Squeeze in a calorie-torching sweat session that's so fast, your coworkers won't realize you ever left your desk.
Exercising during your lunch break can be a great way to give yourself a mental break and even improve your productivity and energy when you get back to the office. But sometimes it can feel like the bulk of that hour away from your desk is spent sprinting to and from the locker room.
Smart planning and a few little tweaks can help you make the most of your lunchtime sweat session, says celebrity trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist Holly Perkins. Shave minutes off of your midday routine with these helpful hacks.
Plan your outfit accordingly
Don't waste any time getting tangled in your blouse in the locker room or bathroom stall. Instead, find a way to wear some of your gym clothes to the office (a non-issue for us Health staffers, honestly). "The easiest item is the sports bra, of course," says Perkins. "That's something you automatically have to change anyways and it's a pain in the butt. So wear it, work out in it, get sweaty, then put your fresh bra on."
Take the trick a few steps further by layering a blazer over a black sweat-wicking tee and your sports bra. Or, wear a sleek pair of black leggings with a long sweater, with a sports bra or fitted tank hiding underneath. Just have clean clothes packed in your bag to change into when you're done.
Be strategic about hair and makeup
Like your outfit, you should also plan your 'do. On days you want to workout midday, pull your locks into a high ponytail, braid, or top knot before you leave the house. Make sure your updo is tight enough that you won't have to fiddle with it again before hitting the treadmill.
If you can, go super light on your makeup so you don't have to worry about spending too much time taking it off before you start exercising, recommends Mona Gohara, MD, a dermatologist at the Yale School of Medicine.
Pack your own lunch
Waiting in line for an (overpriced) salad wastes time when you're up against the clock. "It feels better anyway to nourish yourself afterward with something clean and homemade," says Perkins.
If you plan on doing cardio, pack a post-workout pick-me-up balanced with carbs and protein and eat it (at your desk) within 20 to 30 minutes of wrapping to keep your energy up and your metabolism humming. If you strength trained, try to have about 20 grams of protein within an hour of finishing your workout to help repair your muscles and keep you full for the rest of the day.
Avoid peak lunch hour
"There are certainly busier times at public gyms, lunch being a big one," says Perkins. If you find yourself always waiting for a machine or lining up for the showers around noon or 1 p.m., exercise a little earlier or a little late. Plan a snack accordingly so you're never too full or too hungry to get in a good workout if you do adjust your schedule. Or, avoid gym crowds entirely and go outside for a run or brisk walk.
Go in with a plan
Showing up to the gym without a plan means you'll wander the floor deciding what to do, wasting precious minutes in the process. What's more, you may end up doing a workout that won't help you achieve your end goal.
Perkins recommends asking yourself a couple questions before you even leave your desk: Am I just looking to burn the most calories in the least amount of time? Or do I have a larger goal I need to work toward? " Here's an example: "If a client tells me her goal is to put on lean muscle mass, but aside from seeing me once a week, she's mostly spinning on her lunch breaks because it's convenient, she will have trouble achieving that goal," explains Perkins. "An overall strength training workout is something you could definitely fit into a lunch period, but you may need to forgo some spin classes in order to meet your goal."
Perkins advises spending some time on Sunday pre-planning your workouts for the week. Mark the days on your calendar you expect to fit in exercise over lunch, as well as any days you don't plan to work out. You should also write some notes (in a planner, on Post-Its, in your iCal, wherever) about the type of workout you plan to do—and why.
Just remember, as convenient as lunch workouts may be, there are some goals that may not be achievable solely in these shorter sessions (marathon training, anyone?). Coordinate wisely and be flexible about carving out time before and after work when necessary.
When in doubt, HIIT it hard
If you just want crank up the calorie burn fast and hard so you can get your workout done and move on with your day, then high-intensity interval training is the winning workout for you.
"Hop on the elliptical or treadmill and follow a protocol where, for a certain number of minutes, you go at a high intensity and then you go at a low intensity," Perkins says. "You can use a similar structure with a strength training workout—HIT, or just high-intensity training, meaning that the strength set itself is intense and you're heart rate comes down while you rest in between." (Hint: If you don't want to get too sweaty, strength may be the better route.)
For a simple HIIT or HIT program, follow Perkins' 2-minute rule: Go hard for 2 minutes and lighten up the intensity for 2 minutes for the duration of your sweat session. "During the 2 minutes on the high-intensity interval, you can't go all out because you're going to burn out," Perkins warns. "Think of a scale from one to 10, where one is you're falling asleep at the end of the night and 10 is as if I made you sprint as fast as humanly possible for a few miles—you want to be at an eight for the full 2 minutes." (Still feeling unsure about what to do? This HIIT Workout Gets the Job Done in 10 Minutes.)
Shorten (or skip) the warm-up
A warm-up isn't necessary when you're just doing cardio, says Perkins. "Technically all a warm-up is to prepare you metabolically for a workout," she explains. "So if you're doing an interval-type cardio workout, you can pretty much just jump in and start with your 2 minutes of low intensity."
Suiting up for strength? In that case, warming up will help you prevent injuries, Perkins says: "If your session is going to include traditional strength training, you do want to start out with about 5 minutes on a stationary bike or walking on the treadmill," she says. Save even more time by jogging from your office to the gym.
Save your deep stretch
Don't sweat it if you don't have time to stretch after your lunch workout, Perkins says. "But in a given week, you should carve out a substantial period of time for a deeper stretch period. So if on your lunch break you don't have a lot of time to fit it in, choose another day."
That doesn't mean you should jump off the treadmill and go right back to your desk. "There should be a little bit of a cool-down in some capacity, even if it's 1 or 2 minutes on the floor performing just a couple of quick range of motion exercises," Perkins adds, like gentle leg swings, arm circles, and moving your neck side to side and back and forth.
Shorten your shower
Prioritize scrubbing away the sweat and germs, says Dr. Gohara, and not so much cleansing your hair. In fact, you can skip washing it in the afternoon and just shampoo later in the evening. Invest in a wide headband or a reusable shower cap to keep your hair from getting wet. Another hack: If your gym locker room has plastic bags for sweaty clothes, you can use one to cover your mane and secure it with a tie or jaw clip.
...or don't shower at all
Yes, it's OK to skip the full-body washdown if you're crunched for time, says Dr. Gohara. "You should always cleanse your face, but it's fine if you can't take a real shower immediately," she says. Have makeup and body wipes on hand to towel away sweat on your face, neck, and the reachable areas on your back and shoulders, where some folks are prone to "bacne," she adds. (And don't forget to bring a change of underwear.)
Worried about spreading stink? Don't, says Perkins. "You really don't have to shower again. You're not going to stink. And even if you do stink, no one is going to smell you. Do not waste your time showering for other peoples' sakes."
Stock your gym bag with your favorite deodorant and rollerball perfume and you're set.
Skip the full blow dry
Wear a slightly sweaty ponytail and dry shampoo as a badge of honor, says Perkins. "I do it all the time. If I've had a really good workout and my hair is sweaty, I just grab the hair dryer and only dry the sweat around my roots and the nape of my neck," she says. "A little dry shampoo and a quick fluff with a brush, that's all you need."
Dr. Gohara also advises drying around your hairline as best as possible in the time you have if you're prone to breaking out in that area.