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How I Balance Workouts and Studying: A Practical Guide

  • Sean 

Balancing workouts and studying is challenging for university students. This article discusses an optimal routine for students that I’ve been following for a few years.

Research shows that around 40-50% of US college students are physically inactive. However, avoiding this group is quite simple if you adopt the appropriate training style.

I’m of the opinion that you don’t have time to not exercise. I make some things in my schedule inflexible. Among these are health-related things like sleep and exercise. But how do you balance both exercise and studying at University or College?

This is an issue I have spent a lot of time experimenting with, including many different training styles. However, I believe that I have found an amazing (and unique) training philosophy that complements studying very well. That’s what this article is all about.

But first, lets consider the exact benefits that you will actually get from training, to begin with.

Will Working Out Improve Your Studying?

You might be wondering if the juice is worth the squeeze when it comes to working out as a student.

The answer here is a resounding yes. In general, exercise is a pivotal habit that everyone should have. Here is a key list of the benefits that your University or College experience will see from a regular exercise routine. Some of these go beyond simply getting better grades.

  • Cognitive benefits: Research has continually demonstrated that there are significant cognitive benefits to a regular workout routine. Research provides correlational data, showing that students who exercise get better grades.[1] Additionally, there are direct cognitive benefits, such as improvements in executive functioning, that have been observed in studies.[2]
  • Lowered stress and anxiety: There is also a body of research indicating that regular exercise resulted in individuals who were less anxious, depressed and neurotic, and more extroverted.[3]
  • Improved self-confidence: Exercise also leads to increased self-confidence.[4]
  • Sense of worth: Anecdotally, I have seen that it’s common for students to tie their sense of worth and identity to their grades. This is very easy to do if you aren’t careful. I think replacing your sense of identity and self-worth with something like being consistent with exercise (purely the process of doing it, not your results) is a much healthier replacement. Because you have much more direct control over your workout consistency than how your teachers grade you.

Now It’s time to find a way to balance a studying routine with working out. For most people, this is the hard part.

How I Balance Workouts and Studying: A Practical Guide

Man holding two dumbbells.

1. I don’t make excuses like “I don’t have time”

This is one of the most common excuses that students will say. The perfect counter to this is simply Parkinson’s Law. That work expands to fill the time allotted for it. If you slightly reduce the amount of time that you are studying in order to exercise, you will in all likelihood still get the same amount done. The only case where this isn’t true is if you are using the rest of your time with nearly 100% efficiency, which nobody is.

In fact, college students are spending 8-10 hours per day on their phones. That’s more than a full-time job! Check your screen time and look at all the time you are wasting. You have time, so allocate some of that wasted screen time to do something productive.

Workout out for 30 minutes a day would be a 6.25% reduction to an 8 hour daily screen time for the average college student.

If you want some tips on reducing your screen time so you can focus on workouts, check out my article on how to force yourself to study, where I cover how to block your distractions so you don’t have any choice but to focus.

Okay. I think we are on the same page as far as working out goes. Now I’ll show you my specific training style that compliments a studying routine so well.

2. I follow a studying compatible training style

This was really the number one thing for me when it comes to actually getting into shape at university. Here are a few of the things that I look for when it comes to fitting daily workouts into my study schedule. I have found that daily calisthenics in the style of K Boges fits these benefits perfectly. Let me explain why.

  • Highly flexible: The main benefit of calisthenics is that you are not bound by your training happening at a particular location. The amount of equipment you need is often none to very little.
  • Shorter workouts: This is particularly true with daily calisthenics training. You have a lower perceived time investment and this makes your workouts feel more easy and fun. You also can recover from these more easily.
  • Don’t need to time workouts during the day: I never need to wait for machines or try to come into the gym at a not busy time. I can work out basically whenever and wherever I want.
  • No driving: You don’t have to spend time driving to, or even walking to a gym.
  • It’s cheaper: As a student, money is short. I have spent some money on some basic equipment, but this has long paid for itself compared to a gym subscription. This might not apply if your university has a gym included in its tuition.

Some of these benefits can technically be true with a traditional weightlifting style if you live on campus and take advantage of the gym provided by your university or college (I live at home).

To be honest, I think that I would continue to not train in the gym because of the benefits that calisthenics offers. That’s just my preference. There isn’t any single correct answer here.

Let’s get into my routine and what makes it different from other calisthenics routines.

3. Choose a Workout Routine You can Balance

So what makes this calisthenics approach unique? It’s highly minimalistic and only focuses on basic movements. Let me show you what I mean.

This particular training philosophy is originally from a Youtuber called K Boges. In this video, he emphasizes a consistent, recoverable, long-term viable approach to getting in shape.

This video is about programming his style of workouts. These are highly time efficient and enjoyable. Doing a workout like this only takes about 20-30 mins, depending on how much volume you need to do in a given day.

If you want an example of someone who took this type of training and ran with it, here’s another video from the Youtuber Brae. I think the results here speak for themselves.

Here is exactly how I apply this training style

To implement this approach, I came up with a weekly volume that I could sustain and spread it out over the week, for me this is about 14 sets (or 2 sets per exercise per day) but you need to choose the number that’s right for you, don’t just copy my number.

Overall, my approach is very similar to the original K Boges template, but I took a little inspiration from Brae as well.

Here’s exactly how I apply it:

Every day I only do 3-4 exercises for 2-3 sets each. A push, pull, leg, and shoulder movement. I do this 6-7 days per week, depending on how I’m feeling. Typically, I will have about 2-3 variations for each of these types of exercise, so I don’t repeat the same movements every day.

Strong app template

I also have this in a template on the Strong App (this is just a great free way to track workouts).

For the record, you really don’t need to do 6-7 days per week for this philosophy to work. K Boges also has a video on how you can train in an extremely minimal way with this philosophy if you want to do less frequent training.

How to Efficiently Schedule Studying and Workouts

A view of a weekly schedule on a calendar

So, I’ve covered the K Boges-inspired calisthenics training philosophy that I use every day as a student. But how does this training style fit in with a studying schedule exactly?

To schedule studying and workouts effectively, try incorporating a morning workout routine. Evaluate your daily routine to identify consistent gaps for study or exercise, ideally 30-60 minutes after waking up. With careful planning and time management, it’s possible to balance studying and fitness.

This is the general approach I take. I find that the most consistent gap in my schedule will either fall in the morning or the evening. That’s why I work out in the morning about 30 to 1 hour after waking up, usually, this falls at around 7:15 AM. However, If I have work I will usually start earlier, so then I’ll do it in the evening.

The main idea here is that your schedule will change constantly as a student.

The solution to dealing with constant change is to try and find a time that will always be clear no matter what and build your workout habit during that time. Forming a new habit takes approximately 59 to 70 days. So. If you are constantly changing up your training schedule, you could be only just getting into it as the term ends.

This is why I try and do my workouts in the morning or evening. Ideally, this is always in the morning, so I can maintain the habit the best.

Is it Better to Workout Before Studying, or After?

Another small aspect to think about when mixing studying and working out is the order in which you do these in. Should you work out and then study? Or study and then work out?

The best approach when deciding whether to work out before or after studying is to choose the option that you can consistently maintain over the long term. 90% of people quit the gym after 3 months of starting. While there are advantages to both orders, optimizing excessively may hinder your productivity. Prioritize a routine that you can stick with for years to come above all else.

Ultimately, what truly matters is consistency and dedication, and don’t be a part of the 90%.

If You Don’t Have Time, Should You Skip a Workout?

You might be wondering, is it even worth skipping exercise if you are short on time? If you have a lot of work, should you sacrifice this time? My answer here is no, almost never surrender this time. I have been there many times.

It’s a slippery slope. You miss one workout to work on school, then again and again, and so on. In my experience, this has always been an excuse rather than a valid reason.

Think about what I wrote earlier regarding screen time, how much time do you waste on Youtube, Tiktok, or Instagram every day? Could you take 30 minutes out of that and do some exercise? For most people, the answer to this is yes.

If you really think about what else you spend your time on, exercise is not the thing to be cutting first.

Beyond this, scientifically, exercise does actually improve your studying in a variety of ways. I truly believe that spending this time on exercise for these benefits outweighs slightly more time behind the books.

I like to think of this as a multiplier for the rest of my studying time. Even if this multiplier is low, it’s worth it. Beyond this, exercise doesn’t even have to take much time if you do it right.


  1. Donnelly, J. E., Hillman, C. H., Castelli, D., Etnier, J. L., Lee, S., Tomporowski, P., Lambourne, K., & Szabo-Reed, A. N. (2016). Physical Activity, Fitness, Cognitive Function, and Academic Achievement in Children: A Systematic Review. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 48(6), 1197–1222.
  2. Chang, Y.-K., Tsai, C.-L., Hung, T.-M., So, E. C., Chen, F.-T., & Etnier, J. L. (2011). Effects of acute exercise on executive function: A study with a Tower of London Task. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 33(6), 847–865.
  3. De Moor MH, Beem AL, Stubbe JH, Boomsma DI, De Geus EJ. Regular exercise, anxiety, depression and personality: a population-based study. Prev Med. 2006 Apr;42(4):273-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2005.12.002. Epub 2006 Jan 24. PMID: 16439008.
  4. Fox, K. R. (2000). Self-esteem, self-perceptions and exercise. International journal of sport psychology, 31(2), 228-240.