If you’re someone who has always worked in an office, going to work five days a week and planning your life around it was a no-brainer before COVID-19 hit—it’s just what you did. But from 2020 until now, you’ve likely become comfortable with a flexible, work-from-home routine, and your workout habits probably changed quite a bit.
For instance, before the pandemic, you had no qualms with fitting rides in around work. But working from home meant adding lunch rides, mid-afternoon yoga breaks, and foam rolling sessions into the mix whenever you had some free time during the day. But if you’re going back into the office soon—or recently started—your days won’t have as much flexibility anymore.
Heading back into the office after about two years is hard enough. But having to readjust to your old training schedule, too? That’s a lot to handle. We talked to Stephen Gonzalez, Ph.D., assistant athletic director for leadership and mental performance at Dartmouth College and executive board member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, and Katie Asmuth, professional ultrarunner for Saucony and a nurse practitioner, about some strategies to ease your transition.
Know that forming new habits takes time
Just like it was probably hard to get used to working from home initially, it’s going to take some time to get used to going back into the office.
“We’re absolutely creatures of habit—the brain likes easiness and consistency,” says Gonzalez. “As soon as a life schedule or pattern gets changed, that completely disrupts that ease of decision making. It’s absolutely a shock to the system.”
A landmark study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that once you start doing something consistently, it eventually becomes a necessary part of your life. However, the study also found that, depending on the person, it takes 18 to 154 days to build a habit. So, it could take you just a few weeks, or it could take you nearly half a year.
If you build habits quickly, you could probably power through rides for a couple weeks to return to your old ways. But if you’re someone that takes a long time to build habits, there’s no simple solution.
Asmuth has a few tips to help you get started creating new habits—or going back to your old ones:
- Plan out your miles per day for the week so you have a daily goal.
- Write down your intention for cycling. Put it somewhere that you will see often.
- If you’re riding or working out before work, do the prep work the night before. Grind your coffee, lay out clothes and shoes, and gather your hydration and nutrition items.
- If you’re riding after work, don’t go home and change: “The risk of comfy clothes, munchies, and the couch deterring you is very high.” Pack a bag and work out before you go home.
However, if you’re stressed maintaining normal training volume while also readjusting to the office, try the next strategy.
Do something rather than nothing
Some days, you may be too tired to get in your entire workout. Or maybe your commute took longer than expected so you must cut your workout short. No training cycle is perfect, especially when outside forces cause hiccups.
Asmuth says that working out a little bit every day is certainly better than only one long workout a week. However, she also says that feeling guilty about missing a key workout or not completing it in full is never productive.
Instead of languishing, Gonzalez says: “Let’s try to be really grateful and appreciative of the benefit we’re going to get from doing something rather than nothing.”
He poses a scenario: You’re in the middle of a workout or race, looking for motivation as it gets difficult. Think back to those days where the conditions weren’t perfect. Remind yourself that instead of throwing in the towel because of a long commute or bad weather, you still got the work in. Sacrifices are just a part of training—if you were able to muster the strength to at least do something on an unideal day, then you’ll find the strength to persevere on race day.
Don’t think in absolutes, and always have a plan B (or C)
‘Doing something rather than nothing’ is easier said than done. Working and commuting might be so exhausting that one day that you’re too tired to get a ride in.
For days like that, Gonzalez says to think in ranges instead of absolutes. “We can give ourselves a little bit of flexibility and self-love, because some things are going to be out of our control.”
For example, if your goal mileage is 100 miles per week, adjust it to 80 to 100 miles per week. You’ll feel good hitting your max amount, but even if you don’t, you still fell into your goal range.
Similarly, make a list of backup plans. “The brain likes to not think too hard,” says Gonzalez. “If it has options A, B, and C and you hit a barrier … you at least know, ‘Here’s my backup plan, and this is how I’m still going to get some training benefit towards my ultimate goals.’”
If you’re not going back to the office full time, here’s how to handle a hybrid work schedule
If you’re only going into the office a few days a week, you have the flexibility to plan your training around remote work. Consider placing easier workouts on office days and harder workouts or longer rides on remote days. That way, you’ll have more time to properly follow the plan and focus on recovery.
However, Gonzalez warns that just because it’s easier to work harder on remote days doesn’t mean you should.
“Just because you do get some space doesn’t mean that you should go extremely hard,” Gonzalez says. “You could injure yourself and have a further setback.”
Unlike work or school, cycling has no deadlines you can cram for. You can’t squeeze all your hard work into a couple days and hope to ride your best. It’s more important to be healthy and stay patient.
The bottom line: If cycling is important to you, you’ll find a way
“Balance to me is about setting priorities and then being present in the moment,” Asmuth says.
Balance isn’t something you find, Asmuth says, but something you create. If you love cycling, you’ll find the time no matter what. Sure, you might miss a couple days as you readjust to your old schedule, but eventually you’ll be back to a comfortable routine.