Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Grad School and Fitness - Finding the Time to Stay Healthy

Ah grad school. A time for us to transform from immature undergrads to knowledgeable adults. Unfortunately many of us are undergoing another transformation as well. Yes, I'm talking about our bodies. The hours, days, weeks, and years of sitting in chairs and staring at screens, papers, dials and knobs can take a toll when not combined with a proactive plan to keep your body healthy, and should the mood strike you perhaps even transform its shape back or maybe for the first time forward to that which you've always desired. It is possible and it does not require immense amounts of time. Grad school and fitness are compatible.

My first year of grad school was my fitness hayday. That's the year that all I read and learned was finally put up to disciplined practice. I am a skinny boy, so my fitness goals were to gain weight (of course in the form of lean muscle) and I managed to gain over 20 pounds in that first year and consider it a huge success.

Then came my second year, which is where I am now. I got a new adviser (newbie) which came with a massive swing in workload, I studied for and took a preliminary examination, and I was also just plain overconfident as a result of my first year of success, and this has made this year, so far, a fitness failure. My appetite continued from the first year of massive eating and exercise, but the exercise part did not, and so in addition to the wonderful muscle mass I gained came a nice layer of bodyfat. Undesirable.

And so I begin my second phase of grad school fitness success keeping the following principles in mind:

  • I am bold about my goals and am not merely looking to "maintain" anything, but rather to build and shape my body to a condition that I desire. If I miss those stars, I'll at least end up at the top of the mountain.
  • I insist on staying absolutely optimistic in regards to my fitness goals (hence the reference to "grad school fitness success" above). I don't have the time and energy for self-deprecation and negativity.
  • I insist on ensuring that this is a priority and not wasting my time by working out and eating inconsistently. In my experience and the experience of every other single person I've heard from or read about that has achieved their fitness goals, consistency is the single deciding factor between success and failure.
  • I insist on staying educated about health and fitness. I have learned that more than 50% of the game is nutrition and continue to read about nutrition and healthy eating habits.
I'm more than aware that the radical "swing" in workload from my first year requires an appropriate response from my end in order to ensure that I abide by point 3 above. I'm also aware that point 3 is easily the single biggest excuse for the average person who would like to workout more and would like to be healthier but who is not doing either. The worst psychological thing you can do to yourself in regards to fitness is have the mental weight of "being on a fitness plan" but "not finding the time" to do it and breaking consistency and realizing after months or even years that you've spent countless hours in the gym or elsewhere and have little to show for it. You have to be consistent. There's no other choice. I love the analogy of working out to riding a bike uphill. If you keep pedaling, although at times it can be tiring and take a while, you will reach your goal. But if you stop pedaling you don't just stay where you are, you start rolling back down, undoing your earlier effort. Talk about a time-waster!

My Workout Schedule

So, I have the following workout schedule for this semester. I split my workouts into 4 regions: legs, chest, back, arms. Had I been trying to lose weight, my workout would be different, specifically, cardio would be added either as extra days or added on to certain other days. Try the Forums for more discussion. My schedule is: Sunday (1 hour): Legs, Wednesday 6:30-7:30am: Chest, Friday 6:30-7:30am: Back, Saturday (1 hour): Arms. I have never tried the early morning workout schedule in fear that I would never go , but I simply think I have no other choice right now. The weeks simply get too busy. There are too many fires to put out and too many "things that come up." Quite frankly it's disgusting that I can't find the time in the afternoons or evenings to go to the gym, but that is how it has been. Instead of trying to fight with the work monster, I'm going to go behind its back and get my workout in before it rears its ugly head on Wednesdays and Fridays. Also, this has the added benefit of going when the gym is less crowded which means it's more efficient! You'll notice above that this totals only 4 hours of gym time a week. Combined with "gym prep" (i.e. showering, changing, getting there, etc.) it totals somewhere between 6 to 8 hours (working out in the morning helps with this as well since I'm not taking an extra shower or doing too much extra changing/prep as I would be with afternoon or evening workouts). I simply will not stand for not having the time in my week to workout. Even Niel Fiore mentioned that the producing grad students in the study he conducted at UC Berkeley were ones that consistently exercised. I am confident my new schedule will work and will post periodically on how it is going.

Also, soon, I will post on the nutrition aspect of fitness (the most important!). Certainly the workout time is wasted if you eat sporadically or especially do the classic grad student bit of buying 2 to 3 meals a day outside, or worse yet, eating only 2 to 3 meals a day, or even less! Preparing your own meals is essential and feeding your body more than 3 times a day is also essential (regardless of if you want to gain or lose weight). We will discuss how you can fit that in to your busy schedule as well.


M Bhinder said...

So did that schedule work out for you? Did your grades suffer?

Bdizzy said...

It did for quite a while actually, until I started missing workouts due to getting to bed late and convincing myself a morning workout was not in my best interest. Now in the summer, with no undergrads around, I workout in the evening because the gym isn't that crowded. But in the school year (end of spring semester) I had been working out in the middle of the afternoon (3, 4 ish) when the evening crowd hadn't quite started.

Overall, working out this spring semester was quite successful, I'm a skinny dude that was looking to put on weight and I was able to gain about 10 lbs over the course of the semester.