"How do I stay in shape if I'm sitting in the office all day?"

As part of my business, I hear this question all the time..."How do I stay in shape if I'm sitting in the office all day?"

You've probably asked yourself this question a few times as well.

So, here's an email I got the other day:

(Click 'Display Images' if you can't see this image)

You know, in those moments when you're trying to drag yourself to the gym after spending 12-hours hunched over your computer.  Or when you pull on your work clothes and realize that there's a 50/50 chance your pants are going to split if you try and sit down.  Or worse, you don't even notice the deterioration of your health and body until it's too late to fix it.  No one wants to wake up at 30 and realize that they're a sleep-deprived, borderline-alcoholic, overweight corporate drone that is so out of shape that they couldn't make it up a flight of stairs without losing their breath and stopping for a break halfway.

Sorry if that's a little vivid, but that is my nightmare.

The first few months of my management consulting career was a rough adjustment.  I went from being a varsity athlete who worked out multiple times a day to a cubicle monkey that worked 60–100+ hour weeks and ate more Subway foot-longs than I care to remember.

I was well on my way to putting on a 'first-year fifteen' until I had a wake-up call.  I was sitting in the food court downstairs from my office, halfway through shovelling down a late-night bowl of greasy pad thai, when I just stopped, put the fork down, and thought, "What am I doing?!?"

After this wake-up call, everything changed.  I stopped eating eating the office donuts, and started stuffing my briefcase with almonds and cashews.  I stopped snoozing my alarm and started going to 6:00 a.m. spin classes.  Through trial and error I figured out some ways to stay in shape even though I worked all the time.

I even got in good enough shape to play international rugby for Canada while still working my management consulting job.

(Click 'Display Images' if you can't see this photo.)

There's a lot that went into making that goal happen, but today I'm going to share just one thing: the simple fitness plan I used to get in shape in less than 2 hours a week.

How to get in shape when you have no free time

Life was simple when you were in college.  Sure you were busy, but you were mostly free to do what you wanted when you wanted.  If you wanted to skip class and watch Curb Your Enthusiasm all day, you could do that.  If you wanted to party on a Tuesday because it was 'Country Night', you could do that.  And if you wanted to workout 6 times a week, you could do that.

But now that you've sold your soul to the corporate world, life works just a little differently...

Instead of complete freedom, you work for a dictator boss who controls your life.  Projects can blow up at any time, so making plans ahead of time is pointless.  And you need to be on-call 24/7, so sneaking off for a lunchtime workout just ain't gonna happen.

A lot of my friends at work struggled with this new lifestyle, and decided to just put their health on the back-burner and focus on work.  They said they'd just 'figure it out' once they moved to a job with better work-life balance.

Maybe this approach worked for them, but I didn't want to fall off the fitness train and never get back on.  In my opinion, no amount of money is worth sacrificing your health that much.

So I started looking for ways to workout despite my unpredictable and uncontrollable schedule.

The key mindset shift I had was realizing that you don't need to workout like you did in college to get in shape.  You don't need to be hitting the weights 5 days a week or doing 30 minutes of morning cardio every day.

Despite what you've been told, there are extremely simple strategies that can save you time and get you in phenomenal shape.

'Exercise minimalism' = workout less and get better results

When I was struggling to find time to train for international rugby, I stumbled upon the concept of 'exercise minimalism'.  The first interaction was from the book The 4-Hour Body, where Tim Ferriss talks about the concept of the 'minimum effective dose'.

"The minimum effective dose (MED) is defined simply: the smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome[...]  Anything beyond the MED is wasteful. To boil water, the MED is 212°F (100°C) at standard air pressure. Boiled is boiled. Higher temperatures will not make it "more boiled." Higher temperatures just consume more resources that could be used for something else more productive.

If you need 15 minutes in the sun to trigger a melanin response, 15 minutes is your MED for tanning. More than 15 minutes is redundant and will just result in burning and a forced break from the beach…"

The book goes on to apply this concept to exercise, and the implications are profound.  Instead of trying to do the most exercise you can tolerate, you should be doing the least amount required to produce your desired results.  I was used to mimicking the workouts of professional athletes and doing the 5x5 routines from the pages of glossy magazines, and now this was telling me that it was a waste of time?!

Precision Nutrition-the world's largest online nutrition coaching company-also wrote about exercise minimalism with an experiment they did with one of their clients.  They had this client work out for a total of 8 hours and 32 minutes... over the course of 4 months.  That works out to 32 minutes a week.  Each week she'd do two sprint workouts (6 minutes each) and two circuit workouts (10 minutes each).  The results?

"Well, in the last 16 weeks Marsha lost a whopping 20 pounds of body fat. She dropped from 150 pounds to 130 pounds. That's nearly 2.5 pounds of fat lost for every hour spent in the gym."


That type of progress is bonkers.

If you're wondering how that is even physically possible, here's the simple one-word answer: INTENSITY.  Exercise minimalism only works if you jack up the intensity of your workouts.  By increasing the intensity for a short period of time your body is forced to make beneficial adaptations: lose fat, gain muscle, improve conditioning, etc.

CrossFit and Spin classes operate using the same principle of intensity, and just a few weeks ago there was a New York Times article that explained why "1 Minute of All-Out Exercise May Have Benefits of 45 Minutes of Moderate Exertion".

Pulling on your leotard and going to a Jane Fonda aerobic workout is in the past; now it's all about intensity.

An exercise routine built for finance professionals

When I learned about the idea of 'minimalist exercise', I immediately started applying it to my life.  I stopped trying to work out everyday and started just trying to get a few high quality, intense sessions in each week.

Each week, here's what I did:

  1. ONE high-intensity strength training workout per week (7–20 minutes each)
  2. ONE high-intensity interval training workout per week (5–10 minutes each)
  3. ONE weekend walk / sport / activity (60 minutes)

Do this, ignore everything else, and I guarantee you will get in better shape than you've ever been.  That's 90-minutes a week (and 60 minutes is just having fun in the park!).

If this seems to easy, that's a good thing.  The goal is to make exercise so easy that you don't have an excuse not to do it, even if you are working a week from hell.  Think about it... how many hours have you wasted trying to start an intense fitness routine only to fall off the wagon a few weeks later when your project blows up?  Exercise minimalism is built for the long-haul.  You'll be able to do this routine through the ups and downs of life, year after year.  Try this for 4-weeks and see what kind of results you get.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

ONE high-intensity strength training workout per week (7–20 minutes each)

ONE high-intensity interval training workout per week (5–10 minutes each)

  • Treadmill sprints (2 minute warm-up.  15 seconds sprint, 15 second rest.  Repeat 5 times.)
  • Sign up for a spin class (this is what I used to do)
  • Outdoor hill sprints (Warm-up.  10 sprints up, walk down.  Cool-down.)

ONE weekend walk / sport / activity (60 minutes)

  • Get some friends together and play a game outside like frisbee, soccer, basketball, etc.
  • Go for solo hike, walk outside, bike ride, etc.

# # #

Right.  That's the framework I used to workout while working crazy long hours.  This should be enough to get you started, but I'm sure you have more questions, like...  How do I find time to workout during the week?  What should I do if I only have time for bodyweight workouts?  This sounds like b.s. - how does it actually work?

Just leave a comment below with your question.  I'll hit you back with an answer based on what's worked (and what hasn't worked) for me.


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Comments (75)

May 24, 2016 - 4:49pm

Definitely. Here's a YouTube video of a 10-minute routine that has kicked my ass a few times:

  • 1
May 25, 2016 - 8:41am

The best purchase I've made this year was a $100 used treadmill to throw in my spare bedroom. I know this isn't reasonable for people in Manhattan, but being able to hop on and run a quick mile in less than 10 minutes makes staying decently in shape very easy.

The biggest thing for anyone is finding ways to make it easy, which your post does. Thanks for the read.

May 25, 2016 - 12:38pm

This is great.

Here's what I do: When you wake up in the morning, do your cardio before you eat anything. Apparently, if you do cardio at the end of a fast it's much more effective than if you did it at some point during the day. Having a treadmill or stationary bike really makes it easy as you don't have to go through the time consuming process of getting up, getting dressed and heading to the gym. Plus, it's a lot more motivating if all you have to do is walk into the next room to get your morning cardio on. Do that Mon-Fri.

Also, maybe do a Mon-Wed-Fri lunch or after work weight lifting workout. Hit the weekends up too if you can.

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May 25, 2016 - 9:08am

Great advice. As a former college athlete the biggest struggle I've had is desire to workout. I'm trying to figure out how to workout at lunch but my employer doesn't have a way for me to shower post workout. Guess I'll get my lazy butt out of bed in the morning earlier.

May 25, 2016 - 10:24am

Great advice, but honestly the best way to lose weight or not gain weight while employed is just to get your diet in check. Body composition is probably 20% exercise and 80% diet. Count calories, hit your macros, etc.

Put this way, if your diet is in check and you're not exercising enough, you might not be in shape but you won't be fat and ugly. If you're exercising regularly and your diet is trash, it won't matter.

Commercial Real Estate Developer

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May 25, 2016 - 12:52pm

Great points CRE

The simplest framework I use is diet is for FAT and exercise is for MUSCLE. As you say, you can't exercise your way out of a bad diet.

That being said, I don't like putting a percentage on it like '20% exercise and 80% diet'. It's 100% of both. Hopefully people read your comment and others to see the importance of nutrition as well as exercise.

May 25, 2016 - 11:04am

As others have said, avoid heavy lunches or dinners. Try to stick to salads, proteins, etc. When when you go out and drink, stay away from beers or at the very least don't eat fried, heavy food on top of drinking. I've found that if you at least stay away from that, you'll be able to keep it in check even with drinking.

Best Response
May 25, 2016 - 12:01pm

1st year Seamless order history:
- burrito/ $5 beverage/ all the guac
- shrimp tempura roll/ lobster tempura roll/ entire roll tempura'd/ soda
- pastrami sandwich/ tuna melt panini/ 6-pack red bull/ 4-pack Charmin 2-ply/ Advil
- burger+ endangered species of onion+ cheese you cannot pronounce+ 14K gold flakes/ truffle fries/ milkshake
- veal ravioli, "please add bread, thanks"

2nd year Seamless order history:
- peanut butter protein shake, green juice, green juice, green juice
- chicken breast burger, grilled, no bun, no sauce, no fun, replace fries with side salad/ Diet Coke
- salad: spinach, tuna, cheddar, olives, sprouts, ranch on the side
- sashimi for 2; Diet Coke for 1

3rd year Seamless order history:
- "you can't buy me"

May 27, 2016 - 1:00pm

this makes me hungry, i need to live somewhere with seamless asap

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

May 25, 2016 - 12:31pm

The key to getting in shape living the corporate life is diet not exercise. Diet should always be priority one. You only need to exercise like Alistair mentioned if your diet is in check.

For me - I don't eat my first meal until lunch, which even then is just chicken and veggies. I have a protein bar and a piece of fruit during the afternoon as snacks. It's only at dinner that I can eat pretty much whatever I want because at the end of the day I am still in a caloric deficit and still losing weight.

I also work out about 4 times per week on average, but when work gets busy and I can't find time to work out, I can still be leaning down because of my diet.

May 31, 2016 - 4:02pm

Can you comment also on your eating habits? Thanks

Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny
May 31, 2016 - 4:03pm

I-Bankers Are You in Shape? (Originally Posted: 05/13/2007)

I know people talked about trying to go to the gym on weekends, but are any of you I-Bankers still in shape? The lack of sleep must make you lose your motivation to work out after a few months right?

May 31, 2016 - 4:05pm

Ive changed my gym routine from 90% lifting to 90% running to try and keep the lbs down. And I always get a salad with my meal, but thats about as healthy as you can eat with this job.

May 31, 2016 - 4:06pm
Ive changed my gym routine from 90% lifting to 90% running to try and keep the lbs down. And I always get a salad with my meal, but thats about as healthy as you can eat with this job.

Lifting burns more calories overall than running per hour. And it doesn't leave you badly tired. Having increased muscle mass also increases your metabolism and your caloric expenditure rate.

Jumping jack pushups can be done just about everywhere.

May 31, 2016 - 4:07pm
Ive changed my gym routine from 90% lifting to 90% running to try and keep the lbs down. And I always get a salad with my meal, but thats about as healthy as you can eat with this job.

Wait why is it not possible to eat healthy with the job? You can order $25 worth every night for dinner on the firm right? I imagine most i-bankers get a lot of protein like steak, chicken, and things such as sushi? Its not like your eating pizza and hot dogs, I was under the impression every dinner is of very high class food

May 31, 2016 - 4:10pm

No, its not because all we want is fast greasy crap. Fast greasy crap makes you feel sluggish and tired. The problem is that most places on seamless aren't healthy. Eating out all the time is just not healthy for you, you have no control over how people cook things. And unless you want to be eating Pump or Energy Kitchen every night, you're eating unhealthy once in a while.

May 31, 2016 - 4:12pm

Personally speaking its not hard to eat healthy. There are plenty of places to get food from that are very healthy in NYC (i.e. Tossed, Serrafina, Putanesca, etc.)

A decent steak from serrafina (italian place) is about $23 dollars (we get $30 limit) so it works out for us!

May 31, 2016 - 4:18pm

Define "in shape." I would think that bodybuilder types with huge arms and chests would get laughed at. I also suspect that they would loose their muscle with all the hours of work.
Besides being a bodybuilder, its always great to be in shape.

May 31, 2016 - 4:34pm
Define "in shape." I would think that bodybuilder types with huge arms and chests would get laughed at. I also suspect that they would loose their muscle with all the hours of work.
Besides being a bodybuilder, its always great to be in shape.

thanks for the valuable insight...any other college juniors with zero finance work experience who want to contribute?

May 31, 2016 - 4:20pm

People who regularly work out apparently get better, deeper sleep. So if you want the little time that you are asleep to be efficient, you should exercise.

May 31, 2016 - 4:22pm

People who are more sensitive to caffeine can go even longer without sleep. But anyway if someone asked me to go a week without sleep I bet I could do it.

"We are lawyers! We sue people! Occasionally, we get aggressive and garnish wages, but WE DO NOT ABDUCT!" -Boston Legal-
May 31, 2016 - 4:24pm

Yeah, according to what medical studies I've read, somewhere between hour 72 and hour 96 you tend to enter full-on psychosis. Not a good condition for building pitchbooks, eh?

May 31, 2016 - 4:29pm

Thank you, Medward. I just got very busy for a little while, but I've been reading posts the whole time. Probably haven't missed too much.

Cardio in the mornings helps a lot... when I can get it, which is only around twice a week. Cardio in the early afternoon helps even more... when I can sneak down to the gym for an hour, which is even more uncommon. Maybe once a week.

When I don't have time for that, I take ten minutes to run stairs. It has no serious cardio benefit, but it elevates my pulse/circulation and helps me think more clearly and feel less sleepy. I can even do it in stiletto heels.

Lifting weights actually doesn't seem to help, as the recovery days make me feel sluggish and kind of weak as my body uses its energy to rebuild. (Yes, I eat enough protein.)

Believe it or not, insomnia is still a chronic problem for me even with the analyst lifestyle. There's nothing worse than having only three hours in which to sleep, but still lying awake and hyper in bed for ninety minutes before you drift off. The only solution for me (besides a little Scotch nightcap, which always works) is to get lots of daily exercise. Seems to smooth out the old brainwaves.

May 31, 2016 - 4:30pm

Alas my dear, I had that insomnia problem EVERY time I did ritalin and/or adderall in college. Not initially on the day of or after taking the drug, bot a few days after, bang, isomnia.

I was dating a doc at the time and they said it was a somewhat common side effect.

Maybe something to look into......

(Note that it did not make me stop taking those remedies when necessary, but I knew it would stop me from sleeping and planned accordingly, with lots of, um, noctournal exercise of sorts.) ;^)

If a shot of booze does the trick for you though, I think you have the problem under control, I wish that worked for me! I would need like a pint of booze, though, stupid irish/dutch gene thing!

May 31, 2016 - 4:32pm
Believe it or not, insomnia is still a chronic problem for me even with the analyst lifestyle. There's nothing worse than having only three hours in which to sleep, but still lying awake and hyper in bed for ninety minutes before you drift off. The only solution for me (besides a little Scotch nightcap, which always works) is to get lots of daily exercise. Seems to smooth out the old brainwaves.

10-15gs of Melatonin every other night (however you do feel somewhat groggy in the morning.

May 31, 2016 - 4:33pm

ChemE, I've actually had the same insomnia all my life, and it continues to plague me during weeks and months when I don't use Adderall at all. It is worse when I'm using it, of course.

Melatonin doesn't do a thing for me, sadly.

May 31, 2016 - 4:35pm

Round is a still a shape.

"We are lawyers! We sue people! Occasionally, we get aggressive and garnish wages, but WE DO NOT ABDUCT!" -Boston Legal-
May 31, 2016 - 4:36pm

If you start at 9:30am for M&A guys and finish at around 12am (usually) then you can be up at 6am to work out, and eat well during the course of the day - also as mentioned by an earlier respondant, sneak into the gym during the afternoon for an hour if you sleep in during the 6am gym shift.

May 31, 2016 - 4:37pm

Stay in Shape at your Bloomberg Terminal: Walking Desks (Originally Posted: 03/06/2013)

ha just came across this... another exercise fad or do you think you'll start seeing these in some offices?

From "Why Every Office Should Switch To Walking Desks" on techcrunch

Migrating to the walking desk was relatively easy: I just plopped my laptop and monitor down on the squarish 46-inch desk and got to work. The intuitive interface lets you choose several tracking mechanisms for calorie burn and distance.

The first day I couldn't walk more than an hour at a time before I felt like I was losing concentration. It also takes some getting used to walking like a Tyrannosaurus rex (arms tucked-in and elbows bent at the keyboard). At first, I would work for an hour walking, and then sit for 30 minutes. The first day I walked about four hours. Now I only rest once a day. It also took a bit to develop the musculature in my upper back to support raised arms for hours on end. This is no longer a problem.

After experimenting with different speeds, I now vary between .8 and 1.2, picking up speed in the late morning/early afternoon to offset the natural fatigue that precedes the morning news rush. Every so often I have to lean on my elbows or straddle the rails to take a break.

Burning More Calories

While it's intuitive to think that walking for an extra 5 to 8 hours a day would burn more calories, recent scientific evidence suggested otherwise. A study of "exergames" – video games that require full-body movement – found "no evidence that children receiving the active video games were more active in general, or at any time, than children receiving the inactive video games," concluded the research published in Pediatrics. "When you prescribe increased physical activity, overall activity remains the same because the subjects compensate by reducing other physical activities during the day," explained author Anthony Barnett to The New York Times.

Second, anthropologists debunked the myth that modern-day sedentary life has caused expanding waistlines. A physiological study of one of the last-remaining hunter-gatherer tribes, the Hadza in East Africa, "found that despite all this physical activity, the number of calories that the Hadza burned per day was indistinguishable from that of typical adults in Europe and the United States," the researchers wrote in The Times. "We ran a number of statistical tests, accounting for body mass, lean body mass, age, sex and fat mass, and still found no difference in daily energy expenditure between the Hadza and their Western counterparts."

So, if I was walking part of the day, would I end up being lazier throughout? Getting up fewer times to grab a glass of water, unconsciously sitting on the subway more often, or sleeping more? No, it turns out - quite the opposite.

My average daily calorie expenditure jumped 30.7% (2606 vs. 3408), as measured by the BodyMedia armband, which calculates personalized calorie burn from the body's sweat and skin temperature.


WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

  • 3
May 31, 2016 - 4:39pm

If I was a C-level exec or MD I would try to get one hands down. Sadly, I don't think it would fit in my cubicle.

Frank Sinatra - "Alcohol may be man's worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy."
May 31, 2016 - 4:40pm

HIIT 3x/week, take vitamins, don't eat like the average Walmart customer, and you'll be fine. If I had to walk on a treadmill while trying to audit a model that wasn't working...I'd probably fucking lose it.

Please don't quote Patrick Bateman.

May 31, 2016 - 4:42pm

HIIT 3x/week, take vitamins, don't eat like the average Walmart customer, and you'll be fine. If I had to walk on a treadmill while trying to audit a model that wasn't working...I'd probably fucking lose it.

lol agreed

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

May 31, 2016 - 4:46pm

... don't eat like the average Walmart customer, ....

I litterally laughed out loud

May 31, 2016 - 4:43pm

I get why you'd want a really high desk so you can stand and work, but walking is a little to much for me. If you want to be an obsessive wimpy b, sit on a medicine ball.

"They are all former investment bankers that were laid off in the economic collapse that Nancy Pelosi caused. They have no marketable skills, but by God they work hard."
May 31, 2016 - 4:44pm


I have installed a working desk in my home office.

Although I am really happy with it and I am much more productive.
You should not do it to loose calories. You should do it because the position is more healthy.

For me its' much to walk then to stand.


You created an account just to share a pic of your ass with us?

May 31, 2016 - 4:45pm

they are installing these at our company gym

May 31, 2016 - 4:47pm

Looking to stay in shape during FT-Pay extra for apt with gym? (Originally Posted: 05/30/2014)

So I am starting FT this summer and am wondering whether I should pay an extra premium for an apartment with a gym or just get a gym membership. I am thinking that it would be easier to have a gym downstairs of my apt and hop on the treadmill right before or after work, however, most apartment gyms have sh*t weight equipment. Let me know what you think.

May 31, 2016 - 4:48pm

Does your bank have a gym for its employees? Maybe you should consider using that to save some money because from what I've seen, apartments with gyms in the building are considered "luxury" and are going to be more expensive.

May 31, 2016 - 4:50pm

Any building with a decent gym will be expensive and a gym in a cheap building will suck. If you just want to hop onto a treadmill why not just go outside and jog? If you're in NYC or the northeast in general, snow will only completely keep you from running a few days per year (although this last winter sucked). If you want to lift, just join a gym.

May 31, 2016 - 4:52pm

I look better than most people who hit the gym and all I do is eat right and alternate days running and doing bodyweight exercises. Takes less time. Makes your dick hard.

maximizing utility over here

And I feel phucking phenomenal. Ain't none of you curlbros as athletic as I am.


Look at all these wannabe richies hating on an expensive salad.

May 31, 2016 - 4:54pm

Thats what I am probably going to do for specifically the reason you said. I'll just join a cheap gym in hopes that I have time throughout the year to hit the weights. Planning on sticking with cardio and bodyweight exercises anyway.

May 31, 2016 - 4:56pm

I would strongly suggest going to a gym outside the building you will end up in if you are a fitness junkie. My experience with the majority of apartment building that claim to have gyms is that there are a few cardio machines, dumbbells up to 50# if you're lucky and then some weight machines. I have even been in buildings where friends live that have Equinox satellite gyms and they aren't that great (one bench and one squat rack that is just a smith machine). If you are just looking to do a bit of cardio and light weights, a building's gym may work, but otherwise I would look elsewhere. When I was in banking, we had a special rate with several different gyms in the area that I took advantage of.

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