How to Master the Midday Workout

I’ve worked at DePaul University for five years, but I only recently ventured to the university’s gym across the street from my office. The space is clean, convenient and, best of all, free. On those days when work isn’t too crazy or I have happy hour plans, I like to get in a quick midday sweat session. But going to the gym in the middle of the workday presents its own set of challenges. After all, you don’t want to be Stinky McGee at your afternoon meetings. Avoid that potential pitfall and navigate other tricky issues by following our guide below.


Think timing

Personally, I’d rather not see Bill from accounting huffing and puffing and grunting his way through his workout. Props to Bill for getting after it, but there’s definitely something uncomfortable about seeing your coworkers in all their sweaty glory. To avoid awkward chit chat and the lunchtime rush, I tend to go as late as I can – 1 pm is my ideal.


Get in and get out

The midday workout is not the time for a leisurely gym experience. You probably only have 60 minutes to spare, and that includes changing clothes and sprucing yourself up afterward. By the time I get to the gym, I’m usually looking at 30-40 minutes of solid effort. That means I keep my workout short and sweet. I like to do a quick 5-minute warmup on the treadmill, rower or bike, followed by three sets of three exercises each. You can go for time or quantity: my first set might be 15 push-ups, 15 I’s and Y’s and a one-minute plank. I do those three times through before moving on to my next circuit.


Minimize the sweat factor

Unless you have time to shower after your workout, you may want to keep the high-intensity cardio to a minimum. I focus on lifting during my midday sessions; I still get sweaty, but I’m not drenched like I would be after a spinning class or five-mile run. While I’ll do plenty of bodyweight exercises – wall sits, crunches, planks, push-ups and triceps dips are all good options – I tend to avoid burpees, high knees, jumping jacks and other high cardio moves that get the sweat going. Here’s a great strength workout that should allow you to remain presentable at the office.


Freshen up

Be prepared for a quick post-workout clean-up. Pack an extra pair of underwear, deodorant, dry shampoo and face wipes. Take a quick look in the mirror to make sure your (hopefully waterproof) makeup didn’t run. I keep a travel-size mascara in my purse for easy touch-ups; for other workout-proof makeup suggestions, read Amanda’s article here or check out Kelly’s favorite products here.


Eat and hydrate

I usually eat a protein bar 30 minutes before my workout, followed by lunch immediately afterward. If I’m thinking ahead, I’ll also eat a mid-morning snack (try apples and string cheese) since lunchtime won’t roll around until 2 pm if I work out at 1 pm. To enhance recovery, I try to make sure my lunch is stocked full of carbs and protein. Read Catherine’s tips for choosing smart pre- and post-workout meals here. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially during and after your workout.

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About Kelsey Schagemann

Kelsey is a former NCAA Division III cross country and track athlete who exchanged sneakers for spin shoes in her twenties. Hailing from the great state of Oregon (by way of St. Louis, where she spent her childhood), Kelsey has made Chicago her home since 2006. She can often be found at the helm of her daughter’s stroller, walking miles throughout the city. Her other favorite fitness activities include spinning, yoga, lifting weights and biking. As a freelance writer, Kelsey works with universities, nonprofits, websites and magazines (visit for more information). In her spare time, she enjoys trying new recipes, traveling with her family and keeping the library in business. Kelsey holds a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MA in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago.