a woman is doing push ups on a blue mat
Photo by Minna Lim

Exactly how to do stealth workouts in the middle of the day

The Wall Street Journal had a recent article, “Why Working Out During the Workday Is the Ultimate Power Move”. The article has an interview of CEOs who humblebrag about being able to disappear for two hours unaccounted for to do sets at the gym. This is the exact kind of messaging that makes the rest of us think that we have to be some big wig to “get away” with midday workouts. 

I beg to differ. I have been doing mid-day workouts for years – when I was an on the clock government worker, as a junior associate at a law firm, and now as a director at a Big 4. The secret is knowing exactly what you will do and exactly how you will do it. And being PREPARED. You may not be the CEO of a company, but you should be the CEO of your own body. 

Why mid-day workouts are so awesome 

woman running wearing armband
Photo by Minna Lim

While I spent a lot of my career being a morning warrior, getting up at 530am so that I could be at the gym when it opens or hit a 6am SoulCycle class, eventually I had trouble getting through the day with all of the demands for calls and projects that required being engaged through the afternoon and evening. My energy was amazing through about 11 am or noon, and then I would just crash at 2 after I ate lunch. Or sometimes forcing my body to move at a less natural time for me would make me feel spent before even beginning the workday. After working out I still would have to shower, get ready and change. The upside of am workouts is that once you do it, you are done for the day and for some people that really is all the time they have. But if you have an office job as opposed to being a healthcare worker or air traffic controller, you definitely have more flexibility. 

I also experimented with early evening workouts. Those have the advantage of not having to change into anything but PJs once you are done, and it is a nice way to decompress after a long day and draw a boundary to leave all the crazy behind. The main disadvantage for me was that planning an evening workout made it really susceptible to any “time vampires” like a client fire drill or a last minute need to talk to someone who asked me if “I had 5 minutes” (5 minutes never means 5 minutes!). And then as someone responsible for dinner prep it was a mad hustle to come home, shower, change and scramble to make food. Plus, I would be wired for hours after getting my heart rate so late (this is actually a thing). And in many cases, the long day behind me already wore me out which made me less able to go hard. 

Then during the pandemic, I discovered that I was home and close to my gym and not in head to toe business attire, so it was very easy to get up early, pound out 5 hours of work, slip out to do a barre class, and come back. What is awesome about mid-day workouts is that you have that time to accomplish a lot at the beginning of the day and then have a break. I would come back feeling recharged and super focus, and then basically tear through what had piled up into my inbox like the Tasmanian devil. The rest of the day would go smoothly, I was in a better mood and I was able to transition to evening without being stressed about fitting in a workout on top of all the household to-dos. 

person using MacBook Pro
Rule #1: Step AWAY from the computer. Photo by Minna Lim

How You Can Find Time To Work Out And Do Your Day Job 

Going back to the office, I wondered if I could still make this mid-day workout work for me. It may seem impossible to find time for actual structured workouts, but it’s not. The key is to make the existing time you have more productive, not finding extra time. Because no one has extra time. We all have only 24 hours in a day, including you, your boss, and Beyoncé. We are all busy, working sometimes up to 70 hours a week and also having outside responsibilities like parents, kids, significant others, and pets.

Whether you are in a hybrid, full-time remote, or full-time office setting, you can make this work. Here are the top tips from someone who has actually done it: 

DO plan, plan, plan: Plan your workouts by the week, when you plan ahead for everything else at the beginning of the week. I map out my planned workouts the Sunday before the week starts; then I also block my calendar for the times I have carved out to exercise. To make it easier when you are looking at the landscape of the whole week, pick your rest days first. These may be days where you know work gets super hectic, like Mondays or Thursdays, or a day on the weekend you typically use to run errands and do chores (because you are doing NEAT). Then pick your “active” days and plan what workout you will do on those days. If there is a class or trainer to book ahead of time, do it! If it’s dependent on you going to the gym or getting on a machine, you will need to apply the same skills you would for important work commitments to keep from putting it off to “in 10 minutes.” That “in 10 minutes” never ends up happening. 

The 4-3-2-1 Exercise Formula for Success covered in the next chapter helps you lay out a great plan for your weekly workout. 

DO treat your workouts like business meetings: Here is a strategy I like to use: I block out the lunch hour; most people typically do not want meetings between 12-1, because that is usually when people get lunch. And I time my deliverables so I get a document or other work product to the next stage of review or delegate a certain task that is part of the process. I usually check my emails half an hour beforehand and focus on those that require actions or next steps and respond. That way, the ball is in someone else’s court for the time being; my hands are tied anyway, and being away for a bit allows that to all gel and have some kind of resolution usually by the time I get back. When I do get back, I look at my schedule for the rest of the afternoon and use the first half an hour to do the hardest task, because that is when I am the most focused. 

DO the “fireman” routine: You know, how firemen lay out their uniforms in case they have to get out to put out a fire in a hurry? Well, that’s what you need to do with your workout clothes, from your headband to your socks and shoes and whatever musical apparatus you will be using. Have a bag packed with these clothes regardless of whether you are at home or in the office. Make your playlist, have your phone charged, and your headphones hooked in your keychain so you are not fumbling around for everything and wasting time. 

DON’T check email within 20 minutes of when you are planning to work out: This is about you, not other people’s priorities. They can wait. Checking your email or social media can suck you down in a rabbit hole or make you lose track of time. This puts other people’s priorities (OPP) ahead of your own. Focus above all on your own priorities.

DO take all the shortcuts you can: Body wipes, dry shampoo, and other insta routine tools can be valuable time savers. Here are some of my favorite products to use: 

DO understand what kind of workouts you can do with the time you have: This way you can plan ahead. You also have to factor in intensity. Mid-day is probably not the right time for a sweaty hot yoga sculpt class, because you probably will have to wash your hair and re-apply makeup all over again. But workouts like regular yoga, Pilates, and light cardio are all excellent candidates for mid-day. Or you can do a quick afternoon run, but consider sticking to indoors or outdoors only in the fall and spring seasons instead of when it is 85+ degrees outside. Save the uber sweaty workouts for the weekends when you have more flexibility and time for yourself. 

Here is a chart that will give you an example of the kind of time you have and the type of workout you can do with that time. If you do not understand what HIIT training is, that will be explained in Chapters 32 and 35. 

Time allotment Workout pairing 
45-60 minutes Group fitness (yoga, Pilates, barre cardio class), full body strength training workout, long walk or run, sport activity (golf, tennis, squash, softball) 
30-45 minutes Strength training split workout (e.g., focusing on 1-2 body areas), circuit training, app workout 
25 minutes or lessHigh-intensity interval training (HIIT), brisk walk or run, fitness app workout
10 minutes or less Targeted body area workout (abs, arms, back), DAOFitLife YouTube workout, mini-workout, 7-minute app workout (see appendix on Fitness App Decision Tree for more information on workout apps), stretching 

If you think 5 or 10 minutes does not make a difference, you are wrong, it makes a huge difference. According to this article in Women’s Health, 5 to 10 minute “mini” workouts can absolutely make a difference and it has been scientifically proven that they can help you gain muscle, lose weight, and boost your metabolism. It is a matter of replacing your social media scrolling habit with being active!

Don’t allow interruptions or time vampires 

One key way to make this a success is silencing ALL notifications, including texts, chats, calls and social media, especially if you are using an app or just doing freestyle at the gym. Notifications can be distracting and can actually ruin the whole point of a quick mid-day workout, because the temptation to entertain the distraction is usually too great and you waste time responding or reading whatever comes in. It’s a shame we have to rely on our phones or watches for music, accessing gyms and apps, and other reasons, but this is what we have to work with. If you are in an in-person class, leave your phone in your gym locker. It’s the worst when someone’s phone starts ringing or even starts lighting up during the class. Don’t be “that guy” (or girl). Be present! This is your time you carved out for yourself, so soak up every second.

Additional Tips That Will Help You Transition To Mid-Day Workouts Easily

·        Wear a workout tank under a blazer or button down shirt so you can just whip it off and go (I recommend the Koral brand blazers, which have a stretchy material). You can even buy street pants that have yoga pants material (like from Alo Yoga or Athleta) o that you can literally go from the office to your workout and only have to change your shoes or take them off (another bonus of doing yoga or Pilates, you don’t need shoes!) 

  • Have any gym equipment needed in a designated place, like the corner of the room or office.
  • Make sure the phone and pods or earphones are fully charged. If in the office, have a gym bag packed the night before with all amenities needed to freshen up afterward.
  • Lay out sneakers by workspace if you are planning on going for a short walk. If it’s needed, have your coat on the back of your chair.
  • Queue up a workout app routine of choice to play as soon as you get started.
  • If tech is a distraction, go old school and use a workout journal to have your workout mapped out and not get distracted. It may seem awkward at first, but your efficiency will triple when you lose the tech. 

·        Have your post-workout lunch or snack packed and ready to eat (if you want more meal planning ideas head to my Little Black Dress Meal planning method in Chapter 14).

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