Fitness Recommendations for a Busy Work-Life Balance

Stretching Plan

Life tends to compound issues if we allow things to get away from us. During times of higher stress, the best workout may not be the one you usually do, especially if you are an advanced athlete for your age.

Distractions have a way of filling our day. You can get to the point where you feel like you must make an appointment with yourself just clear your head and work stiff joints and tired muscles.

Check out this letter from a reader and see whether this feeling applies to you.

Stew, Life has changed for me, and I need some advice. I'm 45 now, run a family business and help my Dad, who suffered a stroke. I'm still married and have 2 kids. I retired from the military after 22 years with some nagging lower back injuries that have bothered me more as I have aged. To top it off, I have a 3-hour commute each day for work, though some days I can work from my home office. My question is, should I prioritize sleep or training? Here is my schedule: I wake at 4:30 every day, leave the house between 5 and 5:30 to get to the office by 7 a.m. I'm usually home by 6:30-7 pm. Then I'm with the family with typical commitments until bedtime at 10 p.m. Should I get up at 3:30 or 4 to train or focus on sleep? -- Mike

Mike -- thanks for your service. Believe it or not, I am not going to recommend that you work out for 30 to 60 minutes first thing in the morning. I will suggest that you create quick 10-minute sessions spread throughout the day. When you are already burning the candle at both ends, sleep and a moderate level of exercise are going to be more helpful than less sleep and harder workouts.

Here are things to consider, given your age and situation:

Lower Back Commuting Pain and Sitting Pain: Not that I think you are old but, given your current age and lower back pain, you need to focus on basic lower back flexibility and training exercises like the ones I just posted on the Fitness Section last week in "Loosen Up With a 10-Minute Lower Back Stretch Routine."

These stretching positions are just suggestions, since you spend a lot of time sitting during a long commute and a significant number of work hours. Do not worry that you will not look like the model in the infographic, but you should try these positions if you are not in pain. Discomfort from stiff muscles is different than the pain from injured muscles and joints. Consider more mobility day quick sessions where you walk for 5 minutes, followed by stretching for 5 minutes several times a day.

Here are some ideas:

Commute: Somewhere during your commute (both ways), take 10 minutes to get out of the car and walk a parking lot for 5 minutes and stretch for 5 minutes.

During the workday: Drink more water at work so you must get up to use the bathroom more often. That is one way to remember to get up and walk and stretch more than you do now. Try this once or twice in your day or save it until break time or lunch hour. If you can do this during the commute and 1 to 2 times during the workday, you will achieve 30 to 40 minutes of movement that you were not getting before yesterday.

Age and Medical History: You have lower back pain and, at your age, injuries from 20 years ago tend to show up again to remind you that you once played sports and did tough jobs in the military. I would seriously focus on not just core flexibility, but core strengthening. You can do this with a wide variety of movements using weights, suspension training (like TRX) or even just calisthenics. Realize that the core is not just working your abs. Think of the core as a complete system of muscles and joints that stretch from your hips to your shoulders on the front, sides and back of your body. See PT Reset for ideas.

Treat Yourself Like a Beginner: You may not like this, but you need to pull back on the intensity you may be used to and do the basics. Your stress levels from work, travel, father and family can beat you down. Adding challenging physical workouts at this time may be a tipping point that leads to serious burnout. De-stressing is your physical and mental goal right now.

My advice is to sleep when you can. When you feel like getting up 15 to 20 minutes early to do basic calisthenics, weights or cardio and stretching, do it. When you do not, force yourself to get some activity (5 to 10 minutes) during both directions of your commute and 1 to 2 times during your workday.

If you look for it, you can find these 10-minute sessions possible during break periods, when at kids' sporting events and even before bed. Low-intensity cardio and stretching will not interfere with your sleep patterns, but a high-intensity workout can keep you up for hours if it's done too close to your bedtime.

As with anything in your day, put it on the schedule, because if it is not on the schedule, it does not exist. Make it happen.

-- Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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