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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

I Worked Out During the Workday—Here’s What I Learned (Besides How Much I Love Dry Shampoo)

woman running outside office

I’m a morning person and runner who loves getting a good workout in before a full day at the office. But, I have to admit I’ve been intrigued by advice suggesting that a midday workout could increase energy, productivity, and even creativity, and so I decided to temporarily put the brakes on my typical routine and see what this exercise lunch hour was all about.

Doing away with the seemingly inevitable afternoon energy slump sounded pretty great, and while I wondered if it was legit, I was also curious about the logistics of it. My office doesn’t have shower facilities, and I don’t belong to a gym, so if I were to leave at noon to go for a run, would I be able to make myself presentable for the remainder of the day? And what about time away from my desk? By the time I changed into exercise attire, worked out, and then changed back into dry clothing, would I be looking at more than an hour? If so, how much more? Would it mean I’d have to work late each night? Would I have to come in earlier to make up the lost time? Would my co-workers think I was an exercise fanatic? Would the CEOs disapprove?

I had a lot of questions and concerns. But there was only one way to get answers and quell my worries: I had to commit to the middle-of-the-workday exercise and assess not just productivity levels, but logistical ease. Let me just preface this with the fact that my boss (and editor) was on board with the experiment, so I did get to skip the awkward stage that involves running this by your manager or attempting to sneak out unnoticed in your exercise gear (not recommended). Also, it’s worth noting that I work in an office where no one keeps close tabs on you as long as you get your work done, so, admittedly, my experiment was pretty low-risk.

Monday morning, I arrived at work armed with my yoga mat and pants and sat down to knock out a few hours of work before I’d have to jet for the 12:30 PM hour-long Level 2 class I’d pre-paid for. At nearly noon, I was still deep in the middle of an article I was editing and not thrilled about taking myself away from it before I was finished. Usually when I’m in the zone like that, I don’t want to stop. This time, I didn’t have that option.

At 12:15, I saved what I was working on, checked that I had everything I needed, and headed to the studio. At first, I couldn’t focus on the postures. I was doing them, but more in a going-through-the-motions manner than anything resembling an above-average Yoga practice. I couldn’t seem to stop agonizing over all of the things I was supposed to get done that day. I replayed my to-do list in my head over and over, until finally, about 15 minutes into class, I found myself relaxing, thinking about my downward dog form and not the emails I needed to send.

After class, I spritzed some dry shampoo in my hair, reapplied deodorant, and changed out of my yoga gear into my work clothes. I’d smartly chosen a long, wrinkle-free dress that day so getting ready took very little time or effort.

Lesson Learned: Make Sure Your Work Outfit’s Easy to Change in and Out of (and Can Handle a Little Sweat)

When I got back to my desk, I was ready to tackle the afternoon. I picked right up where I left off on the article I’d been editing, and the rest of the day flew by. At 6:30 PM, I wasn’t ready to close up shop. I tried to determine if it was because of the class, which had me out of the office for exactly one hour and 22 minutes (which was longer than usual for me), but ultimately determined, if anything, I was feeling so productive from my exercise boost that I barely noticed what time it was, and that’s what kept me planted at my desk about an hour later than I typically stayed.

Running, as I mentioned, is my go-to exercise of choice. I’m hitting the streets five or six days a week, so if I really wanted to test out the midday workout, I’d obviously have to fit in a couple of runs.

Before my running days, I studiously checked my bag to make sure that I had not only my sneakers but the right socks, along with my Garmin watch so I’d know how long I was out. The first day’s run was short, about 25 minutes. My body was still kind of exhausted from a race I’d run the past weekend, and it was hot. I was worried that if I stayed out too long, I’d have a hard time getting myself looking office-ready again without a shower.

I ran two days in a row midday, and the getting presentable part turned out not to be a big deal at all. A couple of my co-workers commented that they’d love to follow suit but they’d be too sweaty. I tried discussing the merits of dry shampoo and a fresh coat of antiperspirant, but they just shook their heads and said it wasn’t possible but good for me.

You know what? I’ll take it. It was good for me. Following both runs, I felt fantastic, ready to conquer the second half of the workday. While out running, I struggled with reaching three miles one day, and then five the next, but it wasn’t because I was thinking of all the things I had waiting for me. I think it was just getting used to working out in a different location at a new time of day. I was grateful that, even though pushing through the run was rough, the reward was evident.

Lesson Learned: It Might Not Be Your Best Workout, But Considering the Circumstance, You Should Be Proud No Matter What

From start to finish—changing, running, changing again—I was gone less than an hour, so there was no stress about being away from my laptop for too long. The best part, obviously, was that when I was in front of it, my post-run focus was pretty hard to break.

A couple of months ago, I discovered Shadowboxing and immediately fell hard for it. It’s a pricey little workout, so I’ve only been going twice a month or so and mixing up my running routine with an occasional 45-minute class.

Obviously, I had to try it for this experiment. One day, I booked a bag for the 12:30 PM session. After having taken a couple of days off from exercising midday, I found myself really looking forward to it. The studio’s strict 12-hour cancellation policy meant there was no way I could bail, no matter how entrenched in a project I found myself.

Lesson Learned: Book Non-refundable Classes That You Can’t Cancel

There was no way I could’ve gone from the boxing session to the office without hot water and soap, so thank goodness that locker room had showers. On the other hand, that meant I had to factor in at least 15 minutes of shower plus prep time on top of the walk to and from the studio and the class itself. I’m proud to say that I was gone for a mere hour and 18 minutes door to door, and within that time, I’d managed to get in a killer workout.

I returned to the office fresh, clean, and famished. I was also highly motivated but not in a hectic, crazed, intense way. The high-energy class actually managed to lend me a calmness that I’d gladly embrace more often if I knew how to find it.

While I’m glad I gave the midday workout a whirl, I’m not ready to abandon my morning runs, though I will leave an extra pair of running shoes, exercise clothes, and dry shampoo at the office so I can head out on days when it feels right. Having the option to bang out a quick workout—because I overslept, am feeling mildly stressed, need fresh air—in the middle of my day is awesome. Not to mention, as much as I feared getting away from my desk, all those productivity experts are right—taking a break does help you to focus. With the exception of the first day, I didn’t work late any other nights, nor did I get behind on my work.

So, don’t let your reason for not working out be because you don’t have time or you have too much to do. Of course, if no one in your office ever leaves during the day, proceed with caution. Every company and boss is different and you know best if this would work for you.

But take it from someone who put it to the test: If you can swing it, you probably won’t regret it. Strong performance is linked to good physical health after all. Plus, when I left at the end of the day, I not only felt great about checking everything off my to-do list, but also great about checking off my workout.