One of the things I struggled with most during my 20 years in high tech corporate America was finding the time and the energy to work out. It is amazing how difficult it is to find 30 minutes in the day.
Working out at Nike was loads easier than working out at Intel – mainly because Nike has 3 different gyms and showering facilities all over its campus. So it was not a question of having facilities available, it was only a question of playing Tetris with my meeting schedule and blocking out an hour of time that it would take for me to leave my desk and get back to my desk (between walking to and from the gym, changing, showering afterward, and the actual 30-40 minute workout, I found it safest to just book out an hour).
Working at Intel was a little more difficult. They had a shower facility but it wasn’t great. Usually I ended up just taking brisk walks every day, and doing my strength training on the weekends. This is because I am not personally a before work/after work exercise person. I have low blood pressure (it runs in my family) and usually feel a little light-headed and weak for at least an hour after I wake up in the mornings. Believe me, I’ve tried getting work outs in during early mornings but my strength and performance is literally at about 20% – even with lots of coffee and a good breakfast. I hit full peak by about 9am, but these 6am workouts were just not happening for me.
Additionally, after work can be difficult if you have a high stress job because every day, the stressful events just sap the motivation out of you until 5pm hits and you’re ready to pull your hair out, drive home, and crawl under the covers with some chocolate and a bottle of wine.
I’m being only slightly facetious here – those of you in chronic high stress jobs, especially ones that have high levels of office politics, know exactly what I’m talking about. But some people find that exercising after work gives them a great level of “venting” – and if that works for you, do it! Especially if you don’t have kiddos and family dinners to get home to.
I personally found between my family schedule, my work schedule, and knowledge of my body’s daily energy cycle, that working out around mid-morning to lunch time was best for me. So do what works for you, but do it consistently. The only thing I do not recommend if at all possible, is late night workouts (within an hour of bedtime). It can impact your sleep quality.
The point is to look carefully at your own body, how you typically feel throughout the course of a day (what is your daily mental/emotional cycle?) and your logistical schedule in order to determine YOUR best time to work out.
Once you do, try and keep it consistent week to week so it has a chance to become an automated habit.
You can’t keep making workouts a “one off” occurrence and expect to achieve consistency or results. It can’t feel like a struggle or special occasion. It has to feel like a normal part of your day – as normal as brushing your teeth. But you need to physically block the time out on your calendar. Consider it a Health Appointment with yourself. I considered it my daily dose of stress management.
We go through the workout frequency in the article 5 Levels of Fitness. Read that first, if you haven’t. It will help you determine what level of fitness you are currently at and that will influence how often you work out and what type of workouts should be in your mix.
The workout schedule that I am currently at is as follows. Feel free to use this as is, or swap around days to better fit your schedule.
This is my long LISS day. I find it very clearing after a weekend of sometimes not enough exercise or overindulging with dinner parties and brunches. Usually Mondays I’m feeling pretty low-energy anyway, and not up for a HIIT first thing in the week. I hop on a treadmill with my headphones and a big water bottle and do my incline walk for about 45 minutes if I can spare the time. When working corporate, I blocked off an hour and 15 minutes to give myself time to shower and change afterward.
I prioritize my Core Strength Training. Core is something that a lot of people deprioritize, either because of perceived difficulty or because its more trendy for women to focus on lower body (build that booty, society says!) and men to focus on upper body (pecs and shoulders make a sexy guy, society says!).
But CORE is the one thing that will break down fastest if you have a desk job, and it can lead to all kinds of injuries, aches and pains over time. I highly encourage you to prioritize it above all other forms of strength training, if you can only get to 1 a week.
I usually do HIIT. This is also strategically placed because as you’ll see, my Lower Body Strength day is Friday and I don’t want to be depleting glycogen in those big muscle groups right before I try to strength train them. Because core training also frequently involves some upper body work, this also gives my shoulders and chest a break before I train them specifically.
But if you aren’t ready for HIIT yet, feel free to do a low or moderate intensity steady state cardio on this day. Wednesdays were, for some reason, often a high-stress day when I worked corporate, so sometimes I just didn’t have it in me to muster up a HIIT. That’s OK. Again – just show up. 🙂
is my Upper Body Strength Training day. For the reasons listed above, I try to give a day’s rest between Core and Upper trainings, and also a day’s rest between HIIT and Lower Body Strength Training.
This day is my Lower Body Strength Training Day. I strategically place this on Friday because I have no idea how much exercise I’ll actually get to over the weekend, and after Lower Body I usually need a break and some extra food anyway. Lower Body day is probably the most intensive workout of the week – I really love this workout and I enjoy spending extra time on it. So it gets me heading into the weekend on a great track – I finish the week strong and go into the weekend sore, most often. 😄 This is fine because over the weekend you can chill and rest – and you aren’t stuck stationary at a desk!
SATURDAY and SUNDAY
My weekends typically involve some form of enjoyable LISS, Yoga, or just complete Rest days. I might get some light exercise in with a vigorous house cleaning or another house project like organizing the garage, errands, etc. I don’t like to drive to the gym and isolate myself for exercise on the weekends. My family frequently goes up to the track that is near our house to walk or jog, or kick a soccer ball around. Sometimes we’ll go for a run/bike around Portland’s waterfront, or do a hike. Our exercise on the weekends tends to be more “natural and outdoors focused” than “gym focused”. I save my gym time for the weekdays and make exercise on weekends more about family and nature time.
If you follow this schedule, you will be Strength Training 3 times a week, and doing some combo of low, moderate or high intensity cardiovascular training 2-4 times a week. That is a GREAT workout schedule. It also allows you to be flexible with your cardio – if you have a week that you’re sick, stressed, feeling fatigued etc, you do not have to do HIIT (in fact, you probably shouldn’t). You can switch it out for another LISS session, a light jog, or just whatever you’re feeling up for.
FINDING/PRIORITIZING THE TIME
Planning is one thing, but execution is another. To make your exercise actually happen, I encourage you to look at your upcoming week’s schedule every Sunday evening and actually book out 1 hour blocks if you have access to a gym where you’ll be sweating, showering and changing, or 30-45 minutes if all you can do is get out for a brisk walk in your work clothes during lunch.
In corporate, I typically had either 11-12 or 12-1pm free, but sometimes all I had was 10-11am or later in the day like 3-4pm. The point: I prioritized exercise, for health and for stress management, EVERY day. It was only during things like off-sites and all-day planning sessions where I just couldn’t (I still tried to get a quick walk during lunch break).
I was very unapologetic about this. Any hour I saw free on my calendar at the start of the week was fair game to get booked up for what I considered my own stress management. (This was another reason I liked working out in the middle of the day – it was a great stress reliever from anything crazy that happened in the morning, and set me up with a positive outlook and mental strength for the afternoon. It interrupted the “stress cycle” and reset the daily stress buildup.)
Once booked, I protected my workout time. If someone tried to book a non-critical meeting like a 1:1 over it, I asked them to move it. Yes, seriously! You don’t have to say Yes to everyone who wants your time.
I can’t say this enough: Especially if you are in a chronically high stress environment, to survive there, you HAVE to be protective with your health and “you” time. When you exercise, you are making yourself better in part so you can perform better at your job. So don’t feel guilty one bit about it.
And what about actual lunch? If you workout over lunch, when do you eat? Well, because I was prioritizing a workout over a food break, I would simply eat a meal-prepped lunch at my desk before or afterward. If we had a team lunch or happy hour, I made sure to work out prior to it if at all possible. Its not the end of the world if you bring a lunch to a recurring, peer-based meeting and eat it there – I did that in my team’s staff meetings regularly. (I wouldn’t try it with senior leadership however. 🙂 Keep it to the casual meetings.)
Your company should support this, by the way. You have to take care of yourself if you are going to have the mental clarity to perform for them. Most so-called white-collar (corporate/office) jobs are paying you for your mental labor, not your physical labor. So the company should care very much about keeping your mind clean and strong. Exercise enables this 100%. If your manager or coworkers have a problem with your reasonable exercise habit, feel free to remind them of that.
Additionally, most hourly workers are entitled to 15 minute breaks every 4 hours – something that salaried employees frequently skip in the rat race of the day. Taking a bit of time during the day to clear your mind shouldn’t be an issue at all if you are managing your work load well and not missing truly crucial meetings.
So this next weekend, instead of saying “I just can’t” when it comes to getting some exercise in during your crazy day, try booking out several “meetings” with yourself during open slots you see on Sunday evening. If some of them end up getting booked over or moved, that’s OK – at least you set the intention.
Finally – if exercising during the course of your work day is just not going to be physically possible in any amount or in any universe, then feel free to exercise before or after work. Or, you can take more rest days during the week and do more workouts on the weekends.
Whatever you do, just find some time daily, book it, and try to make the day to day cadence consistent. Consistency causes habits and you’ll start to go on auto-pilot. Exercise (even if its a lunch walk) will be baked into your day rather than a daily struggle.
Automating your health practices (in both nutrition and exercise) is the most effective way to succeed in your goals.