Balancing your training, academics, family life, and social life can seem a pretty daunting task when you look at everything you are trying to achieve, but it all comes down to priorities. With some organisation and sacrifice, you can successfully maintain a solid training programme, whilst still being able to eat well and achieve well academically. This might mean skipping ‘Hey Ewe’ on Wednesdays whilst your friends get wasted, and having to make that early morning trip to the supermarket on a Saturday whilst your friends lay in with a hungover… but how much you want to achieve success in your sport depends on what you prioritise as most important to you at the time and what you are willing to ‘miss out’ on.
It’s all about priorities...
“I’m too busy to go to the gym” = Training is not a priority for me.
“I’m too tired from working/studying all day” = Training is not a priority for me.
“I’m not improving because…” = Training is not a priority for me.
The following are my tips for sticking to your training programme whilst a student-athlete:
Train with others — If your school or university has an athletics or lifting club, join it! Sticking to your training programme can become difficult if you always train on your own, especially on those days where your motivation is low. Find some like-minded people to train with who can help motivate you during those tough sessions. If there isn’t a club at your school/university, start one!
Plan when to train — Look at your academic timetable and plan when, where, and how long for you will train for. Do not plan to go to the gym in your lunch break if you know you only have 30 minutes to do a session that takes longer. Try to train at regular times so that it becomes routine to go to the gym or track.
Compete — Knowing you have to compete should be enough to fuel your desire to train. If you don’t plan on competing, set yourself some targets you’d like to achieve by a certain time so you have something to work towards by a set deadline.
Sleep — Easier said than done. As a student, it can be difficult to get enough good-quality sleep, especially if you are living in halls with the occasional 3am fire drill. Buy ear plugs to block out any unwanted noise. If you have the choice of halls before moving on to campus, opt for the ones that house student-athletes – that way you will be living with like-minded people and will have similar routines (except if they’re swimmers!)
Check your mattress — I am serious! The little things can make a huge difference in both your overall academic/sporting performance and well-being. If your mattress is too hard or soft, your university should be able to replace it for you. Check with your hall warden (that is part of their job), rather than continuing to suffer sleepless nights and bad backs.
Meal preparation — Prepare your meals and snacks in advance so that you don’t end up buying junk food on campus and won’t go hungry between workouts. Cook enough for a few days worth of food, portion out into small containers, and either refrigerate or freeze. This will help you save money too.
Record keeping — Treat your training diary like a piece of coursework. Include as much detail as you can, such as mood, weather conditions (if training outside), energy level, and so on so that when you look back to reflect upon your training cycle or season, you have lots of information to work with that provides context.
Learn to be kind to yourself — When you’re having a really crap session, the last thing you need is mentally beating yourself up over it. This can be a challenge for some, but start small. If you don’t manage to finish everything in your session, think about why this was and write it down in your training diary. Do not try to play catch up during your next session as this comes with risks, both mentally and physically.
Make time to see friends and family — Plan this time in if you have to, but make time to catch up for a meal or coffee, keep in regular contact via phone or Skype, go home at the weekend to see them… Breaking up the time spent training and studying with time to relax will help keep you motivated and will lower your risk of burning out.