The Best Laid Plans… have flexibility

The simple key to success is hard work and consistency, and of these, I would (and frequently do) say consistency is king. Whether your goal is weight loss or running 5k or a marathon, building muscle or building an Instagram following, if you have a plan and stick to it relentlessly you will achieve your goal. If you only put in the work sporadically, then no matter how much effort you put in, your chances of success are greatly diminished. Keeping on chipping away, day in, dayout will get results.
That said, in the real world it is not always so easy to stick to a rigid plan all the time. Life has a habit of getting in the way, and the more commitments you have, the more likely that is to happen. If you are a professional athlete and your entire job is training, then that is all your day revolves around. If you are a normal person with family, job etc then it becomes more difficult. Kids, particularly, not only require a great deal of your time but also cause random unexpected crises that require you to drop everything and go: any parent is familiar with the Bank Holiday spent waiting in A&E and the sudden dash from work to collect a poorly/injured/miscreant child from school. If you are a single parent then this applies more than doubly so.
Obviously in the greater scheme of things, family always comes first and in terms of priorities, however committed you are to your health/fitness/diet regime, it doesn’t even come close in priority terms to your children. If the sorts of issues you have are chronic and ongoing, however, you do need to factor them in, or be aware of them and not let it derail you completely.
I have three children, two of whom have health issues that are ongoing and time-consuming. We had some very difficult times at the end of last year, during which I just stopped working out almost completely because I simply didn’t have the time or the mental focus for it. Sometimes having the gym or the weights bench is a great escape for me and lets me just zone out from the day-to-day problems for an hour – in fact, that is also one of the main reasons I write this blog, because it gives me a chance to just occupy my mind with something different for a little while each day – but other times there just isn’t the time to spare, or my mind is so occupied with things that I cannot switch off from it. There is no value from lying under a bar (I mean as in barbell – tempting as it sometimes may be, it is a long time since I lay under the other kind of bar) with your head full of doctor’s reports and your mind not on what you are doing.
It is easy in those times to let these things derail your progress altogether. If you miss one workout it becomes easy to miss the next. If you eat badly one day, it is easy to eat badly the next. Even if the problem that arose that kept you from your regime is no longer there, just this minor disruption to your habit can be enough to throw you off completely. We have all had that feeling of ‘damn it I just ate a doughnut. My calories for the day are screwed… I may as well go ahead and have pizza’.
I think there is also a guilt conflict that happens. If you skip leg day or fall off the wagon and eat a box of Krispy Kreme one day, there is a degree of guilt about doing so. You feel slightly ashamed of yourself for having been so weak-willed. You also have a bit of sorry:not sorry because By the Gods those Krispy Kremes tasted GOOD and you so hate leg day. It is easy to stay wallowing in that loop for a while until you finally get your ass back into gear and get back in the gym and eat sensibly again for a day and normal service is resumed and you put that blip behind you.
When you have come off the wagon for ‘valid reasons’ however, that guilt thing is more complicated. Of course you put your children’s welfare first, and you don’t bat an eyelid that you missed leg day, and if you ended up having to eat take away because there was no time to cook dinner when you got back from the hospital then that’s just the way it went today, and everyone like a McDonalds every now and then – if it’s a guilt-free fully justified McDonalds, so much the better.
… except… that niggling guilt is still there at the back of your mind. When you are chucking those McShake cups in the bin. When you see the blank day on your training log. And then you feel guilty about feeling guilty. You were taking your child to the hospital FFS! What kind of monster are you that you even think about the gainz you are losing, the fat you are not shedding? This kind of shit is patently absurd but when you are feeling depleted and life has you on the ropes, these are the kind of brickbats you start hurling at yourself just to feel worse.
Okay. There are always going to be unexpected emergency situations and you can’t really factor for those in your health plans. However, as I said, if your situation is an ongoing one, if problems frequently arise that can mess with your plan, then you need to be prepared for them. You need a plan that is not so rigid. Flexibility is a mental and practical thing as well as a physical one.
We have had a few unexpectedly tricky days in the past few weeks – you may have noticed the blog daily challenges being late or on one occasion absent. That’s not the biggest of deals but i has slightly irked me to have committed to delivering a daily post and not doing so. It’s going to happen again, for sure, though. So I am working on getting a couple of days ahead with challenge posts and having a few article-type posts in reserve so that if I have no time to blog I still can publish. The blog equivalent of popping a ready meal in the microwave.
Yesterday we had to go to the Hospital for the afternoon. Not an emergency, it was a scheduled meeting with my daughter’s consultant but still the hassle of getting her out of school, getting my younger son out of his school because I wouldn’t be back in time to pick him up so had to take him with us. By the time I had got home at lunchtime and walked the dogs, I had about 45 minutes free to get the programmed shoulder workout in. I should have been able to get it done in that time. But… I just sat there on the bench. I just couldn’t find it in me to pick up those dumbbells. I just wanted to close my eyes. To be fair, I had had a few nights of little sleep, and had a lot of things crowding round in my head.
However, I have been here before, and have learned what to do and what not to do. What I did not do was the workout. What I also did not do was nothing. I popped 70kg on a bar and banged out 10 sets of 10 squats. Took 10 minutes. Then I went and had a shower, had a look over the notes for the meeting we were going to and did a bit of prep for supper so that when we got back it wouldn’t take long to throw a meal together. The exercise was not what my plan called for but it was doing something. It gave me a bit of an energy boost and a psychological pat on the back. As it happened we were home sooner than we expected and I did 5 sets of 20 pushups and 10 pullups while waiting for the water to boil and the spaghetti to cook. I went to bed feeling a lot better for having done something physical at least, and slept a lot better for having done some exertion. I find that, particularly when I am stressed, doing no exercise at all in the day only further disrupts my sleep patterns. The less I sleep the more stressed I become.
I try hard to adhere to my plans whenever possible. I accept that there are going to be times it isn’t, and I do my best to recognise when that might happen and adapt accordingly. I’m not an athlete. I’m not aiming to compete in anything. At the end of the day my exercise and training and healthy regimes are just aimed at being a better me than I was the day before. Sometimes it’s just a matter of not being a worse me than the day before, but when that happens, that’s okay too.
Adapt and survive.


  1. SavageMyrtle

    What a great post. You are so honest and your love for your kids shines through. I won’t pretend to know what you are going through, but much of what you said chimes with me. I stayed up till 5 am this morning finishing a piece of work I should have done last week. Today I’m struggling to keep my eyes open, and I’m hurtling up against a 5 pm deadline, I have 3 kids to drop off / collect at different times at different schools and at different afterschool activities. It’s also recycling day (or should I say, recycling hour, between 6 and 7) and if I miss it I won’t be able to get into my cellar by the end of the week. I planned to cook ratatouille but I’m not sure now if I’ll have long enough between all the trips to start it off, and if I don’t we’ll end up not eating till 9. But after reading your post I realise that, in among all the madness, I will still find time for a few cups of tea, and that kind of makes things ok because I CAN DO SQUATS WHILE I’M WAITING FOR THE KETTLE TO BOIL. That’s got to be one of the best things about being British.

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