Welcome to Chapter 19 of Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health & Life, in which you’re going to discover how to get uber-fit without neglecting your friends, your family and your career.
A few years ago, an article appeared in the Wall Street Journal entitled “A Workout Ate My Marriage“.
It begins with the tale of the wife of an endurance athlete, Caren Waxman, who wakes up alone every morning, including holidays. Her husband leaves before dawn each morning for hours of exercise to prepare for his upcoming triathlon.
The article goes on to describe other exercise widows and lonely husbands who often wake to an empty bed – a sure sign of their spouse’s morning workout. Or they find their dinner plans spoiled by a sudden avoidance of any complex foods or big meals before an evening workout. And of course, parties or nighttime social events get completely thrown out the window if they remotely threaten to sacrifice the quality of the almighty morning workout.
Regret grows as romance falls to the wayside, since the exercise enthusiast in the relationship collapses like a sack of potatoes by the time 9pm approaches. Intense commitment to a demanding training schedule for triathlons, marathons, Crossfit or some other lofty physical goal leaves couples fighting about who does chores, who gets time for themselves and who decides where and how the family has fun.
And while the effect of extreme exercise on divorce rates has never really been investigated, resentment on the part of friends, spouses and family is an undeniable reality, with many lonely wives, husbands, and children wondering when the exercise insanity is going to end.
Of course, the consequences of extreme fitness pursuits can go beyond family disputes, and can also include degrading of important relationships and friendships, decreases in personal income or stagnant career growth and a complete lack of the ability to do anything well except lift a heavy weight, row 500 meters very quickly, or swim, bike and run faster than all your neighbors.
Let me ask you a question:
You don’t want to regret the finish line, do you?
Let me ask you another question:
Are you missing the important things in life?
Let me ask you one more question:
The fact is, unless you’re a professional athlete and your paycheck depends on your performance, the temporary glory of crossing the finish line of an Ironman triathlon or marathon, winning Crossfit regionals, or riding your bicycle a hundred miles is simply not worth the neglect of your friends, your family, your career and all the other things in life you could be enjoying.
But the fact is, there’s a way to become uber-fit without creating exercise widows or exercise orphans, without giving up important advances in your career, without missing out good friendships and relationships, and without feeling like you never got to get good at other things you really wanted to try – like music, theatre, cooking, art, sports or whatever else strikes your fancy.
So in this chapter and the next, I’m going to fill you in on all my insider training and time-saving secrets that allow me to be in the upper echelon of some of the fittest folks on the planet – while still having time to write, play guitar, play tennis and noon basketball, learn new languages, travel, take my wife on dates, throw dinner parties, and play for at least two hours every day with my twin boys.
The Overexercising Ironman
“Triathletes train an average of seven months for the Ford Ironman World Championship. The average hours per week devoted to training for the World Championship generally fall between 18 and 22. Average training distances for the three events are: Miles per week swimming: 7 (11.3 km), miles per week biking: 232 (373.3 km), miles per week running: 48 (77.2 km).”
That’s right: the majority of Ironman triathletes training for the world championships in Kona are averaging close to 3 hours per day, and as an Ironman coach and competitor, I can tell you that the training programs of other Ironman triathletes aren’t far behind . Yes, professional triathletes train up to 4-6 hours per day, but their job depends on it. Does yours?
But there are exceptions to the rule.
Take Sami Inkinen for instance.
Sami is just coming off an amateur Ironman winning time of 8:24 at Ironman Sweden a couple weeks ago, and last year, his finishes included:
- Overall amateur champion at Wildflower Triathlon Long Course
- Overall amateur champion at Hawaii 70.3. Ironman
- Age group world champion at Ironman 70.3. distance in Las Vegas
- Age group world champion runner up at Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, with an 8:58:59 Kona performance
Here’s the kicker: despite kicking the butts of the 20-30 hour per week athletes, and beating many of the professional Ironman triathletes, Sami trains a maximum of about 12 hours per week using many of the methods you’re about to learn in this chapter.
At that same Ironman Hawaii last year, I was about a half hour behind Sami, completing the race in 9:36 – but on a training schedule of strictly 10 hours per week (which I detailed in a LAVA magazine article entitled “Unconventional Triathlon Training” and also detailed in Chapter 3 of this book with the “Ancestral Athlete” approach).
In a podcast I recorded with Sami on “How To Maximize Triathlon Success With Minimal Training Time“, you learn the nitty-gritties of many of his personal strategies (including interesting practices such as using a swim snorkel and doing most of his training on a Computrainer), but below, I’m going to outline several important take-aways from that discussion, as well as the 13 tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years to avoid an extreme number of hours wasted in the pursuit of uber-fitness.
13 Ways To Get More Fit In Less Time
Before we jump into each of the 13 ways to get fit in less time without neglecting your friends, your family and your career, please remember to review or revisit Chapter 3, in which I outline much of the science behind these techniques and why they work so well. That being said, let’s jump right in:
1. Do Short Swims
To be a decent swimmer, you don’t need massive yardage. You simply need frequent exposure to the water. Swimming requires much more efficiency, economy, and “feel for the water” than it requires pure fitness (which is why a 12 year old girl can easily beat me in a 100 meter pool sprint). For this reason, frequency and consistency in swimming is more important than marathon-esque swim workouts of 60-90 minutes, such as you might experience in a typical Master’s swim class or classic swim workout.
Let’s use Ironman swim training as an example. For Ironman, you only need to swim “long” once per week, and that swim shouldn’t be longer than 4000 meters, ever. Rather than a steady, slow swim, you should structure this workout to include hard, race pace intervals with short rests (such as a warm-up, 3×1000 at race pace, and a cool-down). Then you can simply pepper additional brief 15-30 minute swims, such as 20×50 or 10×100 throughout the week, preferably before a strength training session, bike or run so that you minimize prep time (goggles, swim cap, pre-shower, post-shower, etc.).
Outdoor bike rides and runs often involve getting into your workout clothing, inflating tires, filling water bottles, scheduling, driving to and meeting with a group and engaging in other preparatory activities that can take 15-20 minutes before your training session even begins. And once you’re finally out there, traffic lights and stop signs can significantly detract from the efficacy of your workout.
For athletes who live in inclement weather conditions, this process becomes even laborious, and often includes arranging multiple layers of clothing, getting hats, gloves or toe warmers, and course removing and washing all that fabric once you’re actually done with the workout.
So if you want to maximize your training bang for your buck, find a room in the house to be your “pain cave”, set up an indoor trainer or treadmill, and do 1-2 short, intense indoor bike trainer sessions or indoor treadmill runs per week. You’ll stay focused and structured with this approach. If you need some ideas for killer indoor training workouts I’d recommend you check out three of my favorites MaccaXPro cycling and treadmill workouts, Sufferfest cycling workouts, and Runervals treadmill workouts.
To save yourself driving time, make sure you’ve got a good indoor home gym too. I have written an entire article and recorded a podcast on How To Make A Home Gym, but my personal setup costs less than $300 and simply includes a suspension strap, an indoor sprinting device called a FIT10, a stability ball, a Gymstick, a door frame pull-up bar, a mace, Indian clubs and kettlebell from Onnit. Zero fancy machines required, and I have saved many, many minutes by heading out to the garage rather than getting dressed for weather conditions, going outside, and fighting stop signs, stop lights, traffic and grandmothers on rollerblades with their 8 grandchildren and 2 schnozzle dogs.
And if you don’t have time to head to the pool, just check out my The Official “Baby It’s Too Cold Outside to Drive to the Pool” Swim Workout, which simply requires you can some elastic tubing, or slightly more spendy, but more swim appropriate Stretchcordz.
3. Minimal “Off-Season” Training
In contrast to their peers, who are disappearing into the basement during the winter to do 3-4 hour indoor trainer sessions followed by long jaunts on the treadmill, or heading outside to do 4-6 hour bike rides up to several months before their actual Ironman race, most of my athletes save all their “big training” for that final 8-12 weeks before their big event, and I encourage you to do this too. When it comes to mental and physical freshness and vigor when you really need it, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to beat yourself up all fall and winter long in preparation for a spring or summer event.
After all, do you really think that a 2 hour run in January is going to help you in an August marathon, or that watching back-to-back movies on your indoor trainer during the winter is going to create any kind of fitness that’s still “with you” in a summer Ironman?
4. Train Alone
Don’t get me wrong – I completely understand the concept of “tribe”, the importance of social interactions, and the exercise motivation that can be derived from peer pressure and a friendly competitive environment. If that’s your only social outlet and it’s not stealing time from your family or other things you want to do, then by all means, join a Master’s swim, a running, cycling or triathlon club, or a Crossfit box.
But if you really want to maximize your time and workout efficacy, then for both indoor training sessions and outdoor rides and runs, you should try to train alone as much as possible. Here’s why: group training sessions not only require significantly greater time investment to schedule, gather a group together and head out for the actual training session, but for athletes, these sessions rarely simulate what you’re going to experience during an event. Just think about it: how often during an Ironman, for example, are you drafting, socializing, or frequently fluctuating pace?
A gym can also be a complete time-suck. With plush chairs and couches conveniently located near big screen TVs, smoothie bars well stocked with snacks, piles of magazines, friends, workout buddies, and vibration platforms, scales, saunas, spas, flyers, articles, and fancy new workout contraptions, you can literally spend hours at the gym preparing to exercise, eating for exercise, learning about exercise, and talking about exercise – without actually doing much exercise.
Case in point: I recently went to the gym to take a “metabolism-boosting class.” The class was scheduled to begin at 6:30. I left my house at 6:00 to drive to the gym and get there by 6:15 so I could get into the class. I then waited around for 15 minutes for class to start, and then a few extra minutes waiting for latecomers. I then spent another 10 minutes in the class warm-up, although I’d already warmed up while waiting. Each section of the class included demos and instructions from the teacher. By the time the class was over and we spent 10 minute doing a very easy cool-down and stretches, I had spent 90 minutes devoted to “working out,” but when I looked at my watch, discovered that I only actually engaged in significant fitness-boosting exercise for a total of 22 minutes (although I guarantee that multiple class participants would proudly check off the class as being 60 minutes of exercise).
Had I stayed at home and simply used my inexpensive home exercise equipment, I could have achieved three times as much exercise and still had plenty of time left over.
5. One Long Run
You heard me right. In your buildup to a marathon or an Ironman triathlon, you really only need one long run – typically 3-4 weeks out from your main event. Just the other day, during an Endurance Planet podcast, the host informed me that her coach advised 20 runs of up to 20 miles prior to an actual marathon. I responded by pointing out that this multiple long run strategy is all good and fine if the race involves a paycheck for you, but if not, then you’ve suddenly spent 19 weekends pounding the pavement when you could have been spending time with your family or learning a new hobby. And while a long bike ride is a session from which you can recover relatively quickly, a long run (2+ hours) can significantly impact your joints and literally keep you inflamed and beat up for several weeks.
So what do you do instead of a long run? In the same way that anaerobic high intensity interval sessions have been shown to significantly enhance aerobic fitness, short and intense runs of 80-90 minutes are all you really need to get you ready for a marathon or an Ironman – and some of my best Ironman performance has come from running only once per week for 80-90 minutes (with elliptical training on my Elliptigo, or noon basketball or tennis for the other “run” sessions). The trick is that you need to make each of those 80-90 minute runs high-quality, not long slow death marches like most endurance athletes treat their long run. Do the session on fresh legs, after a good day’s rest, and you’ll maximize the intensity and efficiency of your one key run training session.
And for Pete’s sake, whether it’s your one long run or any of these “short” 80-90 minute runs, make it a devoted practice of form, efficiency, economy and turnover, and not a mindless slog.
6. Run On Short Courses
When you run, try to stay away from long courses, like 3+ mile loops or lengthy trails – because the longer the course, the more likely it is that you’ll take your time and run it slow. Instead, choose to run on tracks, neighborhood blocks, or short loops, which are far more conducive to brief, high-quality and intense intervals. It’s a strange mental trick, but the closer you are to home or the shorter the loops that you’re running, the faster you typically go. Perhaps your body simply knows that it’s always relatively near a safe haven, food and comfort, so it’s OK to go hard.
For example, if I am running more than once per week, one of my key Ironman training sessions is 12x200m repeats – literally in the cul-de-sac outside my house. Including full recovery between repeats, this workout takes a maximum of 30 minutes, but if it’s performed at maximum intensity, I feel as though you’ve run 2 hours by the time you finish. And my kids can join me on their bikes for this session and “race daddy”.
We kicked this horse to death in chapter 3, but multiple research studies have shown that strength training can improve endurance performance by increasing neuromuscular recruitment, efficiency and economy – especially for cyclists and runners (1, 2). In other words, you can get fit without necessarily spinning or running for hours on end. Anecdotal evidence, particularly from many older endurance athletes, suggest that strength training also plays a significant role in injury prevention. And you can even get a significant cardiovascular boost from certain types of strength training, including the super slow and isometric training discussed in chapter 4.
The nice part is that when you lift, you can easily train at home, with your family. My 5 year old twin boys will often drag their kid-sized kettlebells and medicine balls into the backyard and join me for my swings and slams. They also have miniature jump ropes, yoga mats and their own stability ball. Sure, the workout is not quite as high quality as if I had strapped on my earphones and headed to the squat rack at the gym, but once again – I’m concerned about more than my tombstone simply saying “he was a good exerciser”. I’d rather my children have some fond memories of sweating with dad. More on training as a family later…
It’s never a good idea to eat extremely fast meals in a stressed state – or as my mother refers to it – “hoovering” your food like a vacuum cleaner.
At the same time, I’d heard many folks complain that they simply don’t have enough time left in the day for both exercise and the other elements of life they want to enjoy, but then they spend an entire hour simply eating lunch.
In reality, you can get a healthy, solid lunch comprised of real food into your system within 10-15 minutes – and much less time than that if it’s a smoothie or a shake. In other words, when lunch hour rolls around, you can head out for a 30-50 minute training session, get back, take a fast cold shower, and still have plenty of time for lunch.
So what kind of lunch takes a long time to eat? Salads, casseroles, dinner leftovers – and pretty much anything that requires cutlery or getting together with a group to eat. Choose these faster lunch alternatives instead: wraps, smoothies, shakes, or edible real food that you actually take out on your training session with you. Chapter 11 has plenty of fast, easy, real meals and Chapter 16 has plenty of portable, edible foods you can take with you on the fly.
I own a Honda Ridgeline pickup, but I only drive it once every 1-2 weeks. Sometimes I worry that I’ll forget how to drive. This is because I go by foot or bicycle nearly everywhere.
Commuting is not only a great way to mimic an ancestral, hunter-gatherer life, but it can drastically cut down on training time. For example, you can skip all your bike workouts for the week and simply ride your bike to work. Put your clothes in a backpack, and pack babywipes or Actionwipes to wipe yourself down. If you’re like me, you can even go so far as to wash your hair in the sink. For 2 years, I trained for Ironman by simply commuting eight miles on my bicycle 5 days of the week, then throwing in one tougher, slightly longer effort on the weekend.
If this doesn’t work for your work location, life or training schedule you can also:
-run or bike to the grocery store for small items (I’ll often do things like run hard to the grocery, and then run easy back while I’m carrying bags of spinach or bananas);
-grab a backpack and run errands such as post-office and banks on your bike, sprinting between stoplights and stop signs and recovering during your stops;
-ride or run to social events, like parties, make sure you’ve packed a backpack with a change of clothing on yourself or in your family’s car, and then drive home with your friends or family.
There’s a reason those little Ethiopian boys who run to school every day grow up to be world champion marathoners.
10. Include The Family
As soon as my wife and I found out we were pregnant with twins, we equipped our garage with a double bike trailer and a double jogger. The bike trailer always had two little bike helmets and a bunch of books and toys inside to keep kids entertained during rides, and until the boys were simply to heavy to push around, the double jogger was used nearly every day for neighborhood jogs, 5K’s and 10K’s, nature field-trips, running the kids to soccer-tots practice, running to the gym and even running to the grocery store with the kids.
If you have younger children, try to join a gym or health club that is child-friendly with free kid care (such as the YMCA) so that you and your spouse can exercise together while your kids are being safely watched. And if you have older children, begin to include them in your workouts. Several times a week, the kids and I go “Fitness Exploring”, a fun workout that involves running through the neighborhood finding trees to climb, obstacles to jump from, curbs and fences to balance on and other elements of play around us – a technique discussed in my phone app podcast episode with Darryl Edwards, who owns the fantastic FitnessExplorer website. This type of play, also seen in movements such as Parkour, or MovNat, is included in the chapter on balance. I’d also highly recommend you check out the website MyKidsAdventures.com for even more fun physical activities you can do with your family.
Once a month, I take the kid’s to the local sporting goods store and let them choose a new piece of physical fitness equipment to bring home, such as a small kettlebell, medicine ball, dumbbell or anything else that strikes their fancy, just to keep them excited about fitness and anxious to join me in any home workouts I do.
I know that some training schedules and coaches that advise “Invisible Training”, which involves only training early in the morning or late at night when your training is “invisible” to your family, but I encourage the complete opposite: make your family a part of your training.
You, your spouse, your family, your friends, your co-workers and your boss should actually be aware of your training schedule when you have a 5 hour bike ride planned for the weekend, or you decide to disappear to the gym for an extra hour on Wednesday morning. Trust me – it’s better to announce the huge amount of time you plan on devoting to fitness rather than trying to keep it secret and pretend you’re not training.
We used to keep a giant calendar on the bulletin board by our front door, where we wrote down workouts, family events, races, and sometimes the ever-present reminder for me to “mow the lawn already” (which as you’ll learn in the next chapter on time-saving, I never actually do anymore). Nowadays we are slightly more geeky, and simply use a shared Google calendar which is synced to both our computers. Jessa knows my training plans and I know hers, and whenever it becomes necessary, I can share the calendar with co-workers, employees, friends, etc. Even though it’s an extra step, I try to have a basic idea of where I’ll be and when at least 30-60 days in advance, so that there are no surprises. I don’t lay things out too thoroughly, but just enough so that my family and friends can have a basic idea of what I’m up to. You can view a sample training day layout on my triathlon training blog.
Don’t be embarrassed to wear your training schedule on your sleeve – most people will respect you for being committed to fitness. Just make sure you give advanced notice, and when the temptation arises to be rigid in your schedule no matter what, remember to ask yourself whether fitness is your hobby or your job.
Even though I perform my actual triathlon training nearly 100% solo, many of my social relationships are formed from playing tennis with a group of guys in my local tennis league, smacking around the volleyball on Sunday afternoons with friends, and hopping into the occasional noon basketball game at the gym.
For me, these are social outlets that keep me from being an isolated training geek who has lost the skill to communicate with the general population to instead stare off into space focused on run turnover or pedaling stroke.
Of course, you’re also not “wasting precious fitness time” when you cross-train in your training schedule. There is a wide world of sports just outside your front door – and many of these sports are not only entertaining and a fresh mental break from your normal training routine, but are also a perfect way to address cardiovascular fitness deficiencies, train weak muscles, stimulate and grow the mind and expand social circles.
While the social sports of golf, softball and baseball may not be the best cardiovascular cross-training activities, look into group activities like soccer, basketball, tennis, or if you are an international reader, cricket (I know nothing about cricket, but I threw that in there to make this a globally relevant chapter and to appease any Eastern hemisphere readers).
For more details and tips on how to socialize, get fit and cross-train simultaneously, read my 2 part article series on cross-training at Everymantri.com.
13. Grease The Groove
“Greasing the Groove” is a concept I originally discovered in a book called The Naked Warrior. The idea is basically this: Instead of doing a long workout at the gym, you simply spread your exercises throughout the day. This not only allows you to become proficient at certain movements, but also elevates your metabolism throughout the day and gets you fit or maintains fitness without you needing to always set aside time for structured workouts. Since it’s an integral part of being an “Ancestral Athlete”, you learned quite a bit about this concept towards the end of chapter 4. For example, I have a pull-up bar installed above the door of my office. Every time I walk under that bar, I have a rule that I have to do 5 pull-ups.
Other examples of “Greasing the Groove” that I include in my own life to become uber-fit even when I’m not exercising are:
-Beginning every day with 10 minutes of yoga and calisthenics with deep nasal breathing…
-Doing 20 body weight squats every time I take a bathroom break (and of course, using a Squatty Potty)…
-Doing 25 kettlebell swings at least once per day…
-Spending as much of the workday as possible at a standing workstation (I’m currently putting a treadmill desk into my office)…
-Doing 100 jumping jacks for every hour that I actually am sitting (I often sit when I write)…
-Taking an icy cold shower 2-3 times each day (massive cardiovascular and mind/productivity enhancing benefits)…
-Consistently engaging in the deep, diaphragmatic breathing you learned about in Chapter 9. For more on why this strategy works, even for something like Ironman training, listen to the podcast episode “How To Biohack Your Workouts, Your Diet & Your Life To Get More Done In Less Time“.
You get the idea. You don’t actually have to “workout” to be working out – and this is one of the biggest ways that I trick my body into staying in hunter-gatherer, fitness gaining mode all day long – freeing up more time for family, friends, work and play.
Summary (And More Resources)
All of the tips I’ve just shared with you are already included with or can be worked into the training plans that will accompany the final version of this book, as well as my three existing “minimalist” endurance training plans: Tri-Ripped*, Triathlon Dominator* and Marathon Dominator.
Incidentally, I wrote this chapter while hooked up to a Compex electrostimulation device that was firing away on my quads and hamstrings – giving me a training and recovery effect while I sat on the couch writing and my kids played with Legos on either side of me. Had I wanted to burn fat at the same time, I could have also been wearing my CoolFatBurner vest. If you want to free up even more time and are willing to incorporate these type of time-saving biohacking technologies I’d highly recommend you go back and review Underground Training Tactics For Enhancing Endurance – Part 1 and Underground Training Tactics For Enhancing Endurance – Part 2.
Finally, you may also want to tune into my USA Triathlon Webinar entitled: “Balancing Work, Life & Triathlon“.
In the meantime, leave your question, comments and feedback below about how to get fit with neglecting your life, and feel free to share your own tips!
*I’m often asked what the difference is between these two programs. In contrast to Triathlon Dominator, Tri-Ripped A) includes Sprint and Olympic distance options; B) includes more weightlifting; C) includes fewer bonus items that have a specific focus on Half Ironman and Ironman. If you don’t like to weight train and your goals are purely performance and not aesthetic, I’d go with http://www.TriathlonDominator.com for anything 1/2 Ironman and longer. Otherwise, go with http://www.Tri-Ripped.com.
LINKS TO PREVIOUS CHAPTERS OF “BEYOND TRAINING: MASTERING ENDURANCE, HEALTH & LIFE”
Part 1 – Introduction
-Preface: Are Endurance Sports Unhealthy?
Part 2 – Training
–Chapter 4: Underground Training Tactics For Enhancing Endurance – Part 1
–Chapter 4: Underground Training Tactics For Enhancing Endurance – Part 2
–Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 1: Strength
–Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 2: Power & Speed
–Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 3: Mobility
–Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 4: Balance
Part 3 – Recovery
Part 4 – Nutrition
Part 5 – Lifestyle
1. Doma, K. (2013). The effects of strength training and endurance training order on running economy and performance. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab., 38(6), 351-6.
2. Rønnestad, B. (2013). Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance performance: A review. Scand J Med Sci Sports, doi: 10.1111/sms.12104
3. Tsatsouline, P. (2003). The naked warrior. (2nd ed.). St. Paul, MN: Dragon Door Publications.
Also published on Medium.