How to make the most of a lunchtime workout
Studies suggest that breaking up a work day with exercise can improve productivity but working out on company time can still be hard to justify. The FT's Daniel Garrahan looks at the most time-efficient ways to train, from circuits with Olympic champion rower Helen Glover, to running clubs and high intensity interval training.
Written, edited and produced by Daniel Garrahan. Filmed by Petros Gioumpasis and Daniel Garrahan. Graphics by Kari-Ruth Pedersen
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DANIEL GARRAHAN: Sometimes it feels like there isn't enough time left in the day to exercise. But studies say that working out during office hours can improve our mood, make us more alert, and increase our productivity. Businesses are increasingly attuned to this. Some offer subsidised health club memberships. Others have their own office gyms. But exercise on company time isn't always easy to justify. So I wanted to know how to make the most of a lunchtime workout. I figured a good place to start was with double Olympic rowing champion Helen Glover. Helen recently had a baby boy.
HELEN GLOVER: Logan, my little one, is 10 months old now, and I'm very much experiencing some sleep deprivation. And it's really important for me to do something physical every day. Then I just feel like I have more energy, and I just have the capacity to be the best mum I can for Logan.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: Talk me through what we're about to do. Should I be scared?
HELEN GLOVER: Yeah, you should be scared. Circuit's going to be 10 minutes, so you've only got a minute on each exercise. I want you to pretty much go as hard as you can. No break.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: Do I get a break if I look like I'm about to have a heart attack?
HELEN GLOVER: Absolutely not.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: OK.
HELEN GLOVER: You ready?
DANIEL GARRAHAN: Yeah.
HELEN GLOVER: Off you go.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: I have my doubts that just a single 10-minute circuit is going to be that challenging. But shortly after I start pushing this weighted sled up and down a track, I start to see what Helen means. After just the second exercise, tyre flips, I'm blowing hard.
HELEN GLOVER: Down a bit, that's it. Nice. OK, you're doing really well. Big jump on, settle That's it. What makes you angry? Get the anger out now.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: Brexit. Argh.
HELEN GLOVER: Nice, done. Good job. That was good.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: See, that really is a lunchtime workout.
HELEN GLOVER: Yeah.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: 10 minutes.
HELEN GLOVER: And you can do so much in '10 minutes, can't you?
DANIEL GARRAHAN: Can't breathe.
HELEN GLOVER: If you're looking at losing weight and you've only got 10, 20 minutes every day to work out, this is what you do.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: Yeah.
HELEN GLOVER: Something high intensity, something that's going to keep your metabolism ticking over for the rest of the day.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: Something that's going to make you sweat like this. 10 minutes.
HELEN GLOVER: it's not even hot in here.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: No.
From high intensity with Helen, to high intensity interval training, or HIT, as it's known, if you've got a gym membership and a bit longer than 10 minutes, you might want to consider something like Les Mills' GRIT Athletic. Steve Tansey is taking today's class.
STEVE TANSEY: It's half an hour long, but you will burn calories at a higher level for up to two and 1/2 hours after the workout.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: A quick glance at the size of Steve's biceps, and I could see that he means business. Is just as intense as the workout I did with Helen, but mercifully, the exercises are broken up with short rest periods, where I can at least try to catch my breath. Some of the moves are easier to master than others, and I struggled to keep up with some of my fellow classmates.
But the group workout environment does motivate me to at least try. The class is punishing. According to my fitness tracker, I burned 406 calories with a max heart rate of 183 BPM. Loud dance music and group high fives clearly aren't for everyone. If you don't have a gym membership, but still liked the idea of group exercise, you might consider a running club instead.
MORGAN MARREN-ARNULL: Gets you some time away from work to sort of process everything that's gone on with your day, maybe have a bit of a moan, and we all go for a run here and then we come back and have a drink as well.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: After the two high intensity workouts, a jog around the park followed by a pint sounds like a nice change of pace. My heart sinks when I'm told I've joined the club for their weekly sprints interval training session. After a light jog to warm up, we're expected to sprint for a minute, then jog for a minute to recover. Each sprint interval then goes up in one minute increments until we've completed five rounds.
I start off near the front of the pack. After the second sprint interval, it feels like I'm running backwards. No discernible change in pace when I should be sprinting. I'm quickly overtaken, lapped several times before ducking out early. Running club, it's very, it's exhausting. I got overtaken, lapped at least three or four times. Clearly not the fittest person here.
But in half an hour, I ran four an a bit Ks. Average heart rate of 135 beats per minute. Max heart rate of 166. According to my fitness tracker, I burned over 400 calories too. And because it's also a form of HIT, I'll continue burning calories afterwards. London City Runners is an after work club, but there are plenty of lunch time running clubs around too, and they're worth considering.
DR. DANE VISHNU: If you're working at lunch time, then you're getting all of the different chemical and hormonal releases that you expect from exercise. So if you think about alertness, concentration that comes from particularly things like adrenaline release, then you're going can have that carrying on for a period of time. So there are multiple benefits to work beyond just the health benefits. You definitely stay awake a little bit longer as well immediately afterwards, which particularly in that post lunch lull, is critical.
HELEN GLOVER: Companies are really getting on board. But I hope it's not just lip service. I know people who say, yeah, we have an hour for lunch and we eat at our desks because we're still working. Productivity will go up if you just kind of take that chance, take that risk and let people have the opportunity to do something physical.
DANIEL GARRAHAN: So businesses can benefit by giving staff the time and the facilities to exercise. But I hope Helen's right, because after all of this high intensity training, I feel too exhausted to even contemplate doing anything productive anytime soon.