When it comes to training in Ramadan, I think most people fall into one of three categories:
You’re a person who trains with great discipline and suddenly not training at all, you don’t know what to do with your time and feel your gains diminishing by the second (especially because you’re not eating either!); Or you’re a person who, after doing 18-hour fasts for a week and seeing a reduction in fat, you begin to think what if I could lose more? Or you’re just a person who would like to remain (somewhat) active in Ramadan, beyond walking. Whichever category you fall in, I hope to address your issues with this post.
Before I start, I do want to say that working out should go further down the list of priorities in Ramadan than it would do normally. Firstly, despite not eating, our time is limited. We don’t fast, simply not to eat, but in order to gain taqwa (God-consciousness) through fasting and prayer. That being said, if you feel you can devote some time every day doing light to moderate activity, read on!
To avoid the post sounding repetitive, I have listed some training advice below, which may or may not apply to you. I trust you’re smart enough to know where you are with your abilities and what should apply to you. If you do feel you need some personalised advice for your situation, feel free to get in touch via the comments field below (so it can benefit all!) or by email.
When should I work out?
– Before Iftaar. This is when we’re in fat-burning mode and if you have the time and energy, a quick 10-minute workout could be all you need to strengthen and energise the body.
– If there is a local 24-hour gym nearby, pay for a month’s membership if it’s no contract and go after Taraweeh. Although, do keep in mind: You would only really need a gym, if you needed the equipment in a gym and not if you’re doing bodyweight exercises. Even so a gym workout is not for long: 30 minutes is usually more than enough time to get some form of training effect (to tell your brain to spread the muscle and use the fat when fasting) with the bonus being it’s not fasted and the workout has not come after your main meal (plus, it’ll get you hungry enough to eat again for suhoor!)
– If workouts are hard to find the time or energy to do, have a deload month and work on mobility and range of motion through effective stretching and foam rolling at home. Use the time to recover. In fact, I believe everyone should be stretching every day, anyway.
What type of activity should I do?
– Bodyweight exercises at home before Iftaar: air squats, burpees, pull ups, push-ups, sit ups, all keep the mechanics well oiled and provide some training effect. To really feel the movement, do each rep slow and controlled. This isn’t about jacking up the heart rate or adding intensity, or using momentum from one rep to the next.
– Go for a brisk walk before Iftaar. Sometimes a workout just isn’t on the cards and we have to accept it and do what we can with the time and energy we have. It’s okay if it’s not possible if your nutrition is on point. Most people operate on a calorie deficit in Ramadan anyway so it’s not the time to build muscle but in terms of fat loss, it’s a golden opportunity. It starts with food.
– If you do find you can get to a gym, and do some kind of power-lifting work, the following would apply:
- Do a very scaled back workout to what you would do normally. I think people ought to generally scale back in Ramadan anyway even if the workouts were not fasted. It takes time for the body to hydrate and absorb nutrients and going for maximal lifts could have a catabolic effect (muscle breaks down with no fuel to repair and therefore grow – counterproductive to what your aim would be).
- Do tempo lifts, e.g. on squats 3-seconds down, 1-second pause, come back up as fast as possible and then a 2-second pause. I do this in a 5 x 5 combination to maximise training effect without fatiguing you needing days to recover. Use this time to become stronger through the whole range of movement mobility-wise and own every position of the movement. Slow and controlled being the theme of all workouts.
- Only do compound lifts – leave out the accessory work. For one it takes time and secondly, accessory work will again overly fatigue you. I stick to 2 or 3 compound lifts in a 5 x 5 combo (squat, deadlift or bench variation), and be in and out of the gym in 30-45 mins (including warm up and cool down with 1-minute rest between sets).
I hope this goes some way in helping you plan your workouts around fasting and prayers this Ramadan.
As always, please feel free to comment or ask any burning you questions you might have below.