Balancing Act: Finding Time to Exercise in College


The start of a semester brings new goals for college students. Whether they’re on a school team, training for a new race or simply trying to stay in shape, it can be difficult for students to balance workouts with school, social life and work. But a little time management, social support and flexibility can go a long way toward slaying both athletic and academic goals.

Seek Community

Even if you’re not going out every night, college life isn’t conducive to early workouts and healthy eating. Finding some social support is important not only to stay motivated, but to have fun and share your passion with likeminded friends.

If you’re on a school sports team, great! If not, try to recruit a gym or running partner.

You can also consider local tri and running clubs. Even if most of the members are older, they’re good for some useful training tips and mid-workout conversation.

Consciously Manage Time

If working out is 90 percent mental, working out in college is 90 percent time management.

At the beginning of every quarter, look at your schedule and create a routine fitting your preferences and energy levels. If you’re a morning person, consider early workouts and classes, with free time at night when you’re naturally winding down. Night owl? Try for afternoon classes and workouts.

But regardless of the specifics, North Central College triathlon coach Jennifer Garrison stresses academics above all else.

“I would say that balancing school work, training and social life goes in just that order.  School is should be your number one priority always.  Then training.  Once you are getting enough sleep and balancing those first two things great that is when social life gets put in,” Jennifer Garrison, coach of North Central College’s triathlon team.

Garrison also encourages her athletes to maximize any breaks in their schedules. “Be smart with your time.  If you have a gap in your day make sure it is filled with either studying or sleeping.  Hard work pays off in spades.  If they put the work in not only in school but in training during the season it will pay off.  Plus, the skills they are learning to do this will only help them balance life post college.”

Prioritize Sleep

“Sleep. Social life. School. Pick two.” It’s a common phrase among college students and oftentimes, sleep gets the shaft.

However, if you’re physically active, sleep needs to be a priority. Catching a few Z’s between classes can work sometimes, but it doesn’t substitute for a full night’s sleep.

“Sleep well every night, and don’t nap. Whenever I napped after practice or class, I would always wake up feeling more tired than before. Sleeping eight hours is extremely important, especially if your sport has morning practices,” says Elizabeth Alvarado, a triathlete at North Central College.

Easier said than done, though, especially with a high workload. If you struggle to get eight hours of sleep, at least slot in eight hours of sleep and quiet downtime.

Look for Student Discounts

From race fees to expensive gear, it’s hard to finance endurance sports on a student budget. With a little help from Google and social media, though, you can find free yoga classes, gym trials and Groupon deals for fitness studios

Also, many gear manufacturers and races offer ambassador programs, offering free entry or products in exchange for online promotion.

Work Out During Finals

Workouts are the first to go during finals week, but even a 20-minute run can boost your brainpower. Exercise has been linked with growth in the prefrontal and medial temporal cortex, which control thinking and memory

Besides improving recall, working out also enhances creativity. In one study, participants in one study performed significantly better on a creative task when tested two hours later.

Being outside and releasing endorphins also lowers stress, which further enhances your academic performance.

If you’re excessively stressed, ease off of your performance goals if you need to.

Sometimes, fitness can become just another source of anxiety.

In manageable doses, anxiety energizes us and enhances athletic performance. But with emotional stress comes physical consequences- muscle tension, dizziness, inflammation and more. Chasing a PR or tackling a new distance, while exhilarating, can add to the burden. Left unchecked, it can lead to physical injury and mental burnout.

Every person’s stress tolerance is different, and only you can determine what is too much. But if you’re straddling that line, temporarily backing off of your athletic goals can relieve unneeded pressure. Instead of worrying about times or distance, try to enjoy the stress-reducing benefits of working out. Your goals will be waiting for you when you’re ready to try again.


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