How I Built A Training Schedule Around A Different Work Schedule

To preface all this, I have a weird work schedule now. Not that the schedule isn’t normal for me personally (I am working it every week, after all!), but it’s not a schedule most people work.

It’s an office job where I work from about 10-11am until about 8-9pm, an early swing or 2nd shift, and I work Thursday through Monday. That itself is no big deal.

What’s weird is that some days are worked in the office, and some days are worked remotely at home. Because most of the office works a traditional Monday through Friday schedule with office closed weekends and some holidays, there’s no practical reason for me to come to the office on weekends and holidays… though the stores I interface with are open weekends and holidays.

So I work remotely at home on Saturdays, Sundays, and business-open holidays, while going to the office (when open) on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. (Of course, with the current Coronavirus risk, this can always change and I could end up working remotely everyday if that situation gets suitably dangerous again.)

Getting back to more relevant material, this adds several wrinkles to training. I’ve mentioned before that my schedule now allows me to train comfortably every morning, without having to wake up early. I can also sleep in as needed, and the reduced sleep deprivation improves my long term recovery.

However, once I get off work around 8-9pm, it’s highly impractical to train at all being so close to bedtime. So on work days I need to train during the morning, unless lunch and work circumstances allow me to sneak out and get a quick workout in during a late afternoon lunch break.

On the flip side, having to work out early in the day means spending my work day sitting, which really helps with recovery. There’s no afternoon commute or stress to complicate recovery… especially if I’m working from home that day: There is no commute!

With all of these opportunities and advantages, I have slowly carved out a template for a weekly all-around training schedule.

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Running: I have found over the years that going on a run seriously taps me out when I commute to the office and work later. It generally hasn’t been a good idea to run on the morning of a work day… unless it’s a super easy short run for recovery purposes, where I feel more energized afterward than worked out.

Given that, there are two back to back blocks of days where runs make sense for me.

  1. Tuesday and Wednesday, obviously my days off. I have all day to do nothing or whatever else I want, so it’s not a big deal to do a full run workout on these days.
  2. Saturday and Sunday. Even though I need to work those days, I’m working from home. So there’s no commute, and I don’t have to do much to get online and work. I wouldn’t do a hard or long workout on these days, but being worn out from a regular run isn’t such a big deal, since once it’s time to go work I just open a laptop, hit a few buttons and I’m on.

Remember I mentioned holidays, where the office may be closed but I’m still working? I can also run on these mornings, since the office is closed and I’ll be working remotely.

Obviously, since my weekend is not most people’s weekend, I’ll do my longest runs on Tuesday or Wednesday, when I don’t need to work and can take an afternoon nap if needed. Doing a long run Saturday or Sunday not only could unduly wear me out for remote work, but if suitably long I could risk being late for work! Better to run long on a day where that’s not a concern.

This is also ideal because more runners crowd streets and trails on the weekends for their long runs. Midweek long runs will be less crowded.

Strength Training: I want to seriously strength train several times a week at the gym while I can. Never mind whether or not Coronavirus shuts down gyms again (which it might, especially this fall or winter): Once I ramp into training for Vancouver 2021 at the end of this year, weight training will need to take a back seat and I will need to scale back strength training in general to make sure I have the needed energy for longer/tougher run workouts.

The best days to weight train, conversely to the running, are days I have to go work at the office. With a later start, I can leave for work early and stop at the gym for some swolework on the way there, as the gyms I go to are conveniently located along the way. A good half an hour on focused strength training is more than enough time. From there I can head into work, where I will have plenty of time to sit and recover.

Obviously the weight workouts will be staggered, with different muscles and exercises practiced each day, to allow a rotational recovery between workouts. I can get into the exercises I do, when I do them and why… some time later, in a separate piece. The focus now is just on my general schedule.

As always, I also have the everyday option to do bodyweight workouts at home. However, I find focusing on a full workout at home is somewhat more tedious than doing it in the more focused gym environment.

Part of that admittedly is the more open ended choices you have for bodyweight home exercises, and I’m still distilling which exercises work best for me and when there… whereas I have that mostly figured out with weights and machines at the gym right now. So since my fitness goals aren’t just about swolework, I want to maximize my time spent on doing it with focus, rather than spending every day experimenting heavily with random swolework and wearing myself out.

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Supplemental Gym Cross Training: Since I have access to cardio machines at the gym, I also want to utilize that in brief, separate cardio workouts… so that the days not running aren’t just full aerobic rest days.

Not only do I not find circuit training (strength training fast and without breaks, so that it’s somewhat aerobic) not practical in the gym for a lot of reasons, it’s also not great for your hormones or development in either your aerobic or strength fitness. In most cases it causes excessive hormonal and oxidative stress to “blend” anaerobic strength and power work with aerobic work. The stress does more damage than good.

Also, you want to put in focused, high quality efforts in your strength workouts, and being aerobically tapped detracts from the quality of those workouts. You are better off keeping your aerobic work and your strength work completely separate.

So then, why do I think it’s at all smart to do aerobic cross training and also strength training in the same gym session? Well, there are three keys:

  1. Do them separately as complete stand-alone exercises. Do your aerobic cross training. Then rest. Then do your strength training.
  2. Make sure the aerobic cross training is very easy, done basically as an extended warmup that never exceeds 20 minutes. Your heart rate shouldn’t get beyond zone-one, warmup intensity. This aerobic session is mostly for recovery purposes: To generate useful blood circulation, and give your aerobically-relevant mitochondria a positive jolt.
  3. Make sure to do the strength training last, not first. The natural anabolic hormones your body releases during strength training and other anaerobic work (like sprints) are best utilized by the body during strength training, while they are tapped and wasted in aerobic exercise (even easy aerobic work). Doing them the other way around just needlessly stresses your body more than it helps generate growth later as you recover.

Honestly, if in doubt, I could just not do the cross training at all and just lift. No problem. But in my experience I find I get better results at the gym when I spend, say, 20 minutes on the rowing machine, and then go lift… than if I just lifted and nothing else.

What about sweat, before I go to work? Well, if I sweat more than a tiny amount, that will quickly evaporate and go away after a short rest… I’m probably training too hard. Again, I want the cardio to be very easy. The goal with this is productive variable movement and a slight aerobic trigger… not to pound away at my VO2Max.

So, on many work mornings, I can stop at the gym, do 20 minutes on the rowing machine as a warmup/recovery session, then after a brief rest hit the weights for 20-30 minutes, all before going to work.

Sometimes, Work Lunch Cardio: My lunch break can be anywhere from 3pm to 6pm, depending on all sorts of circumstances. I find I feel good if I do some exercise during this break, whether or not I eat (sometimes I eat a light lunch at my desk earlier in the day while working through, though I still take my hour lunch break). So this is an easy opportunity to do some extra light beneficial aerobic work.

Sometimes I bring lunch and might eat it at my desk while working, earlier in the day. If I did this, I’d skip out on my lunch break and use the full hour or so for exercise.

Even if I did need to leave and get lunch, I usually don’t take long to eat, and have a lot of that break left over.

Prior to this, I mostly just took walks on those breaks. Yes, it’s Las Vegas and it’s extremely hot outside, but I can handle a 30 minute walk in hot desert heat just fine. I’m not a big time sweat guy, so even if hot I’m not a sweaty mess when I return.

However, now with gyms open, I have the option of sneaking over to one of my gyms. Two happen to be quite close, less than 10 minutes away. I can drive over, and do some easy cardio for about 20-30 minutes, then head back.

Along with being an aerobic and mitochondrial boost as discussed before… this brief easy exercise can help wake up my energy levels from any sort of midday swoon. Some days, if I eat a sufficiently bulky lunch (which happens when I order out for lunch), the digestion and food content can crash my energy levels. Exercise like this helps pick that energy back up.

Also, from a weight management and nutrition standpoint, the energy eaten during lunch will be more effectively utilized if I do some exercise soon after. The exercise kickstarts fat burning, helping minimize the potential fat storage of lunch consumed. Any muscular use will kickstart the use of consumed protein to rebuild those tissues.

I mentioned rowing machines in morning sessions, but my preference for these lunch break sessions is the ARC Trainer. It’s more closely similar to the motion of running without being unduly demanding and interfering with my sweat or energy levels once I get back to work. Also, because I run a lot, the work of those muscles will kickstart the use of protein in rebuilding those tissues while I’m sitting and working later.

Now, I may not do this every office-day lunch break. I could just go on another long hot walk like before. Some days, especially if I had a morning workout and feel like I need to rest or conserve energy, I won’t leave the office at all. And, of course, while it’s rare… sometimes it does rain in Las Vegas. If it were raining outside, I’d just stay in.

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Rest Days: Now, all of that aside, there will be days when I should just not train at all and rest. These days are somewhat random. Obviously, if I’m feeling beat up or worn out, I will want to rest. But I also make sure to do one if I haven’t taken one in 1-2 weeks.

However, these have to be “active rest” days. I find that if I take a full rest day and do absolutely nothing for exercise, I end up with too much unreconciled energy and struggle to sleep. This can even happen if I took a walk during the day (but nothing else). I need to do something physically demanding each day to make sure when it’s time to sleep my body wants to drift off and I get a good 7-9 hours sleep.

On office days, I want to get to the gym at least once and do some cross training. The 30 cross training minutes during lunch or the quick 20 minutes before work usually is enough work above baseline to satisfy the body’s need for activity. I usually will not strength train on these “active rest” days.

On remote or off days from work, I will go for a brief easy jog in the morning, and that’s enough. Again, I find this tires me if I have to go into the office, so I only run as an “active rest” day on days off or on remote days.

If there’s time for a work break walk, I may take one. But this is 50/50. That also depends on a variety of circumstances. The more exercise I’ve done recently, not to mention that morning, the less likely I’ll take it.

Putting It All Together:

So, knowing that “active rest” days can be cycled in as needed, here is the basic template I have settled into:

Monday: AM rowing machine and strength training. Work at office. Optional lunch break ARC Trainer or walk.

Tuesday: AM run, of any length or intensity. No work today.

Wednesday: AM run, preferably the week’s longest run. No work today.

Thursday: AM rowing machine and strength training. Work at office. Optional lunch break ARC Trainer or walk.

Friday: AM rowing machine and strength training. Work at office. Optional lunch break ARC Trainer or walk.

Saturday: AM run, 90 minutes max. Work at home today.

Sunday: AM run, 90 minutes max. Work at home today.

From here, I can build upon these workouts however I wish. The runs can be lengthened for marathon training, add speedwork to train for shorter races, build in anabolic-running principles to work on strength development, etc. The strength training can follow a structured program, or be scaled back to a maintenance level for marathon training, be adapted to help build running strength and speed, etc. I can even not train and just use the time to experiment with concepts related to running or strength training, while doing these planned workouts.

Now, what if the gyms get closed down, and the office goes full-remote again? Not a problem. If anything, I can now run 7 days a week if I want, since I’ll be remote every day and those days are good for shorter runs. Strength training can switch over to bodyweight and other functional strength work, and I can do that at home in the mornings (though I’d probably not run those days, and maybe just take a neighborhood walk instead). If everything is closed, there’s probably no running races anytime soon, and so it would make the most sense to de-emphasize running and not do super long or tough workouts, so I could focus on making choices with bodyweight training and commit to a training plan there.

The key here was to use my available time to the fullest, to maximize the opportunities present. This schedule allows me to do that.

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3 thoughts on “How I Built A Training Schedule Around A Different Work Schedule

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