Most women who lead a North American lifestyle either exercise regularly or wish they did. At the same time, you're probably a full-time student or employee, a mother, a partner or spouse, or play some combination of these roles. The upshot is that there's an odds-on chance that real life regularly plays havoc with your workout goals, often leaving you worn down at the only times you have available for cardio sessions.
Working Out While Tired
Determining whether to exercise when you're beat from your job can be tricky. If you're tired to the point of undeniable exhaustion and it's work just to keep your eyelids from slamming shut, skip the workout and hit the hay. But sometimes, as "Women's Running" writer Kara Deschenes points out, a workout can be just the thing to shake off the doldrums. Deschenes says that 20 or 30 minutes of exercise can promote higher energy levels through the release of certain brain chemicals, and suggests eating a light snack a half-hour before the workout as well.
The Progression Treadmill Session
When you're tired even before you get going, it only makes sense to introduce workout stress in a stepwise fashion so that you can find your limit for the day before you exceed it and crash. A treadmill is a great resource in this setting, because you can set the speed and intensity of the belt with utmost precision. If you ordinarily walk at 4 mph for five minutes and then crank it up to 6 or 7 mph for a 20-minute run, on butt-dragging days, try 10 minutes at 4 mph, 10 at 5 mph and 10 at 6 mph. If you hit your ceiling for a given day at a lower threshold than usual, just stay there and finish out the workout in relative comfort.
The Ladder Interval Workout
You may be familiar with the concept of interval training, often called "high-intensity interval training" or HIIT. These workouts involve alternating one- to five-minute bouts of hard running, cycling or whatever it is you do to work your cardio mojo with slightly shorter intervals of active or complete rest. Normally, the reps -- done at about 85 percent of your maximum heart rate -- are the same length throughout the workout, for ease of keeping track more than anything else. But when you're tired and have a HIIT session on your schedule, opt for a step-down ladder instead, e.g., 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 minutes hard with one-minute rests in between. Physically you still get the work in, but mentally it's easier because every rep is shorter than the previous one.
Low Resistance, High Revs
It's possible to get the sensation of a vigorous workout without actually putting your body through the wringer. Ways to do this include fast spinning on a bike, dancing -- either informally, even in front of the mirror or around the living room, or in a class -- submaximal wind sprints, a game of tennis or racquetball with a friend you haven't seen in a while. You don't have to work out in the classic sense of running or cycling a set distance or keeping your heart in a well-tended zone in order to reap the rewards or physically moving around.
L.T. Davidson has been a professional writer and editor since 1994. He has been published in "Triathlete," "Men's Fitness" and "Competitor." A former elite cyclist with a Master of Science in exercise physiology from the University of Miami, Davidson is now in the broadcast news business.