Scheduling workouts into a busy(-ish) day
October 12, 2014 10:14 PM   Subscribe

I hate excercising, so I'll take any excuse not to. But I have to be honest with myself. I'm beyond the age where I can just eat what I want, not work out, and avoid getting over weight. Far beyond. I'm much more out of shape than I should be. My pants don't fit right anymore, and it's getting worse. My last excuse for not working out is that it's hard to fit into my schedule. Please help destroy that excuse by telling me your routine.

I'll freely admit that I'm less busy than MANY people who work out regularly. I logically know that I have plenty of time for it. But I need to hear specific advice/experiences from people who successfully make a habit of working out, to get me over the hump of "how do I have time???"

My specifics:
  1. I have to be work by 9AM, and it takes me at least 45 minutes to get there, so I need to get on the road by 8.
  2. I can leave work at 5PM at the earliest (again, 45-60 minutes to get home) and I can't rely on having time to work out during the day.
  3. I want to have dinner with my wife at a reasonable time, say 7PM at the latest (she's usually ready to eat when she gets home at 6 or 6:30).
  4. I REALLY need to get at least 8 hours of sleep most nights. I feel like crap if I don't.
  5. I have an elliptical trainer at home, so I can do cardio here if I want. But my wife often also uses it in the morning, so our schedules collide a lot.
  6. I also have a membership at a gym about 5 minutes drive from home.
My assumption and experience is that, between stretching, changing, getting in a decent workout, showering and getting dressed, it's hard to do much in less than an hour total. Even that really only seems to get me about 30 minutes of actual exercise. If I'm at the gym and not really rushing myself, it's can be over an hour and a half. I need time to cool down and stop sweating before I shower and get dressed, or I'm going to sweat through my work clothes in 5 minutes.

Right now, I usually go to bed between 10 and 11, and get up around 7. That gives me a solid 8 hours of sleep, but given that I need to leave the house by 8 for work (and eat breakfast, take care of daily household chores, etc.), it doesn't leave me any time to work out. For a while I was getting up an hour earlier, and that kind of worked, but it means I need to try to go to bed around 9 or 9:30, and that just didn't happen reliably enough. So I ended up feeling crappy every day that I got up early to work out. Evenings are hard because I get to the gym at 6 or 6:30 and am getting done at 7:30 or later. I hate getting home that late every day.

I fully realize that either getting up earlier or getting home later are my two options here. I'm not expecting magic. But I'm hoping that if you can tell me your routine that works for you, it'll convince me that one of these is doable and I'll be able to force myself to do it.......
posted by primethyme to Health & Fitness (44 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
My routine is to do about one hour of weightlifting/strength training two weeknights after work (usually Monday/Wednesday) and then about 1.5 hours of functional training/cardio on Saturday morning. This is enough for me to stay in shape. I have never been able to keep up a 5x/week routine, but 3x/week is very doable since it only affects two school nights.
posted by whitewall at 10:24 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you get up early and work out before showering?
posted by k8t at 10:28 PM on October 12, 2014

I bike to work. I happen to have a work situation where I can bike round-trip in ~90 minutes compared to a car trip of ~50 minutes. This means 1.5 hours of exercise has a marginal cost of 0.7 hours. It's the only way I've ever discovered to make exercise literally take less time. Your situation may be less convenient if you have a longer commute to work, but that just means you need to do it less often each week to get an equivalent amount of exercise.

My pants don't fit right anymore, and it's getting worse.

Since you didn't actually ask a question, I feel comfortable making the following statement as being responsive to your post.

Exercise is not a great way to lose weight.

In general, people overestimate the amount of calories they burn during exercise. Unless you have the ability to completely ignore hunger pains, it is likely that exercise will make you hungrier, which will cancel the caloric expenditure from exercise. In my particular case, I happen to know that I can burn about 800 calories (empirically derived from a power meter) from cycling an hour at about my maximum power output I can sustain. That means that to lose a pound of weight, I have to cycle as fast as I can go for four to five days without eating a single bite more than I otherwise would. I certainly can't sustain that and I don't expect anyone else to. Whenever I exercise at any level intended to improve my abilities (>3-4 hours a week), I immediately stop losing weight. This is not a bad thing, but it means the only effective strategy for losing weight I've found is caloric restriction through diet rather than through exercise.
posted by saeculorum at 10:33 PM on October 12, 2014 [7 favorites]

I enjoy exercising when I make the time for it and I think it's important to develop a routine as you age, but I wanted to note, to stave off future frustrations, that I never lost weight from any sensible (non-obsessive) exercise routine, only diet changes. Diet changes combined with regular exercise made me feel excellent, though.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:34 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Even that really only seems to get me about 30 minutes of actual exercise.

30 minutes of exercise, especially exercise intense enough to make you sweat, is enough to give you real benefits in fitness, if you do it most days.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:36 PM on October 12, 2014 [12 favorites]

Weight loss is 90% diet and 10% exercise. Exercise is fantastic for your overall health and longevity, but the pants not fitting issue is better managed through diet.
posted by quince at 10:39 PM on October 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with those who point out that diet is more important than exercise for losing weight. I would recommend that you reduce your calorie intake to lose weight, and do a 30 minute work out most days to get the health benefits of exercise.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 10:41 PM on October 12, 2014

Best answer: If you want to feel good & enjoy healthy function in your various body systems (including brain bits) into old age, exercise - i.e. strength, flexibility, neuromuscular and aerobic stuff - does matter, and although it's not thought to be directly responsible for weight loss in terms of caloric exchange, it does a lot to sustain motivation wrt diet, and influences other health behaviours. So I think you're right to try to fit it in.

When I had a schedule like yours, the most efficient way for me to do that was to go to a gym as close to my work as possible (in my case, it was three minutes' walk and was directly on my walk to the train). I rented a locker to keep shoes, grooming stuff, and a few sets of gym clothes there. I'd leave work at 5, do my hour's workout, and either leave (sweaty) to shower at home, or shower & go out from there. This still usually got me in by 7, with a similar commute to yours. If you did that, you might actually get to wait out the worst of rush hour - it might take you less time to drive home.

I liked it because it meant it was out of the way by the time I got home, and I didn't have to talk myself into a workout once I'd put my feet up, etc - once you're home, you're home, and you can get on with your evening.

Planning simple meals for the week would help you cut down dinner prep time. If you've got e.g. steaks or chicken breasts to hand, you're a few minutes away from eating (stir fries, grilled meat & salad, etc). Try to frontload that in the morning - while you're making breakfast, you can throw a couple of chicken breasts into a marinade. Crockpots are another popular a.m. solution to the dinner time crunch.

You can also do bodyweight or dumbbell workouts at home while your wife's on the elliptical (although it kind of sounds like you might not be a morning person; if so, no judgement, neither am I). Still, they're handy for weekends or evenings the gym isn't happening. In all, though, with a 9-5 schedule, I think exercising closer to work and having that clean break is easier, from a psych/motivational pov. Good luck!
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:11 PM on October 12, 2014 [7 favorites]

I have to do it while I'm already out of the house, so with your schedule, I'd stop at the gym at 5:45, leave by 6:35 or so, (not shower?), then throw on the food to cook while I took a quick shower... Even better if you could shift to a 8:30-4:30 work schedule. Exercising at the end of the day is a good way to get the frustration out. There was also a good AskMe thread about how not to be too exhausted by the end of the day, and the tip of having a half cup of coffee about an hour or so before you want to work out worked for me.
posted by salvia at 11:16 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Does your wife use the elliptical every morning? Assuming she only does three or four days a week, you could try scheduling which days you will use it. A half hour of focused workout will certainly show benefits, so you only need to get up half an hour earlier - try getting out of bed, use the toilet, get dressed, get on the elliptical within five minutes of the alarm going off. When you've finished working out, you have half an hour to do chores and eat breakfast and stop sweating before you have your shower. If you already shower every morning and you aren't taking time to get to the gym and back, then this should literally add only a half hour to your morning (maybe less if you figure out you've been pottering around unnecessarily).

Also, you can incrementally approach this. This week, for instance, you could commit to spending one minute on the elliptical for three mornings - just long enough to work up a sweat, and test out how you need to re-arrange the rest of your morning. Next week you can go up to two minutes three times a week, or five minutes if you want to move faster.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:26 PM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Why, you lazy thing! Only an hour's commute every morning? LUXURY. I spend an hour and a quarter, in the summer heat through snow up to here!

EIGHT HOURS' SLEEP every night? LUXURY! I sleep for seven hours after the tel3mum thrashes me to sleep with her belt.

Set your exercise clothes the night before, go to bed at 10, get up at 6, be doing your workout by 6:05, finish by 7:05, take 55 minutes to shower and dress and be out the door by 8.

If you can't use the elliptical trainer, do something else, but do it at home. Don't fanny around getting dressed and driving to the gym and then having to shower and dress all over again.
posted by tel3path at 12:14 AM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Buy another elliptical or other cardio machine and some small weights for home. Body weight exercises -- crunches, sit-ups, squats, etc -- are also great for home. This way, no matter your wife's schedule, you can always get some exercise in. And 30 minutes is great.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:17 AM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

How is the answer not exercising after dinner and before bed, either on the elliptical or at the gym?
posted by teremala at 12:39 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

How is the answer not exercising after dinner and before bed, either on the elliptical or at the gym?

Because a lot of people find that vigorous exercise late in the evening interferes with sleep.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:00 AM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Very different schedule but I exercise on my way home. So I don't shower at the gym, I go home stinky to second shift home duties. I do 500m rowing then weights for 20-25 minutes, two times a week (with a lunch time yoga class once a week). It's enough to change my body shape and density fairly significantly, fairly quickly - people notice within a few weeks that I am going, and I don't change my diet (actually, I eat more, for the most part, and slightly differently because lifting on a protein-less day sucks).
posted by geek anachronism at 1:14 AM on October 13, 2014

I get up at 5:15, have a cup of coffee, and walk briskly for 45 minutes, every morning. I'm often half awake, that works. Time to go.
posted by mareli at 2:43 AM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

It is a larger scale solution than just scheduling.. but I bought an apartment that means I can walk or bike to work. It cost me more than living further away, but in part I justified it through reduced cost of commuting. It is one of the best things I've spent money on to improve my quality of life and amount of exercise I do. It takes less time than commuting AND working out.
posted by AnnaRat at 3:00 AM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Exercise on the weekend, no excuses. On the weekdays, either negotiate two days a week with your wife for the elliptical machine or give up two weeknight dinners. Shower and change at home. If possible, go to the gym with your wife during the weekdays and then prep a dinner beforehand.
posted by hooray at 3:14 AM on October 13, 2014

Best answer: But I need to hear specific advice/experiences from people who successfully make a habit of working out, to get me over the hump of "how do I have time???"

I'm just going to address the specific question you've asked here which is how people have gone from not working out to making a habit of it.

I just make time for it. By that I mean that I move or sacrifice other things to ensure that I always get my four+ workouts a week.

It's a mega lame answer which is as conceptually simple as it is unpleasant to execute. Just move exercise from the category of non-optional activity and let everything else flow from there. Chances are, you don't think of going into work on schedule as an option to be considered, you accept that you must do it and then plan other things around it.

If there was a social gathering or a sporting event that was scheduled during your working hours, you'd accept that you couldn't attend them and not give it a second thought. Having accepted that work is not optional, things like bed times, commute options, etc. are arranged around it. Since I decided that going to the gym four times a week was mandatory, I've had to get more efficient about my workouts because otherwise they simply wouldn't get done.

This isn't much fun because it inherently means that you will miss out on other things that you'd like to do.

Like you, it takes me a long time to cool down sufficiently so that I don't sweat everywhere. The way I look at this is that there is a certain amount of 'dead time' between stopping my workout and putting on work clothes and I want to use that time productively. My gym is about 10 minutes walk from home, so after my workout I walk home in my gym gear (I usually run on the way there to warm up), then have breakfast, do about 15 minutes of the 'dirtier' household chores (since I'm still wearing my about-to-be-washed workout gear I might as well scrub a caked on pan and not be too fussed about grease spatters). By the time that I actually hit the shower it's been more than 30 minutes since I stopped exercising and I can put my work clothes on and head straight out.

In terms of time, the way this works out for me is:

6:30 wake up, put on gear, run to gym
6:40 get to gym, work-out
7:20 leave gym, walk home
7:30 get home, have quick breakfast, do domestic things
7:45 shower and dress
8:00 leave for work

You said your gym was five minutes drive, how long would it take you to run there and walk back?

If that's not realistic, then how about getting additional exercise equipment at home if you have the space? A rowing machine and some weights, in addition to the elliptical and/or running outside would probably cover you and that would save you the time getting to and from the gym.
posted by atrazine at 3:18 AM on October 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

Cycle to work twice a week - hour in, hour back - motivated to get to work on time and motivated to get back home - shower at work. I don't know whether your 45mins in a lot of traffic jams or motorway driving). I also organise with a friend to do a long ride on Sunday morning.

Half hour of upper body/back strength training on Tues, Thurs and Sunday evenings once the kids are in bed - 10 of everything x 3, Rows, Push ups, Dips, Arm Lifts (with jerry cans filled with water), side rows, situps and pull ups. With stretching between each set.

The cycling to work is a no brainer, I get changed (no shower etc) into my cycling kit in the morning and then just go. No choice cycling back, you have to do it!
Sunday morning ride is very social and I organise it in advance, so it's difficult to back out.
I do my half hour weights in the garage, telling myself "it's only half a goddam hour, stop watching rubbish on YouTube and get down there".

For all of these the key is starting. After 2 minutes, you're into it and feeling good.

Good luck.
posted by guy72277 at 4:18 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I motivate myself to exercise by making it a thing I enjoy. I take a ballet class three times a week. Would I be getting more exercise going to the gym and running and lifting weights 5 times a week? Yeah, definitely. But the times in my life I decided that was how I would exercise, I just never exercised at all. This is much better. I also find a way to turn something I regularly do into exercise. I could take about a half hour to get home, waiting for the bus and then busing. And then call my mom when I get home and chat. But a few times a week I just walk home and talk to her while I'm walking. Again, not the most vigorous exercise, but better than telling myself I'll get up at 6 and run and then actually always fall back to sleep.

Find a way to turn some ritual you already have into exercise. Do you and your wife chat after dinner? Go for a walk while you chat. Pick up a class (martial arts? Climbing? Dance?) on your own or with your wife once or twice a week. Don't make it a punishment that you have to do or you will keep putting it off.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:44 AM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Take a walk during your lunch break. A half an hour walk a day will do you a lot of good if it's consistent. Sometimes something light and consistent is better than nothing, and also better than something rigorous but less frequent. Calorie restriction + 1
posted by cacao at 5:00 AM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

alternate morning elliptical days with your wife. Do push ups and jumping jacks on her days, or jog around the block.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:50 AM on October 13, 2014

I work 8:30-4:30, then 6-10, with an hour commute. I go to crossfit or weightlifting classes at 6am 3x a week. I'm not specifically recommending crossfit, but actually paying for a class of some sort is really motivating because, hell, I paid for this so I might as well go. A class atmosphere also makes me want to go to be social with my classmates and not miss out on the fun. YMMV.

The thing is, if you want to do it, you just sort of have to. Don't kick yourself for not going if you need that extra hour of sleep, but keep going when you don't. There's time, you just have to talk yourself into believing there is.
posted by picklesthezombie at 6:17 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you'd prefer to work out in the afternoon/evening, it might be better to find a place near your work. I find the commute wipes out my energy.

My routine:
Get up at 6:00 am
Leave house at 7:45, walk 1.5 miles to BART, arrive work 9:00 am
Leave work at 5, walk 1.2 miles to Ralph Gracie Jiu Jitsu, where I train from 5:30-7:30
BART home, where wife picks me up about 8:30
Eat super light meal, and go to bed around 10.

No jiu jitsu, but I will either leave the house early and do weight training for 30 minutes before work, or go for a 3-4 mile run at lunch, or weight training before commuting home.

Every other Sat.
jiu jitsu 11:30am-1pm, plus the walk to/from BART

I've tried variations that had me leaving the house at 5am, and getting home earlier, but for me it wasn't sustainable. I work as a programmer, and I work with a lot of people who are into healthy habits - we have a corner of the office devoted to bodyweight exercises as well, with rings, mats, etc. We also have showers/lockers/washing machines in the baseent, which makes a lot of things (like lunch runs) easier.
posted by bashos_frog at 6:41 AM on October 13, 2014

Don't go to the gym! Excercise at home with a few weights and download the Your ARe Your Own Gym App and maybe subscribe to a fitness magazine thath has a monthly routine (I do the ones in cosmo, I'm a woman, but they aren't usually too gender specific, even the butt ones). Excercise at home, whenever.

I like to "pay" for watching tv by excercising during commercials (push ups, squats, chair steps), or I'll do some excericise while waiting for something to toast in the mornign or roast at night, basically, just be moving as much as possible. Don't sit down too much at home.

Also google the new york times 7 minute workout - it can be done at home, and takes 7 minutes.
posted by WeekendJen at 6:51 AM on October 13, 2014

Best answer: I am an undisciplined, sleep-loving, lazy individual who exercises every day (weekdays). Here are my two "secrets":

1. Counter-intuitive but true: it takes way less will power to work out every day than it does to work out two or three days a weeks. Make it non-negotiable - your workday starts with a workout, and that's that.

2. Prep your workout bag and your work clothes the night before so your morning brain can't sabotage you. Your morning routine: pee, brush teeth, throw on clothes already hanging in your bathroom, grab workout bag, drive to gym.

Works like magic :)
posted by rada at 6:53 AM on October 13, 2014 [7 favorites]

Seconding WeekendJen--your workouts don't have to be 30+ *consecutive* minutes per day. On busy weeks, I make sure to get 30+ minutes per day by doing this:

10-15 minutes stretching and yoga immediately after waking, before I get in shower
3-5 minute breaks thoughout the workday for squatting, arm circles, leg lifts, etc.
10 minutes at the end of the day to stretch and do some light freeweights.

And if you stand and walk a fair amount, you'll maintain health. It's true that exercise won't do much to help you lose weight, but it can keep you out of the diabetes zone and help you sleep well at night. IME a workday full of little squat breaks can help my legs feel pleasantly tired by the time I'm falling asleep.
posted by magdalemon at 7:28 AM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

What are you doing between dinner and bedtime? Can you use the elliptical or go to the gym at 8pm?
posted by sparklemotion at 7:40 AM on October 13, 2014

I just make time for it. By that I mean that I move or sacrifice other things to ensure that I always get my four+ workouts a week.

It's a mega lame answer which is as conceptually simple as it is unpleasant to execute. Just move exercise from the category of non-optional activity and let everything else flow from there. Chances are, you don't think of going into work on schedule as an option to be considered, you accept that you must do it and then plan other things around it.

I do this, too. I aim for 4-6 workouts a week, and balance that with work, social life, etc. But I definitely sacrifice a lot of things for it. I don't love working out at 6 in the AM either, so I often do it right after work, and my gym is near my house, so I have to leave work at 6 sharp to get to a class, and can't go out most weeknights. I also don't eat dinner until around 9.

It takes a pretty big sacrifice to make it work, that's the dirty secret. With weight loss there's diet planning on top of that. It's a lot of work and planning honestly, but it helps a ton with energy and sort of becomes a positive feedback cycle once you get going (you have to figure out for you though, how much is too much because things can get out of hand).
posted by sweetkid at 7:56 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Other things are simply going to have to change, if you want to work a workout (at the gym or at home) into your life. Them's just the breaks. You'll have to wake up earlier, go to bed later, or eat dinner at another time. None of the things you describe, except for work, is actually a necessity, just a preference you're using as an excuse.

When I haven't been able to fit a gym into my life, I've done the Jillian Michaels 30-day Shred series; the first part, which will be plenty to start with, is free on YouTube. The first day, I nearly vomited (admittedly, I was recovering from a long illness at the time), and despite being in decent shape to start with, it really kicked my ass for awhile. The nice thing is it includes your stretching and your cool down, and you don't have to factor in driving time. It'll fit into your morning even if your wife is on the elliptical, and it'll fit into your pre-dinner time if mornings aren't good. (I don't recommend post-dinner, because blergh! cardio on a full stomach...)

I know the new gospel is "exercise won't help you lose weight" but frankly, it's the only thing that helps me lose weight other than an actual starvation diet. So I can testify that it very well might help you get back into your pants, especially if you improve your eating at the same time.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:20 AM on October 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Things to Consider:

1) Make working out a non-negotiable habit, like going to work, having a shower, or eating food. It is not something you choose to do each time you do it. It's something you "choose" once in the abstract and then after that it is a non-negotiable part of life, like atrazine says.

2) I think the "do something you enjoy" advice is a bit bunk and goes counter to my point #1. Do something that's not boring and that you don't hate. For me, this is CrossFit. I enjoy the social part of it, it requires almost nothing from me on a decision-making/executive function level, and it is never boring.

3) You might feel like you are too tired to take on an extra commitment, but bear in mind that once you're exercising regularly, your sleep quality will improve and you will have tons more energy. Everything will seem better.

4) If you feel you have too much body fat, your effort is much better spent improving your diet, with exercise to support that for mental and other health benefits. A ton of exercise isn't going to make you lose fat unless you improve your diet.

Now to answer your actual question, I'm not too dissimilar from you, schedule-wise. I live 25 minute bike-ride from work, five minutes from the gym and work 09:15-18:30 M-F, and also need at least 8 hours solid sleep. I go to CrossFit 3x a week at 06:30am. A year ago I would have said that this was insane and unsustainable. It's not, I just make time for it because it is important to me. I just go to bed earlier (in bed at 21:30, lights out by 22:00 for a 06:05am alarm) three days a week.

You need to cut back on the negative self-talk ("force myself to do it", "more out of shape than I should be", "my last excuse") because it is making working out into a negative challenge that you feel ill-equipped to beat, rather than a neutral thing that you are perfectly capable of incorporating into your life. You also sound quite passive, like you don't feel in control. You talk about how going to bed earlier "just didn't happen reliably enough". You, primethyme, are the boss of what happens when! What was stopping you from going to bed on time consistently? I can only offer a saying that was an a-ha moment for me about going to bed early: It's like a lie-in, ON THE OTHER SIDE!
posted by bimbam at 8:37 AM on October 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

Everyone is different, which I know isn't super helpful but it is an actual fact. I can lose weight without modifying my diet as long as I work out 90 min a day, 6 days a week. In fact, in order to get the results I want, I have to modify my diet by adding to it, not subtracting. Also I'm very fortunate that my commute is between 10-15 minutes and the gym is literally right outside my front door.

Anyway, if I was in your situation I would:

- bring gym clothes to work and go directly there after work for 90min/2d/wk OR 60min/3d/wk
- work out at home 1h/2d/wk
- gym on weekends 1d/90min OR 2d/60min

Instead of lunch on the weekday workout days I would have 2 somewhat smaller meals at 11am and 3pm, with the 3 being mostly protein. Drink more water than you think you need to; as soon as you find yourself peeing what seems like an excessive amount, you have hit the correct water drinking level.

Also if you are sacrificing your own evening workout schedule to have dinner with your wife every night then it seems totally fair to ask her for the use of the elliptical some mornings as a compromise.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:42 AM on October 13, 2014

I do bodyweight exercises and high-intensity interval cardio workouts at home. There are a ton of great free videos at Fitness Blender.

I have a couple tricks for getting myself to exercise:

1) When I get home, change into workout clothes immediately. When I exercise on weekends, I'll do the same thing as soon as I wake up. Changing into workout clothes feels like such a hassle for some reason, so once that's done working out seems easier.

2) Getting started is the hardest part, so I tell myself I only have to work out for 10 minutes. And then by the 10-minute mark, I'm warmed up and starting to feel more energetic, and I almost always go for longer. My typical workout is 30 to 40 minutes, which is the perfect time frame for me. Anything longer and I wouldn't maintain it long-term. This is why I like high-intensity interval training too - it allows you to work harder for a shorter amount of time.

This works for me because I actually like eating dinner on the later side. You could do these types of workouts before work in the morning too. Personally, I love the idea of this, but in reality the snooze button will always win for me. But mornings might be better for you if you don't want to push your dinnertime any later.
posted by treachery, faith, and the great river at 9:00 AM on October 13, 2014

Workout videos are gonna be better for you than just taking a walk. A walk won't do all that much for you unless you're walking so fast that you're almost running.

BeFit has a YouTube channel that I often turn to. And don't be afraid to do girl-workouts, either. Pink spandex aerobic workouts can be very challenging.

I should add that the greatest time efficiency will be to work out as soon as you get up in the morning, so that you only have to shower ONCE and get dressed ONCE.
posted by tel3path at 9:05 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

My friend took up lunch walking at work, there is a large hill near his work, and he started just walking down and back up to his office. Now he can do this about five times at lunch.
If you have a set lunch of 1 he this could be useful.
posted by chapps at 10:01 AM on October 13, 2014

Lots of good ideas here. Another thing to consider is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). If you don't have a lot of time, make every second count.

Like others who have answered, I prioritize keeping in shape. For me, that means working in exercise most days. On weekends, I'll take 2-4 hours total for a long bike ride, a hike or walk, or occasionally a canoe paddle. On weekdays, I usually have a lot less time. Lately I've been doing a mixture of the following: running for 20-25 minutes (with a warmup and cooldown afterwards), rowing 30-45 minutes on an erg (a lot cheaper than a gym membership), cycling 60-90 minutes, and doing a 20-minute bodyweight workout.

I have the luxury of a flexible or semi-flexible schedule 2-3 days a week, but I prefer to exercise in the evening, after work, unless I'm working from home and just reach a point where I can't concentrate, in which case I'll do a workout to clear my head and then get back to work.

Since I like having dinner with my wife, but often don't have much time to prepare it, I will usually make a couple meals on the weekend and plan leftovers one or two nights during the week. I also freeze soups and stews to be thawed out on those days when I don't have time to cook, and I have several recipes that can be ready to go in under 30 minutes with intermittent attention.

I sweat a lot and it takes me a while to cool down from my aerobic workouts. For that reason, I prefer to work out at home (or, for outdoor activities, to start and end at home). Then I stay in my workout clothes while I get dinner ready, set the table, etc. When I've cooled down, I do a quick rinse under the shower, which just adds a couple of minutes. A morning shower helps me get going, so I don't want to give that up, but I don't see a need for a full scrub and shampoo twice a day.

And finally, though you didn't explicitly ask this: working out by itself won't lead to weight loss. In 2012, I bicycled 2500 miles and gained 10 pounds. In 2013, I bicycled 3500 miles and lost 45 pounds, not because of the extra 1000 miles of cycling but because I was counting calories and running a deficit. You get fit by working out, but you lose weight by taking in less energy than you consume; exercise is only a small part of that equation.
posted by brianogilvie at 11:09 AM on October 13, 2014

The following 3 things finally allowed me to find a workout routine that I could actually stick with after years and years of stopping and starting:

1) I only work out for 25-40 minutes.

2) I compensate for the short workout by planning to work out every. single. day. In reality this is 4-6 times a weeks, but the plan is every. single. day. and I plan my life accordingly. For instance, even though I could make a 6 or 7 dinner reservation, I always plan for 8 instead because I know that will give me enough time to go home, work out for 25 minutes, take a shower and change.

3) I work out at home.

This is the only way that works for me. Going to the gym, even 5 minutes away, adds too much extra time. It also means you will opt for longer, less frequent workouts and then you run into the problem you are currently having.

An hour to an hour and a half long workout just won't fit into most people's schedules.

You've got 4 hours here. 1-1.5, maybe even 2 hours alone is going to be for dinner and cleanup. If you go to the gym, you've pretty much blown your whole night. That might, maybe leave you with half an hour to an hour of downtime a night. And that's if everything goes to plan. If you are like me, that is not enough time to mentally decompress.

So I would ditch the gym membership and start working out for 30 minutes, no more, every night either right when you get home or right after dinner. You have an elliptical, alternate that every other night with weight training, for just 30 minutes. Part of you may be like 30 minutes isn't enough, but it really is, if you actually do it 4-6 times a week and you do an intense workout. I've been doing this religiously for the last 9 minutes (and less religiously for the year before that) and I'm pretty much in the best shape of my life and have finally taken off the 15 lbs that seemed unmovable for years (I also dieted a lot to lose the weight, but I really think exercising has allowed me to maintain it after years of yo-yoing).
posted by whoaali at 11:28 AM on October 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Resolve to become the kind of person who doesn't make excuses and doesn't miss workouts.

I get up at 3:30 a.m. on Tues/Wed/Thurs to lift weights for an hour in my garage; then shower, eat a protein shake, and start my 45-90 minute commute to work. Sat/Sun, I sleep in, then fit in my workout somewhere in the mornings, depending on what else I have planned. If I miss the morning workout, then I work out at night.

You might find more benefit in doing a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout, where you're done after 20 minutes. Look up the tabata protocol (20 seconds effort, 10 seconds rest; repeat 8 times); it can be used with kettle bells, burpees, squats, rowing… anything that involves your entire body. See also: CrossFit.

However, for weight loss, you need to clean up your diet. Nthing the many folks who've pointed this out.

FWIW, I'm a weightlifter (both power and Olympic), and have lost a lot of weight and even more inches in 3.5 years, using the above workout regimen and a pale diet. YMMV.
posted by culfinglin at 11:37 AM on October 13, 2014

And here's the thing: you know when you need to leave for work, you know how much sleep you. need, so it shouldn't be that hard to figure out a timeslot. The problem is how do you make yourself want to do it? how do you accept that you can't go out in the evening during the week and do this the next morning?

Well, it's never going to be fun getting up at 6 and doing a bunch of physical jerks. there are enjoyable and less enjoyable forms of exercise and I include as much of the fun stuff as I can, but, I invariably have to include some non-fun stuff to be really effective. AND I still have to get out of bed even for the fun stuff. How much will power do you think I have when i'm half asleep? that's where habit trumps will power.

Thing is, the amount of hours in a day haven't changed. Even if you weren't getting up early you still won't have much of a night out on a weeknight if you have to be asleep by 11. even less so if you exercise at night or go to the gym.

Just get up and get it over with. At least you'll have it out of the way if you do it first thing.
posted by tel3path at 1:41 PM on October 13, 2014

Best answer: I have all of the same constraints as you. I leave my house at 8, leave work around 5, with a 35 minute commute. I also don't like having a late dinner and I need to be in bed by 10ish.

But I need to hear specific advice/experiences from people who successfully make a habit of working out, to get me over the hump of "how do I have time???"

If I get home at 6 and go to bed at 10, I have 4 hours to work out and do whatever else needs to be done (I hate working out in the morning, so that's not an option for me). I tend to rotate between a few different activities, and each requires it's own set up.

1) I get home at 6 and eat dinner right away. We cook on weekends, so usually food is on the table at 6:15. I digest for an hour and then do a 30 minute work out. And this is total time- no gym involved. Usually for me, this is a run. I walk out the door, run for 30 minutes and end at home. Or I do a yoga video from Do Yoga with Me. Or I do the NY Times 7 minute workout twice. Or another workout video. Doesn't matter what I do, just that I do something. Usually, I'm done by 8.

2) I go straight to the workout after work and that is my evening activity that I do with my husband and/or friends. For me, this is frisbee or climbing. If I'm going to do that, I have to eat a very late lunch or bring a substantial snack to eat at work. If I'm hungry, nothing works. I totally understand that you don't want to get home late. This only works for me because a) I've already eaten and b) the main reason I want to get home is to see my husband and oh, look, he's at the gym! Usually we'll get home by 8:30 at the very latest which gives me an hour and a half for everything else.

3) I bike to work. It's only about 5 minutes longer for me to bike than to take public transportation, so it doesn't add much to my day. I leave at 7:45 and get home around 6, and I've had more than an hour of biking.

When I feel like my week is going to be busy, I usually set a goal in advance of the number of workouts that I think I can do, what they're going to be, and what day approximately I'm going to do them. I can change it later, but at least there's a plan.
posted by oryelle at 1:48 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I find classes keep me on track for home workouts the rest of my week. I have mine scheduled one weekday at 6 pm and one weekend morning 11 am. You can miss one dinner a week with your wife for fitness. I typically do the home workouts (when I'm not cycle commuting) late evening or weekend mornings. It is doable.

A trainer instead of exercise class to start might be good because you will see progress at 2x week in 4 weeks easily. He or she can write a home workout program.

I have not lost weight on this workout program but my pants fit better. I have traded in some body fat for muscle.
posted by crazycanuck at 2:30 PM on October 13, 2014

I had to get down to just strength training and bought a good Olympic weight set used off of craigslist to keep in the basement.

I started off with Starting Strength but just 3 sets of 5 reps twice a week (bench press and squats on Monday, overhead press and dead lifts on Thursdays). I'm trying to work in some stretching and agility work on the off days (I've been doing De Franco's Agile 8 but I might see if I can find a stretching or yoga routine. Even with a solid warm-up it doesn't take a ton of time and it's made a big difference in both my strength endurance, and the shape of my body.

It helps A TON that I work from home but I'm sure I could make it work before or after work if I had too.

It's been a matter of forming the habit (starting lighter than I could have helped) and then not skipping it EVER, I occasionally have to move my workout day but I do all four lifts every week.

The strength training has done WONDERS for me physically. I'm trying to lose weight as a minor side goal (since it's mostly diet) so strength gains are a little intermittent but I don't pay too much attention to the scale. I have been keeping track of a few of my measurements and I've lost nearly two inches off of my waist and only about 10 Lbs of body weight.
posted by VTX at 6:38 PM on October 13, 2014

The whole time your wife is on the elliptical, you jump rope.
Before you take a shower, you do 60 squats and 3 sets of calf raises.
When you roll out of bed, roll straight onto the floor and do 50 push ups and 50 crunches.

Basically, find ways to fit a few minutes of high intensity work into every part of your day, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. Make it incidental, so it doesn't feel like a huge chunk of time.
posted by shazzam! at 9:58 PM on October 13, 2014

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