have a certain amount of time in the morning, say 60 minutes, how do you break up that hour in terms of your warm-up, you pre-exercise routine, your training, and your post-exercise routine?”


Now firstly, let’s talk about the fact that an hour is more than enough to get a whole raft of health benefits, and in fact it’s enough to get a whole raft of improvements in your performance even if you’re performing at a relatively high level already.

We have to talk about something called the Pareto principle, and basically this talks about the phenomenon that the more time you have available to complete a task, the longer that task will take. Take yourself back to your school days, or maybe even if you’ve got a deadline at work. If you had a school assignment that was due in four weeks time, you would complete it in four weeks time. If that same assignment was due in three days, you would find a way to get it done in three days. Same thing with work deadlines. If you have to get a task finished by 5:00 PM on Friday, it will be on your boss’s desk at 4:59 on Friday. If your boss gives you three hours to do that same task, you will probably get it done.

It’s exactly the same with exercise. If we have a lot of time in which to do our exercise and our training, we expand how long it takes to do things. We expand our procrastination to fill that time, so sometimes having these time limitations can actually be one of the best things for your health and your fitness.

I think this question is not so much a question of training breakdown, of the breakdown of how long you should be spending on each element of your training, but I think this is more a question of time management. But if we did have to have to break this down and say what would this hour look like, we would start with the non-negotiables. There are certain things that just have to be included in your training. You have to have your pre-exercise routine. You have to have your warmup in there. Because without that, we’re increasing our risk of injury. And if you’re not well prepared for the movements that you’re about to perform, you’re not able to then exercise for the long-term consistently because injury will offer an obstacle, which can be challenging to overcome. So, that’s a nonnegotiable. Let’s give that about 10 minutes at the start of your training.

Let’s look at your post-exercise. Same thing. Post-exercise routine, non-negotiable, because you need to be able to recover from what you’ve done to allow you to train well the next day and for the next few weeks. Let’s also give that 10 minutes. Now, of course, these things can take longer, but what you’re being forced to do now because you have these time limitations is identify the things that are going to be most valuable to your health.

If we look at that 80/20 principle, the 80/20 principle tells us that we can get 80% of the benefit from just 20% of the work. Find what that 20% is, and you can fit your pre- and post-exercise routines into 10 minutes at the start and 10 minutes at the end of your session.

This basically gives us 40 minutes, 40 minutes here to do the work. Now, this isn’t half an hour of procrastinating. This is 40 minutes that you have to be strict and on the ball with your time. Now, You can get one longer session done in this time, maybe one longer strength or power lifting session, or you can get a couple of smaller sessions done. It doesn’t matter. It’s about being on task, on time, holding yourself accountable and having a decent sense of urgency.

A really good strategy for this is before you start the session to write on a whiteboard, or on a piece of paper, or in the notes on your phone what you’re going to be doing at each minute. A zero minutes you start your pre-exercise routine. At 10 minutes you finish. At 13 minutes, you begin your training session. It really hold you accountable, and once you start that clock, you are in the hands of that clock. Your fate is almost predetermined by the fact that you’ve committed to these certain times.

I think what’s more important here, what’s more important than the session volume, even the session intensity, is that you have long-term consistency. Someone who trains three hours a day but then maybe drops off and has a month where they’re inconsistent or every second week is not going to be so consistent, they will not benefit as much as the person who is super consistent and just does that single hour a day. If you do have limited training times, your massive focus needs to be on consistency, not just over days, over weeks, over months, but over years, and that really is the key to being able to make sure that even a small amount of training time is going to give you very long-term effects.

Dan Williams

Dan Williams


Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.

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