Let’s set the scene: You wake up to a 6:00AM alarm, which is painful to acknowledge. You’ve been up multiple times that night because one of your children needed a drink of water, had to use the bathroom, or just needed her dream monsters eradicated. As you frantically try to get yourself dressed and looking presentable, you try to get a healthy breakfast organized for the kids, somehow make the beds, and get everyone out the door on time. Once you clamber into work, you are suddenly aware that you never grabbed that coveted cup of coffee, so you settle for the stale stuff on the burner in the break room. The only thing keeping you motivated this morning is knowing that you’ll break away for a lunch-time workout as you thoughtfully put your gym bag in your car in advance. Suddenly, you get an urgent email scheduling you for a meeting right at noon- just the time you were headed off to the gym. Darn. There’s always tomorrow. After multiple meetings that seem completely worthless, and a stack of deliverables that never seems to decrease, you decide to call it quits. Hmm, what kind of dinner can you get on the table for the kids? Oh, wait, there’s basketball practice for the one, and choir for the other. There goes that. Time for a drive-thru. Next thing you know, it’s 10:30PM, your kids are still trying to finish homework, and your brain is fried. Your body has not moved at all except for in and out of desk chairs and car seats, you’ve had too many glasses of wine to make yourself forget how frustrated you are, and your only meal all day came wrapped in a paper bag. Sigh.
While I hope this doesn’t sound familiar, it likely does. As busy women, we often find ourselves at the mercy of all those dependent on us: children, colleagues/bosses, clients/customers, parents, significant others, pets even! Finding time to take care of ourselves just gets too hard. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. You have to MAKE time for yourself. You have to prioritize YOUR health so that you can more effectively take care of others. But how?
Women, in my experience, are darn good at efficiency when we want to be. We can multitask like nobody’s business (even though “they” say we can’t). We never do a load of laundry that isn’t full, we know exactly how to load the dishes so that we max it out and they still get clean, we know the least circuitous route to get the kids to their sports/activities, and get the errands done. We automate bill pay, have a system for making beds and folding towels, WE GET IT DONE!!
So why is it that when it comes to health, we somehow lose all that efficiency? Why, or why would you log countless hours on the treadmill or bicycle when it’s never helped you lose even an ounce? Why, why, why would you lift tiny little weights 800 times to “feel the burn” if that burn never helped get rid of those bat wings? And lastly, why bother eating bland “low-fat” food if you’ve only been putting on even more pounds? It doesn’t make any sense!!!
I’m here to give you the very simple key to fitness efficiency: LESS IS MORE!
Today I'm going to tackle the exercise piece of this. In my 20’s, I logged countless hours on the treadmill, stepmill, elliptical, you name it. I had time, and felt that they only way to keep myself lean was to feel like a rat on a wheel. Once I had my daughter, there was no time for that. Where I once got at least 6 hours per week of cardio, I now only get about 1.5-2 hours, MAX. The key was dialing it in, and making it way more intense. I discovered HIIT!
HIIT, or High-Intensity Interval Training is very simple: you do one form of exercise as fast/hard as possible for a very short amount of time (20-60sec), then have a short recovery period (of equal or less time), then repeat. Within minutes, you have exhausted yourself! The main benefit of doing HIIT in lieu of longer cardio bouts is that you rev up your metabolism well beyond what you could do on an hour-long elliptical session at moderate pace. You increase your burn after the workout for several hours (have you heard of EPOC- excess post-exercise oxygen consumption?). This means that your metabolism is naturally increased, and your ability to burn fat goes way up!!
Tabata is my favorite format to use for getting HIIT’s in two to three times per week. You don’t even need any equipment, as bodyweight exercises are great for this. The important thing is that you work as hard as you can for 20 seconds, take a 10 second break, and repeat 8x. In just 4 minutes, you have really pushed yourself!! You can combine multiple exercises to do, or stick to just one. If you do additional sets, make sure to rest at least one minute before starting another round.
Another great thing about HIIT is that you really don’t want to do too much of it. By letting your body recover, and rest, you take advantage of the post-workout burn without over-stressing your body. Chronic cardio (the kind done for hours on end, most days of the week) has actually been shown to be a stress on the body. This chronic stress/cardio can actually prevent you from losing weight. With HIIT, you get to save time, lose fat, and have more energy- win, win, win!!
So, when it looks like your day is getting away from you, and there’s no way you’re going to make it to spin class or bootcamp, don’t just blow it off. Find 5 minutes in your day- even in the morning in your PJ’s and get your HIIT on! Below are a few of my favorite exercises to do à la Tabata:
- Jump squats/air squats
- Mountain climbers
- Running in place
- Jumping jacks
I could go on and on. Just make sure that you warm up your joints and muscles a little first, have a good amount of space to move in, and maybe put some good high-tempo music on to get you going. Bodyweight HIIT is also a fantastic go-to when traveling as it never takes time away from your trip and requires no equipment! I even get my little one in on the action sometimes, and her enthusiasm is really fantastic. It’s amazing to exercise with your kids. Her giggles and goofiness make the workout so much more fun, too!!
If you are struggling to be the Wonder Woman everyone thinks you should be, you don’t have to. Keep yourself a top priority and your ability to handle everyone and everything will fall into place. If you need help along your wellness journey, feel free to reach out!
References & Further Reading
1. Cassidy S, Thoma C, Houghton D, et al. High-intensity interval training: a review of its impact on glucose control and cardiometabolic health. Diabetologia 2017;60(1):7-23.
2. Schlinger, Amy. HIIT Workout: What It Is and Why it Works. Huffingtonpost.com. 14 Dec 2013.
3. Domonell, Kristen. EPOC: The Secret to Faster Fat Loss. Dailyburn.com. 4 Nov 2013.
4. Rosenzweig, Fara. What is Tabata Training? Active.com.
5. Sisson, Mark. The Evidence Continues to Mount Against Chronic Cardio. Marksdailyapple.com. 9 July 2013.
6. Gottfried, Sara. Dr. Sara's Exercise Report Card: Chronic Cardio Gets a C. Saragottfriedmd.com.
Daniella Dayoub is a personal trainer and holistic nutrition counselor in the Bay Area. After many years in retail management, she abruptly switched careers to help others. She now co-owns Bay Area Fitness and Nutrition in Mountain View with her partner Al Painter. Daniella is going back to school to become a functional diagnostic nutritionist, which will allow her to get more clinical with her patients. In her non-spare time, she spends as much quality time as she can with her 6 year old daughter and cocker spaniel.