Working Out at Work: A Decent Way to Waste Time

As we’ve chronicled (or, more to the point, whined about ad nauseam) here at this blog, working in an office from 9 to 5—or 8:30 to 4:30, or 7:20 to 3:45, or whatever your particular schedule may be—can be rough. For me, one problem inherent in the daily grind are the idle hours, the down time. In the morning, down time is great: I catch up on the news, read The New Yorker, check the baseball scores. I send a few emails and check the weather. Then, if I have no real work to do (the kind I get paid for), I move on to my own work, like writing a paper on the Establishment clause. On a good day, I’ll put in a few hours in on that. But, as all efficiency scientists will tell you, it’s impossible to spend all day long writing and researching. So, some days, by the time 2 o’clock rolls around, I have nothing left to do. How do I fill up the remaining two and a half hours of my day?

These days, the answer has been to work out at work.

I know, I know: It sounds insufferable to say it. My whole life I’ve hated people who’ve gently nudged—(i.e., guilt-trip the heck out of)—me to adopt “healthier lifestyles” and make “physical fitness” one of my “positive life choices.” I’m not trying to do that here. I’m merely discussing working out at work as something that helps me break up dull days spent in cramped, dull offices. For me, it’s simple: If I take working-out breaks throughout my news reading, email sending, and paper-writing activities, I’m able to make those activities last the whole day long. To the extent that there are positive side effects from working out (such as feeling a little bit more energized, and maybe a little stronger), that’s just icing on the cake.

Working out at work is challenging, though. Mostly, this is because there are other people around. Office environments—at least the one in which I operate—are not generally places where, say, dropping to the ground and popping out 20 push-ups is a thing people do without getting looked at funny. Then again, it depends who you’re working with. If you work in an office full of strapping young professionals who are all fit and lean and drink Naked juice all day and spend lunch talking about last weekend’s 18-mile hike up one or another of the Rocky Mountains, then by all means, pump out those push-ups for all your office mates to see. But my hunch is that that’s not the typical office environment.

Most of the people I work with or around are much older than I am. I don’t say this because it’s a bad thing—far from it. I enjoy talking to people who have accumulated a fair amount of wisdom and know-how, people with kids and stories to tell, people who’ve lived decades in a city I’ve just moved into. These people are interesting and helpful; they’re worthwhile human beings in a way most 26-years-old just aren’t. When it comes to physical activity, however, my co-workers, God bless them, are not exactly all-stars. Their attitudes toward exertion are more along the lines of … let’s call it “inertia.” Whether by habit or just by being a little bit older, they tend to spend most of the day sitting in their chairs. (As with all sweeping generalizations, this one’s not entirely fair; many of the clerks and records-keeping personnel, for example, are up and moving around all day long because their jobs require it. Others are in fine shape for reasons having nothing to do with their day jobs. Plus, it’s hard to blame someone for spending all his time in a chair when that’s what work demands.)

Anyway, my situation is awkward to navigate: In these surroundings, how can I work out at work without looking like a freak? It begins with having pre-set intervals and exercises. For instance, every morning at 9:30, I stop what I’m doing and do as many push-ups as I can. This used to mean 15 push-ups; now it’s more like 30 or 35, depending on how zippy I’m feeling that day. Then a few crunches, then some leg-hops (unique to me; I’m still rehabbing my right knee, having torn my ACL more than a year ago). Then some more leg exercises, and it’s back to the desk for more paperwork/internet reading/email writing. At 11:00, I do another session, usually throwing in a different exercise or two for the sake of variety—wall-sits, planks, tricep dips (using my chair), whatever strikes me. (I get that this is starting to sound insufferable.) The nice thing, though, is that these little exercises, simple as they are, actually make me feel better about myself. And, crucially, they provide something to look forward to (or at least to arrange a schedule around) in a day often bereft of anticipation.

I’ve had occasionally embarrassing moments—having a judge walk in on you doing push ups is not, it turns out, an enviable situation to be in. But it’s been worth it. Because all in all, working out at work has proved helpful. And as far as I’m concerned, anything that helps me get through the workday is worth hanging onto—or, at least, worth writing a blog post about.

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