One of the most often asked questions I get isn’t…
“How do you improve your deadlift?”
“What’s the best exercise for bigger and stronger lats?”
Instead, it’s “How do you balance your career, family, training, eating good and your social life?”
I’ve been training since I was fifteen and competing since I was nineteen. I’ve been in the professional workforce since I was 21. I’ve been married since I was 23 and had my kids at age 26 and 27. I’m now 34. I can’t say that I’m a master of balance, but I seem to make it work pretty well.
Support – More than Just a Jock Strap
Every highly successful athlete (or career person) can trace their success back to their support system. Whether it’s family, coaches, friends, mentors, neighbors or teachers, there is always a close knit support system behind them. That system doesn’t just push them towards their goal. They also pull them back to balance when the time is needed. A good support system knows your goals and your desire to be balanced and helps you achieve that along the way.
The Tips Everyone is Dying to Know
I know that women and moms (and maybe even some men out there) are reading this article to find out how I do it all. How do I lift, compete, eat well, and manage to raise some half decent children? I don’t have any magic strategies. Sometimes it’s just a matter of doing the things we don’t always feel like doing at the moment.
- Training: Lifting has been a part of my life for almost 20 years. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and either Saturday or Sunday has been my training days for last 15 years. That has only changed based on major conflicts, in which case I simply redirect my training session to the day before or after. When you have a goal and you’re set towards it, you make a way to fit it in, even when you might not feel like it.
- Nutrition: This is usually the biggest struggle for most parents. Our busy lives make it very difficult to plan, prep, and stick to what we know we should do. After school sports, community outreach, and simply keeping up the house, all throw wrenches in our seemingly perfect plan. I’ve taken my nutrition seriously the last five years and have made it a habit to do things right – most of the time. I know how to eat to feel good and perform well. But I also know when I can relax a bit and enjoy life. We also made a decision to teach our kids about eating “power” foods too. Remember that whole thing about support systems? How much more difficult would it be if I bought Pop Tarts and Lucky Charms for my kids, rather than eggs or fruit and yogurt? I try to cook a lot of things at once. If I’m in the kitchen making dinner, I might as well cook some extra chicken, boiled some extra sweet potatoes and fry up some ground beef while I’m at it too. Most times I don’t feel like doing those things, but I know I’ll be thankful the next three days when I don’t have to worry about having food ready or not.
- Career: I’ve always been in a career that had some pretty crazy hours. As a collegiate strength coach, I was often in before the sun came up and home after the sun went down. So not having a regular 9-to-5 job always made balancing a little screwy. I couldn’t rely on a set schedule of getting the kids to school, going to work and hitting the gym on the way home. But I also wanted to do well in my career and build a name for myself. I wanted to do well in the strength and conditioning field despite being a female. And remember that thing I said about having a support system? Yep, important here too. If my family didn’t like my early mornings or later evenings, I would probably hate going to work and hate coming home and be stressed about it all. But when my biggest cheerleaders are excited about things that are happening at work and take part in those things, it makes me enjoy my job and push harder to be better.
- Home: I don’t have a nanny or a maid service or even a dishwasher (you’re looking at her). So all the daily chores still fell partially upon me. Should you go grocery shopping after the kids go to bed? Or first thing Saturday morning while everyone is still asleep? Should you vacuum daily? Or is once a week enough? I don’t know and does it really matter? Make it a family affair when you can. Ask for help when you need it (I’m terrible at this). Create a plan if it helps and stick to it. But don’t do things that don’t work for you (e.g., create a chore chart for your kids… we tried that and never used it. E.g., spend two weeks finding coupons only to never use them because you’re too disorganized… that’s also me.)
BIGGEST Most Important Piece of Advice
One thing I’ve learned over the years, because of my internal struggle to multi-task, is to be in the moment. Whatever you are doing at the moment, give that your full attention. When you’re training, train. When you’re working, work hard. When you’re playing with your kids, give them your undivided attention. It makes every minute of every day effective and efficient.
The struggle with balance often lies in parenthood. We feel guilty for going to the gym when our kids get home from school. We feel bad when we’re in the kitchen prepping meals for the next day while hubby is in the living room waiting to watch a movie with you. But here’s the catch – when you do the things you need to do and give it the most attention you can give it at that time, then it makes everything else a little less stressful. And you are you usually more time efficient as well.
Have you ever tried to write an email with your kid pulling at your arm to play Chutes and Ladders? Yeah, me either. Oh wait, it happens quite often. There are times when the email is urgent and I politely tell my kid, “Give me ten minutes to finish this work, then I can give you my full undivided attention for the game.” There are times when I know the email can wait and I say, “Okay, I can play for 15 minutes, then I need to get back to work.”
Answering both ways has shown my kids that there is balance and there are times when some things will take precedence over the other. Am I saying that an email is more important that my kid? Absolutely not. But showing them that mom also works (and trains and cooks and preps meals and does work for charity) is important.
There’s no secret, in my opinion, to work/life/training balance. There are many moms (and dads) out there doing these things every day. It starts with a commitment – to your goals, to finding what works and building a support system around you. Training is not my entire life, but it is a huge part of it. I work hard to reach my goals, but I don’t stress when a hair is out of place. Being okay with that is part of the balance.