The 60-Minute Lunchtime Workout

Can you really work out during work hours, without disrupting your day?
Published November 6, 2015

Sherri, a busy 40-year-old paralegal, is not a morning person. And by the time she's done with work, the last place she wants to go is the gym; usually by that time she's tired and just wants to go home.

If she wants to work out, the only time that will work is lunchtime. But how do you do that without skimping on your fitness routine or taking too much time away from your desk?

The 60-Minute Lunch Crunch
The first step is to decide what kind of workout will work. Sherri has always been a walker, but recently decided she wanted to add more oomph to her workout. She dedicated herself to finding a gym that was accessible from her office.

The second step? Making it a priority. Personal time is always last on the list, so committing yourself to fit in a block of time to work out is often the hardest part, says personal trainer Debbie Mandel.

If you're determined, though, it can be done. Just use these tricks for a complete lunch-hour workout that will have you back at your desk on time:

Work out a time budget

If you have 60 minutes for lunch, for example, subtract the amount of time it will take you to get to and from the gym, changed into your gym clothes and onto the machines. Even if you have just 20 minutes left, there's a lot you can do. If your trips to the gym normally include time on the cardio machines, at the free weights and on the mat, and the whole thing runs you several hours, it may be hard to imagine spending only a few minutes working out. But remember: A short workout is better than none at all!

Make the right moves

If you're trying to burn fat, focus on cardio, says Sharon Mann, a Vancouver-based personal trainer and host of several fitness videos. That means the treadmill, the elliptical trainer, the stationary bike — anything that will get your heart rate up. If you're at a point where you'd like to work weight training into your routine, go for it, but make sure you're dedicating at least three workouts a week to cardio, or getting your heart rate up at some other point in the day.

Warm up, cool down

These two important parts of your workout are not to be skipped, no matter what. Luckily, if you're doing a cardio workout, your warm-up can be incorporated into that (just start slow and work your way up). But be sure to stretch when you're done, even if it's just for five minutes, to maintain your flexibility.

Consider working out outside

Sherry, a 36-year-old legal assistant, found a way to work in some fast exercise by teaming up with a friend and using her lunches for power walks. Are there paths or bike trails near your office?

Or working out at work

If a gym is too far and the weather isn't welcoming, take a look around your office. Is there a stairwell you can use as your personal step machine? Does your cube or desk offer you enough space for the use of small fitness tools, like a balance ball or a jump rope? Can you use an empty conference room to roll out a mat and do stretches?

Pick your work clothes with your workout in mind

"On days you plan on working out at lunch, try to wear clothes that are easier to change in and out of," suggests Carrie, a 28-year-old graphic designer who hits the gym on her lunch hour. "For example, pantyhose get ripped easily when changing in and out of them." Depending on your office attire, you might consider layering some of your workout clothes under your work outfit.

Pack your bag the night before

Include your shoes, a change of underwear, deodorant and extra socks. People tend to forget socks, warns Mandel.

Be smart about showering

You don't have to repeat your entire morning get-ready routine, even if you tend to sweat a lot. Do what you need to do: Shower without washing your hair, for example. (Think about putting it in a bun or braid for the rest of the day.) Or just use a small wet towel and some deodorant to freshen up.

Eat in stages

If you're working out during lunch, when do you eat lunch? It's simple: In stages, at your desk. Divide a healthy, balanced midday meal into several courses. If you can, pick the carb-heavy parts of your meal (grains, fruits, etc.) for pre-workout — carbohydrates provide the quick fuel you'll need at the gym. Just try to eat at least an hour before you go, though a last-minute piece of fruit should be okay, too, if you're finding yourself feeling famished as you strap on your sneakers. And post-workout? Reward yourself with the rest of your meal.

Increase your productivity

A common hurdle when it comes to working out during work hours is guilt; many people worry that they'll be less productive if they take that break. On the contrary — it may help. For many people, exercising can create more energy, says Mandel. "It can help you avoid the afternoon slump," she says. "Your brain will be more productive and you will have more endurance for your projects. Also, exercise will de-stress you and raise [mood-enhancing] endorphins."