Lesson #122: How to Work Out In the Middle of the Work Day

by Rachel on January 30, 2012

Last fall, I started taking on a lot more responsibilities and had to face the reality that fitting in everything I wanted to do was going to be a challenge. One way that I’ve made it a little bit easier is working out midday as often as possible. It took a bit of trial and error to make a lunch workout work for me, but now that I have a routine down, I’m loving it. Here are some tips if you’re considering it.

Choosing the Right Workout

When it comes to where you work out and what type of workout you can do, it’s important to be flexible. Before you write off the possibility of doing a midday workout, consider that there are a lot of ways you might be able to pull this off. First, consider multiple locations. I live close to work, so I can run home and work out there if I’m so inclined. Leah used to go to an empty office in her building and would simply shut the door and do a DVD on her laptop. You can also go to a park or nice area near your office to walk or strength train. And if you’re still trying to find a gym or a yoga studio, look at options around your office. I’ve learned that it’s way more convenient for a gym/workout studio to be close to work than close to home, no matter what time of day I go. Eric and I both have joined workout studios closer to our offices than home and are having a lot more succes this way.

You’ll also need to keep an open mind when it comes to working out at lunch. I used to think I couldn’t ever pull this off because my idea of working out involved running crazy intervals for 60 minutes or kicking my own ass in spin class. Yeah, those aren’t really good lunch workouts. So what is a good lunch workout? I like walking, strength training, Core Fusion, pilates, or yoga. These workouts leave you less sweaty than other workouts, can be done in 30-45 minutes, and the last three come with a bonus — you don’t have to worry about packing shoes, socks, or a sports bra!

If you aren’t doing any of those types of workouts, then this is a good time to start. (I mean, why aren’t you strength training? You should definitely be doing some kind of strength training.) I used to think these types of workouts didn’t “count,” so I didn’t want to bother. But doing a workout that is less intense than your favorite spin class twice a week is better than not making it to your favorite spin class because you got stuck working late or wanted to go to happy hour instead. And furthermore, getting yourself to commit to workouts like these because they are the only workouts that work with your schedule is a great way to see that, Oh, yeah — they totally count.

Planning Your Day Around Your Workout

A lunch workout isn’t a huge hassle, but it definitely takes some pre-planning.

First, I pack a lunch to eat at my desk and try to pick a lunch that doesn’t involve a ton of prep work. I realized that any lunch that requires me to go back to the microwave to stir it four times isn’t a good lunch for days I’m working out. If I waste too much time running between my desk, the fridge, and the microwave, I don’t feel like I’m really working through lunch.

Second, I wear as much of my workout gear as I can to work which has been super helpful. I have a short drive to my yoga studio, so the less time I spend changing, the better. My go-to outfit on workout days is ankle-length black workout leggings, a long black workout tank top, some sort of work-appropriate outer layer (like an oversized button-down or long cardigan or wrap), and riding boots. Depending on your office’s dress code, you may only be able to wear your workout leggings under your dress, but that’s a good start. Sometimes I throw a scarf on over everything too; I’ve found that the more layers I have going on, the less likely anyone is to notice that I’m wearing workout clothes at the core. (I actually do this even when I work out in the evening, just because it saves a step after work, and also because I can’t afford nice workout clothes and nice work clothes, so it’s easier to buy items that work for both. (I actually do this even when I work out in the evening, just because it saves a step after work. Also, I can’t afford nice workout clothes and nice work clothes, so it makes sense to me to buy items that work for both.)

Dealing with the Sweat Factor

I know it can seem gross to come back to your desk right after working out, and it is a little…but it’s not unbearable.

The biggest concern for a lot of women is their hair, and, well, I get that. The best thing I’ve found is to just keep my hair down as much as possible during my workout. I know you don’t think you can work out with your hair down, but at least give it a try. If you’re doing a more low-key workout, it shouldn’t be too bad. If I must put my hair up (like during inversions when it starts to fall in my face), I just twist it up loosely with a scrunchie and then take it out as soon as that part of class ends. That way it doesn’t get bends or bumps in it. (And yes, this means I keep a scrunchie on my wrist at all times and then feel super cool if I pretend that it’s 1994.) Your roots might get a little sweaty, but they will dry. Again, figuring out what will work for your hair takes a little trial and error; some people find sweat bands help a lot while others will want to quickly blow dry their bangs.

In terms of cleaning up after my workout, I keep baby wipes and deodorant in my desk. I always pack a second pair of underwear to change into after class, and often bring a second pair of leggings if there’s a chance I’m going to get really sweaty.

I used to spend more time cleaning up when I got back to the office, touching up my makeup and trying to fix my hair, but I’m kinda over it at this point. I’ve become OK with just being slightly damp and I’ve realized that if I spend the second half of my day with less-than-perfect hair, it’s fine. As long as I don’t have mascara running down my face, I’m not that concerned. And usually I find that working out midday gives me a healthy, natural glow and sweat can give me the same beachy hair as saltwater spray.

I usually do two lunch workouts a week and this has made it much easier for me to meet my four-workouts-a-week fitness goal. While going out and grabbing lunch or gossiping with co-workers in the break room can be a nice break in the day, I find that going and getting my blood flowing is so much better for my body and mind.

Any other lunchtime exercisers out there? Please share your tips! 

PS There is new giveaway for free bottles of Trop50 and a $50 Visa gift card on The Life page! 

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Suzanne January 30, 2012 at 11:00 am

I used to always workout during my lunch break at my old job. As far as hair goes, dry shampoo works wonders. Plus, hitting it quickly with the blow dryer in the locker room really helps. Deodorant and perfume will help you freshen up a lot. Keeping a bottle of febreeze at the office helps too, in case you haven’t completely cooled down after you change back into your work clothes. I like having that around even when I don’t work out at lunch, since in the winter months I tend to sweat into my layers once I step inside into the heat. Also, if you commute via public transportation and have to keep your gym bag with you during the day, keep a plastic grocery bag with you to wrap up your dirty gym clothes in. It’ll keep them from stinking up your cubicle.


2 Lori January 30, 2012 at 11:05 am

Working out mid-day is the best option for me. When I moved in with my boyfriend 45 minutes away from my job and friends, I lost my workout buddies. But, I’m spoiled and my job has a small gym, and one of my coworkers works out around the same time as I do. We eventually started doing the same workouts (DVDs, mostly) and now we hold each other accountable. We have even bonded and done Zumba classes after work and gone for drinks. So, working out mid-day has given me more motivation and a new friend!


3 Caity @ Moi Contre La Vie January 30, 2012 at 11:29 am

Great post! I think people frequently dismiss the idea of a mid-day workout but I’ve found that they really help me get through the last few hours of the day or even save me from myself during a stressful day!

I like to do a 15-20 minute circuit workout with some cardio at the beginning and end, including a quick rinse off I’m never gone for more than 40 minutes.


4 Julia January 30, 2012 at 11:31 am

i sincerely LOVE working out on my lunch break. my gym is two doors down, and my job is computer (aka, sitting)-heavy. i started going there as a way to totally disconnect for an hour, and it was astonishing how better the rest of my afternoon consequently became. i felt more energetic, more focused and best of all, more excited to head home after work because i knew that my workout was done! i still work out in the evenings sometimes, and i save my longer runs/workouts for then, but it’s noticeable how that schedule means i don’t get home til 7 p.m., then it’s 8 p.m. by the time i’ve showered, eaten dinner (never mind actually cooking), etc.

my only opposing thought to lunchtime workouts is that it sort of falls right in line with the typical american multi-tasker to the Nth degree stereotype. maybe it’s the nature of lunch breaks nowadays, though. even though lunch breaks ideally should be when we stop working and thoughtfully eat food, most people i know 1) work through lunch at their desk, 2) relocate but do something else while eating, such as make a phone call or read or play online, 3) have a working lunch of sorts or 5) skip it. but i know that if i don’t work out, it’s far too easy for me to work through it or skip it–and getting some exercise at all during the day far outweighs the slightly rushed feeling of hopping to the gym and back, especially in light of recent articles regarding the detracting effects of sitting on one’s health!

thanks for the great content, rachel, as always!


5 Kristine B January 30, 2012 at 11:47 am

At my previous job, I started attending Pilates during my lunch hour and I loved it. It was a 30 minute class and perfectly fit in the week as it was on the days where there was no evening class I wanted to attend. I also had much more energy and a better outlook for the rest of the day. I miss those mid-day classes!


6 Eirinn January 30, 2012 at 11:51 am

love this post. being a full time commuter student keeps me at school all day (and sometimes night) 3 days a week. i have breaks in between a few classes and always use one of them for time at the gym. i do a ton of the stuff you listed. my lululemon dtb bag has been a great addition to my backpack that i carry, it holds every without being huge. also i love the yes to carrots calming wipes and the california baby shampoo and body wash (all in one means carrying less shit, woohoo). i run, do hit training and strength training which means a lot of sweating and a quick shower is necessary, however, i do not wash my hair usually.


7 Ashley January 30, 2012 at 12:07 pm

I totally used to think anything that didn’t leave me dripping in sweat didn’t count as a work out… until I started having to walk 3 miles round trip to let my puppy out over my lunch break. I still don’t think it’s as good as hitting up a yoga class or getting some strength training in, but I’ve definitely noticed a difference in adding this in to my routine, which was starting to seriously lack any form of exercise.

Great post!


8 Rachel January 30, 2012 at 12:56 pm

I usually work out before and/or after work these days, but at my old job I was all about the lunchtime runs. Here’s a few tips I used to make it easier (expanding on the great points Rachel made):

1. Eat with your workout in mind. If someone brings in a box of donuts 20 minutes before your run, don’t eat one. Steal one and hide it in your desk for after your run. Otherwise you’ll be in side-stitch city. Also, eat healthy carbs and protein in the morning so you’re properly fueled. Egg McMuffins don’t count.

2. Set realistic expectations. I had an hour to change, run, change AND eat my lunch. I never expected to be able to run more than 30 minutes. Trying to get in a longer run just set me up to fail, and it made me want to skip the workout altogether. Do what you can while maintaining balance.

3. Strut your sweat. There’s only so much you can do (besides full-on showering) to freshen up after a midday workout. Do your best to look and smell presentable, but be OK with damp hair or wrinkly clothes. I’d rather be a little wrinkly and know that I got in a workout, than look 100% amazing all day but have that nagging “I should’ve gone to the gym..” feeling all day long.


9 [SMASH] January 30, 2012 at 1:48 pm

So I had a pseudo-workout during my lunch today: I went grocery shopping at Target. Girl, I felt like I was on SuperMarket Sweep [remember that show?!?] power walking through there, snatching up groceries! Hah…


10 Rachel January 30, 2012 at 2:46 pm

HA…it’s so true though! Way to kill two birds with one stone. I love grocery shopping at lunch! It’s just so convenient!


11 Jessica @ Stylish Stealthy and Healthy January 30, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Before I started the Live Fit program, I went to a different class at my gym, every day at noon. Now and hour (45 min + drive back & forth) isn’t enough time. But my secret weapon is always dry shampoo for my hair, baby wipes + smelly lotion for my bod, and definitely a change of underwear and an extra deodorant in my gym bag. I’ll take a quick shower if it’s a super intense class like kickboxing, but most days I just deal with the funkness and make no apologies for it. Again, smelly lotion goes a long way.


12 deva at deva by definition January 30, 2012 at 2:50 pm

My lunch is short, so I try to get in at least a fifteen-minute walk while on my lunch break. It’s nice to get up and stretch my legs!


13 MelissaNibbles January 30, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Baby wipes for everything!


14 Melissa January 30, 2012 at 4:15 pm

We just moved to Sweden and it’s pretty common here for people to exercise at lunch. There is one group that runs a 10k (!) every Tuesday at lunch and a few people who are really into “training” sometimes disappear for 2 hours in the middle of the day. Regardless, everyone takes a lunch break for at least 1/2 hour. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone eat at their desk. There is also a much bigger emphasis on exercise here. The company gives you a stipend towards activity and it seems everyone exercises. I’m really excited because once the sun stops setting at 3, I’ll be able to walk home (45 min) through a really pretty park instead of riding the bus.


15 Rachel January 30, 2012 at 5:24 pm

That is AWESOME!

If I ever am a boss, I will run my office that way. I’d much rather take a long break midday and then just work later into the evening. F this 9-5 stuff!


16 Melissa January 31, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Somehow they still don’t work that late. They’re pretty rigid about 40 hours a week. They have separate time keeping so that any time over 40 hours is turned into usable time off. It’s amazing. Plus everyone takes a break at about 2:30 to have coffee together.


17 Lindsey @ Stink and Hincks January 30, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Love the mid-day workouts! As a full-time employee and graduate student, I try to use all the time I can get. As other people have mentioned, dry shampoo is a god send! Like you, I am not very concerned about coming back to work sweaty, but I will bring some cute hair accessory to shield the fact that I was working on my fitness: clips, hair ties, cute bobby pins, headbands, I’m all about it!


18 Corey January 30, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Like Eirinn, I’m also a full time commuter and LOVE using breaks in between classes for a workout. I have an hour break on MW and use it to do strength training. It’s perfect because the gym is right on campus, I can do a quick workout (20-30 minutes), quickly rinse off in the shower (no soap or anything, just washing sweat off/cooling down), change, and be back in class easy. Plus, since I don’t get too sweaty lifting weights, the quick rise is all I need. Makes my day so much more efficient, and then I have the whole evening free.


19 Nikki January 30, 2012 at 8:25 pm

while I can’t feasibly work-out during the day (it just wouldn’t mesh with my job) I’m going to apply some of these to my evening workouts. You can bet I’m wearing work-out spandex pants tomorrow so that I don’t waste time changing before body pump!


20 Barb January 30, 2012 at 9:20 pm

I started exercising on my lunch hour when I was a single mom. I was already paying for day care and didn’t have to spend extra time away from my daughter. Now I’m a married mom of 4 and my lunch hour is my one hour to myself everyday. I run on my lunch hours. I get an hour to change, run, clean up, change and eat. I try to run for 30-40 min. I’m in the midwest so I’m red-faced and sweaty in the afternoons during the summer. It isn’t as obvious in the winter. I wear at least a sports bra and whatever else I can fit under my work clothes. I also keep a gym bag at work with clean underwear, bras, deoderant, running clothes, running shoes, hair bands, a towel, etc. I clean up as best as I can, usaully with wet paper towels and a dry towel. I’m going to try baby wipes though. What a great idea!

I love running on my lunch hour. It is a great stress reliever and I’m so much more productive in the afternoon when I get my run in. I care more about getting my run in than what I look like afterwards. I’m pretty low maintenance anyway. I always put clean, dry clothes on and more deoderant, if I need to. I take my sweaty hair out of a ponytail/headband/buff and shake it out. But that’s about it.


21 Katie Cummings January 30, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Great post! I’m a sales rep, so I can’t really get a workout in during the day, but when I was a secretary I always did! I also think that when your co-workers know that you’re working out on your lunch break you can get away with being a little scrubby in the afternoon, the ones who don’t workout are just jealous!


22 Alyssa January 30, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Thankfully I’m extremely fortunate that I work for a fitness company and we have a full-size gym available along with fitness classes during the day (and a locker room with showers). It’s actually become more acceptable to work out at any hour and wear fitness clothing around the building. I definitely try to take full advantage of this!!


23 Jessica Chandler January 30, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Love these ideas! I only get 30 mins so try and take a walk. Curious…what are some of your quixk lunch ideas? Id love some pointers for meals that are desk friendly with less prep


24 Natalcho @ Tomatoes Rock January 31, 2012 at 5:43 am

I’ve been experimenting lately with working out early in the morning vs. working out during lunch and it seems that lunch time works better. A few things that I’ve figured out:

– you really have to be flexible. Depending on meetings/calls going on during the day I sometimes don’t get to the gym until 2pm which makes lunch even later. I try to anticipate in advance and eat something about 2 hours before so I am not starving at the gym.

– If I am planning to work out during the day I don’t put a lot of make-up on in the morning. Showering is easier when you don’t have to deal with lots of mascara and foundation:)

– I have a bag with toiletries that holds everything that I need to look presentable when back in the office. It took me a while to gather everything but it was worth it. Everything is in small (travel) sizes.

– I keep my sneakers in the office (in my old gym I had a locker but now it seems too expensive). If my sneakers are here – I can go to the gym if I have an opening.


25 Rachel January 31, 2012 at 9:10 am

Good call on wearing less make-up on workout days…that is a really good idea!


26 Emilia January 31, 2012 at 7:29 am

I’m generally pretty flexible about working out, but I’ve always found it a bit intimidating to try and do so during my lunches. There’s something about the amount of time, I always think I’m going to need more than I have. Next term, however, I have a busier schedule that will probably require me to do so some days in order to fit my workouts in. Hopefully sneaking in some workouts will help me to stay focused during late afternoon classes!


27 RAIN January 31, 2012 at 9:40 am

We have a shower here at work which makes working out midday much easier.
A midday workout is perfect if I sleep in, or I just need a midday stress reliever.


28 Kristin January 31, 2012 at 6:57 pm

I teach with a 25-minute lunch break in the middle of 5th hour freshman English class. SO no go on the lunch workout, but since I’m done at 3:40 (though starving) I try to make myself do some kind of workout til 5 when I get to eat dinner!


29 Lisa February 23, 2012 at 2:25 pm

When I was running a lot I worked out at lunch time! It was PERFECT! I ran the Esplanade loop in downtown Portland. I had a gym, locker room and shower in my office. I’d eat a quick snack, change and head out to run the loop. When I was done with my 4 miles I was back for a quickie shower and I’d eat my lunch at my desk. It was perfect. It freed up several evenings a week for me to do social things and I planned my long runs for the weekends. I LOVED it!


30 Christa June 12, 2012 at 10:42 pm

New reader here, but loving your posts! Lunch time workouts are the best! I used to do cardio, but I found that I didn’t get enough of a workout on the bike, and got too sweaty on the elliptical or treadmill. So I’ve found that a light strength workout is best for me. I usually try for 3x a week, arms/shoulders one day, abs/back on day 2, and legs on day 3. That’s assuming I get in all 3 days!
For the hair issue- I pull my hair halfway up loosely, and find that in only 30-40 minutes, I don’t get enough of a ‘bump/lump’ to be noticeable, and like you, I’ve just gotten to where it’s okay to not be perfect!


31 Ray July 23, 2013 at 3:32 am

I just started lunch break work out one week ago but now I cannot get rid of it! The gym is two blocks away from my office and I need to rush there as quick as possible—–like warming up. After changing cloths in the 16th floor gym I run about 2 kilometres then do three sets of machinery push up. Followed by a warm shower and I get a some sandwich or dine at Subway. How amazing that I can do all theses with one hour or 70 minutes!!

Grasp a protein drink in the office and I feel very passionate in the afternoon. Excited to see how my life changes after this practice! :)


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