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3 Ways to Balance Your 9–5 Job with an Exercise Schedule

Getting into a sustainable routine is the only way it’ll stick. How can you make this happen?

It starts with you.

Figuring out the right time to work out (i.e. lifting weights and/or getting your heart rate up)— while staying committed to your 9–5 role — is difficult to keep up with on a consistent basis. As long as you build up momentum, though, it does get easier.

To create a habit that sticks, you’ll want to make sure it features these key qualities:

  • It fits into your natural behavior (e.g. are you an early morning person or night owl?)
  • It meshes well with your current environment (e.g. do you have to be at work for a 9am meeting every morning or are your work expectations more fluid?)

No matter which time of the day you choose, keep in mind there will be pros and cons to working out a certain time with a 9–5 job to sustain. Building a schedule that coincides with your habits and what other people are expecting of you helps you sustain your new commitment (e.g. going to the gym 3 times a week on T/Th/Sat), because it will provide the maximum amount of overall value and least amount of daily resistance.

Okay, so when it comes to working out (and keeping your job), what are your tangible options?

#1. The Gym in the Morning Life

I would love to make the gym before work thing happen. It’d be great. I’d get all of my exercise in before most people are having their breakfast. I could have a full 9–5 workday where I would be full of energy. And then I’d have the evenings to relax.

But I know myself. I know — to my core — that I don’t enjoy getting up early (i.e. 4, 5, 6, or 7am) on a consistent basis. I’d rather get up later (i.e. 8am), and work til 10pm two days out of the week at a Starbucks in a happening area.

If you’re the type of person who wouldn’t have a problem getting up early, then by all means, shoot for this routine. But realize that between your commute, food, and logistics (not to mention if you value having some time to yourself in the morning), you’re looking at a 5–6am workout.

For people who commonly work late into the evenings, or enjoy a good happy hour from time to time — this is probably not the best idea.

Early morning workouts sounds great. But are you truly about that life? Maybe you are. I am not.

#2. The Gym at Lunch Life

A couple years back, I figured out that my optimal time to work out is 10:30am or 11am.

I found this schedule would give me the first few hours of the day to laser focus on work, supported by one cup of strong black coffee. Working out and eating my first meal of the day took up the next two hours. And then I would launch back into work until the evening.

This was my daily routine when I was freelancing. The habit got me into the best shape of my life and helped me figure out what I wanted to focus on for the next 5–10 years of my life. I recommend it highly for people who have found some traction in their careers, and also want some time to figure things out.

8am — 11:30am (with the above setup) are the most productive hours of my day. What are yours?

How to make lunchtime workouts happen

What I just described doesn’t mesh well with many work environments, particularly when you’re first getting started, and also as you move into leadership roles accompanied by more responsibility.

I first finagled this scenario into my 9–5 life when I found myself living within two blocks of my work, home, and gym.

I would change into shorts and a t-shirt at work, run to the gym, and workout for 45 minutes. Then, I would run home, shower, and eat. After, I would stroll back to work.

A hustle for sure. But so worth it.

If you can swing it, I truly believe getting a workout in during the middle of your day is the best for your all-around physical and mental health.

Sure, you’ll end up taking a little longer than the average American’s lunchbreak. But as long as you consistently go above and beyond your role, by producing products that resonate with your organizational leadership, there’s a good chance you can make this happen.

I think this works well on multiple levels, specifically because:

  • You’ll be at your peak performance for the day
  • You’ll come back into the office with more energy going into the second half of the workday.
  • Post-work happy hours would focus on relaxation. Rather than feeling guilty for neglecting my routines.
  • People tend to like working with strong, healthy people.
  • Your weekends are free. (Though, those that know me know I enjoy a good weekend morning workout from time to time.)

Finally, a note on food intake:

  • Try to have little to no food prior to your workout. It’s easy to do with the gym at lunch schedule. I prefer fasted workouts, which you can’t do if you go to the gym after work — because you’ve already eaten lunch and will probably want dinner before you go.
The obligatory pitch for IF: Run off one cup of black coffee in the morning (it’ll blunt your hunger surprisingly well), exercise at 11:30 or noon, and eat a 1,000 calorie meal for lunch. Huge brunches everyday are amazing, btw — whether you want to gain muscle or lose fat.

#3. The Gym After Work Life

Gyms can be crazy places post-work on a weekday. I really wouldn’t recommend it. Waiting for a squat rack or leg press when you’re ready to go is a major buzzkill.

If this is your only realistic option — and unfortunately for most people who don’t thrive off getting up early, it probably is — I know that I’ve had good experiences waiting until a little bit later in the evening, say 7 or 8pm. The hard part for me is going at like 9pm, because then I’m too tired.

On gyms in your area

If you’re signed up with a major commercial company (e.g. Gold’s Gym, 24 Hour Fitness), make sure to explore each and every one of their gyms within a 20 minute drive from your work or home. 20 minutes is very doable, and you might be surprised at which one you like the most.

In my experience, the ones in suburbia tend to be more luxurious. They’re cleaner, less crowded, and have newer equipment. The gyms closer to urban areas are exactly the opposite: crowded, stinky, and old. (I’m obviously not talking about places like Equinox.)

If you decide to pursue this option, here’s my best tip:

  • Get two workouts in during the week. Get another in on Saturday or Sunday, late morning.

Gyms are actually wonderful places on the weekend. Try it sometime. Afterwards you can grab lunch at the bagel shop, walk around the neighborhood, and ease into a relaxing day off.

Best of luck!



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