Back to School: Fitness

It hit me in the shower the other day – because isn’t that where all our profound musings come about? – that my life’s timeline is no longer marked by semesters and school years.  Gone are the days when August meant back to school shopping, September was about getting into the swing of classes, October brought midterm season, November signified that the end was in sight, and December meant final exams and then a few weeks of blissful freedom.  Now each month is defined by different life stages and events, be it funemployment or a homecoming or something else entirely (like whether Chris Harrison is currently hosting The Bachelor or The Bachelorette).

But in spite of that, something about September will always feel like a season for fresh starts.  I’d say it has something to do with that chill that starts creeping into the morning air, or the delightful crunch of leaves underfoot, but that’s a lie (I live in the middle of California.  We don’t really get visited by autumn until the very end of October, at the earliest.)…in actuality, it’s probably a Pavlovian response to seeing the displays of organic canned pumpkin at Trader Joe’s.  Either way, I like to take autumn as a chance to reevaluate how my life is going; where I want to be when the new year rolls around; whether my habits are productive or wasteful, improving the quality of my life or detracting from it; and how I can improve everything.  The back to school season doesn’t have to be a season of stress and chronic chaos, and it can actually be a great time to implement new habits not just in the classroom, but in life. Whether you’re heading back for another semester of school or just plugging along with work and life and everything else, I’d encourage you to do the same!

For the next couple weeks, I’ll be sharing some ideas for ways to “level up” (borrowing a term from Nerd Fitness) different areas your life as you head back to school/into autumn/through the last two months of summer in California.

Today’s topic is fitness.  I have 4 main suggestions for optimizing your fitness routine during the busyness and stress of back to school season:

  • Use time-saving workouts.
  • Be flexible with your training.
  • Make a special effort to work your posterior chain.
  • Incorporate stress-relieving workouts.

Use time-saving workouts.  Understandably, most people become markedly more busy when school starts back up and the holidays start coming up. That means longer workouts may not be the best choice, and shorter workouts are your best friend. You can certainly trim down training time by changing your current workouts to include supersets, shorter rest periods, and the like, but consider this an opportunity to try new (shorter!) workouts as well!  I have plenty of quick-but-efficient training ideas on my Workouts page, but other great sources to go to for short workouts include Jen Sinkler (especially her LiftWeightsFaster Challenge Workouts), Nerd Fitness (with plenty of no-equipment options like this beginner’s bodyweight circuit), and – of course – Gymnastics WOD (my recent favorite!).

Be flexible with your training.  Your school schedule + season of life + training goals should be able to work together.  If this is going to be the craziest semester of your life (i.e. writing your dissertation for your Ph.D.), it’s likely not a great idea to start training for your first marathon at the same time.  Honor your goals in each respective area of life, and pursue them as they deserve to be pursued. (Translation: Sometimes non-fitness goals come first in life. That’s ok. That’s good. Embrace it.  Everything in its season, you know?)  Scheduling your training around your class schedule is often the best way to make the most of your workouts.  Rushing straight from the gym to those early-morning classes in your sweaty spandex like I did all through college…not exactly the best choice.  If you’ve got a day where your schedule has you in class or at work or plain old fashioned busy for most of your waking hours, it’s probably just not worth it to try to cram a workout in there, too.  Accept rest/recovery days where your schedule dictates them, and get in your training when you can.  (You can try some of the time-efficient workouts linked above!) You’ll do just fine, I promise.  Stuart McRobert’s Beyond Brawn is an invaluable resource for anyone working with an “abbreviated training schedule” (2-4 training days/week).  I highly recommend it!

Make a special effort to work your posterior chain.  Its so easy for those muscles to get weakened when you are sitting in class for much of the day, and this can affect your posture and create muscular imbalances.  Train your posterior chain – traps, lats (pull ups are a great choice!) core, glutes, hips, hamstrings, and calves – regularly, and you’ll keep yourself ahead of the slouchy posture/muscle imbalances trap.  Be sure to stretch your chest and hips, as well, because those areas are particularly susceptible to tightening up when you’re hunched in front of a computer or stuck in a classroom/office all day.

Incorporate stress-relieving workouts.  Anything with an emphasis on flexibility, mobility, and/or mind-body-connection would be a great choice – like yoga – but pick something that floats your boat…the key is to include some gentler workouts in your training that will help your feel more relaxed mentally and be in better shape to tackle any more intense workouts that you put on your training schedule.  These workouts should be enjoyable and should not be overly taxing, and they don’t necessarily have to be structured like a typical workout, either.  For a quick afternoon pick-me-up, I love this little stretch routine from Gina at The Fitnessista.

Most of us find it at least a little overwhelming at times to balance school + work + life + training, and still be performing as well as we’d like in each area and enjoying the process all the while.  As with so many things, it comes down to being a matter of prioritizing…so I hope that these suggestions can help you to do just that!


Does autumn feel like a time for fresh starts to you, too?

How would you like to change up your fitness this season?

Are you going back to school or heading into a busy time at work right now?

Is it starting to actually look like autumn where you live?? (If so, color me jealous!)


2 thoughts on “Back to School: Fitness

  1. Domi,

    I relate 100% to your description of CA’s seasons: scorching hot becomes somewhat warm with pumpkin flavors everywhere (best ever!).

    Also, I have not yet fully heeded your advice about compound movements, but I have stuck to my gym commitment- 3 times a week. WITH PROTIEN!

    So, that’s good. Am I Ryan Gosling yet, no…actually, I have no perceivable difference. But that’s okay, because I’ve stuck to a new “healthy” habit I never fathomed in June, but am going on two months.

    Also, I really enjoy your blog and the growth I have seen in your writing: in voice, confidence, maturation in humor, and I think your expanded scope serves you well.

    Keep at it.

    1. Drew, thank you so much! That encouragement means a lot. And good for you for sticking with your workouts…I’m telling you, if you create the habits, those habits will take care of (most) everything else.

      Thanks for reading, even when I was writing about melodramatic reality TV.

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