How to Master the Lunch-Time Workout
Master the Midday Workout
If you're sitting at your desk thinking, Should I or shouldn't I? Consider this: Research shows that lunch hour might be the best time of day to exercise. Your strength peaks midday, making it the ideal window to get in a strength-, speed-, or power-based sweat, says study author David W. Hill, Ph.D., at the University of North Texas. The boost may be because your body temperature is higher in the afternoon (a function of your natural circadian rhythms), which in turn means muscles are warmer and chemical reactions might be working faster.
Even better, your body peaks while your health club empties: According to Gold's Gym data, the lowest gym usage during the week is from 1 to 2 p.m., so you won't have to fight over equipment or locker-room space. (Going for a run outside? Here's what science says about the best time to run.) On top of that, a good sweat can make you more productive when you return to the office. Here's your game plan.
Eliminate a Bra Change
Eat Two Lunches
Cut your usual lunch in half, and about an hour before go time (anything later and you may risk stomach issues), eat the more carb-laden portion, such as a pita and hummus or a handful of grapes, so you have some easily digestible fuel, says Adam Collins, Ph.D., the program director of nutrition at the University of Surrey in England. After your workout, eat the other, more protein-packed half to help replenish and rebuild muscles. Choose something such as a green salad with chicken—or celery with peanut butter. (These delicious vegan lunches prove you don't need meat to pack protein.)
This is when you want to hold off on carb-heavy foods: Women who consumed 35 grams of carbohydrates that were high on the glycemic index— about the amount in two slices of white bread—within 90 minutes of exercising burned less fat than women who didn't, according to Collins's research. Women actually burn more fat during exercise than men, which means they conserve more carbohydrates during exercise, he says. So if you overload your body with carbs after a workout, it blunts your fat-burning potential. And we're guessing you don't want to do that. (Another way to burn more fat? Pick up the heavy weights.)
Pick an easy-in, easy-out look: the fabric in the LNA Alissar Muscle Tank ($36, Amazon) won't wrinkle if you fold it up in a gym bag or toss it in a locker while you work out. Plus, it doesn't cling to still-warm skin after exercise, making your cooldown walk back to the office stress (and sweat) free. (More muscle tanks for women, right here.)
HIIT, Then Split
A time crunch is no obstacle—20 to 30 minutes is plenty to get huge benefits when you have the right mix and intensity. "You can get a greater calorie burn during and after your workout as well as target your muscles more deeply when you work harder," says Charlotte Jelleyman, an exercise physiologist at the University of Leicester in England.
Go in with a detailed plan (try our BodyShop HIIT Workout for example) so you don't waste any time. And keep it simple. "You don't have to come up with an entirely different routine each session," says Ariel Iasevoli, a trainer at Crunch gym in New York City. Instead, do the same exercises each week, so you get comfortable with them, progressing the weight, reps, and sets over three to six weeks; then switch it up entirely. As for intensity, "your breath should be heavy, it should be too tough to talk, and for the best results, you should be totally wiped after your last strength set or interval," Jelleyman says.
Use a Type-A Tote
Use Moves That Multitask
Compound exercises such as squats, push-ups, and burpees work multiple muscle groups at once, so you'll be able to lift or support a lot of weight per rep, which puts more muscle fibers to work, Iasevoli says. To craft an efficient DIY routine, Lasevoli recommends doing five rounds of 5 to 10 reps of an upper-body exercise, 5 to 8 reps of a lower-body exercise, and 10 to 20 reps of a core exercise—with no rest between exercises. (Here are more compound exercises that crush calories.) Finish with as many burpees as you can bang out. This lets you give it your all without completely fatiguing out your muscles, since they get built-in breaks on certain moves. "You'll increase your stamina, become more efficient, and boost your calorie burn during and after your workout," Iasevoli says.
Get Dressed Faster
Fake a Shower
Wipe down with a take-and-toss option: Paper Shower ($9 for 12, bodywipecompany.com) includes an unscented wet towelette to clean off sweat and a dry pad to wick away excess moisture.
It's not easy, but leaving your to-do list behind will help keep your workout focused and productive, says Jack J. Lesyk, Ph.D., the director of the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology. Essentially, it's like practicing mindfulness for your exercise. Just as you need to plan your routine, you need to plan where to direct your mental energy, whether that's something like your form or intensity or the weight you're lifting.
"You'll have an easier time focusing on the goals of your workout when there aren't other items demanding your attention," says Gregory Chertok, a certified sport psychology consultant for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. Plus, exercise activates the brain's cortex, which means you'll go back to your desk reenergized, refreshed, and refocused for the rest of your workday—you might not even need that 3 p.m. coffee break anymore.