Lunchtime Workouts – An Outdated Concept?

Paul Harter Paul Harter
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As the owner of a health and fitness business, conversations with friends and acquaintances typically include some chit chat about fitness. People often ask me “How often do you work out?”, “How long do you work out for?”, “What time of day do you work out?” Politeness and protocol dictate that I ask them the same questions.

While responses vary, sometimes people respond: “Well, I can only work out at lunchtime”. Often, that’s followed by “I can’t train more than 40 minutes, because I only have an hour for lunch and I need to get to and from the gym and get quick shower.” Sometimes it’s, “I can only work out once or twice a week, because I often need to have lunch with clients or we have internal meetings at lunchtime.” The inference, of course, is that people are too busy with life to contemplate working out at any other time of day.

The lunchtime workout is a concept that emerged logically from the typical 20th century office job environment. Most people worked in an office, arriving at their desk just before 9.00 am, taking an hour for lunch, and leaving their desk at 5.00 pm. The lunch hour became the obvious time for people to do anything they needed to do for themselves (in addition to a quick sandwich). It also became the obvious time of day to grab a quick workout. 

The 21st century is different in many important ways.

According to a YouGov poll conducted last year, only 6% of the UK workforce works 9 to 5. According to the Office for National Statistics, over 12% of the workforce is self-employed. The number of people working for themselves has increased by 82% since the beginning of the century. The number of people working in start-ups has grown quite dramatically. 60% of private sector workers work in SMEs (less than 250 employees). Over 99% of SMEs have zero to nine employees. Under UK employment law, every employee with 26 weeks of service has a right to request flex time (choosing the hours they work), and employers need a clear business reason to deny the request.

The point is that the rigid lunch hour embedded within the traditional 9 to 5 workday is largely a thing of the past.

It is a limitation that applies to very few of us. The vast majority of people do have the flexibility to start work a bit earlier, finish a bit later and take a bit more than one hour at whatever time in their day is most convenient for lunch and a workout.

The lunch hour has even less meaning for professionals working in investment banks, law firms, accounting firms and similar professional enterprises. Most professionals control their own diaries. While they typically work more hours than a 9 to 5 employee, they decide for themselves when they arrive at work, when they leave and, more importantly, when they eat lunch and when they workout.

During my many years as a partner in a large international law firm, I rarely missed a workout.

I put an X in my diary every morning, marking the most convenient time for me to be absent for an hour. My personal assistant endeavoured to protect it. Clients for the most part respected it. When they asked me to attend a meeting during my designated workout hour, more often than not I could propose an alternative time that made them just as happy. When they did not have the flexibility, more often than not I could move the X to another time of day so that I could accommodate the client’s request.

My clients knew that my workouts were important to me, but they also knew that their interests came first, and that I would always move a workout for them if I had to do that.

They respected me more (not less). And, I rarely missed a workout – once or twice a year, on average.


Here are some practical tips you could use to better protect your own workout from interference:

  • Put a daily X in your diary
  • Make sure you have clean workout clothes and trainers in your office
  • Make appointments with personal trainers or fitness coaches
  • Have a conversation with your PA about managing conflicting demands
  • Have conversations on the home front to increase support for your choices
  • Have a script that works to your advantage when clients or bosses request meetings
  • Think about meals and hydration to ensure you are fuelled for your workout

So, when people ask “how often do you work out?”, “how long do you work out for?” and “what time of day do you work out?” – my answer is

“six days a week, sixty minutes a day and whatever time in the day is most convenient on the particular day”.

Some days, it happens to be lunchtime.

When you have the flexibility, mid to late afternoon can be the best time to work out.  It impacts your body temperature which in turn induces you to fall asleep at the right time at night. Also, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that you perform your best in in the gym in the afternoon. And, an afternoon workout will energise you to avoid the “afternoon slump”, helping you perform your best at work.

You know the importance of adequate exercise to your health and wellbeing. I hope these thoughts help you look more critically at your own diary and think about your own beliefs about the amount of flexibility and control you actually have. I hope you rise to the challenge of identifying the hour that works best for you, and that you implement the techniques that work best for you to protect it from interference to the greatest feasible extent.

Oh, and don’t forget to eat lunch (unless you are trying to lose weight and you have decided to skip lunch intentionally).

  1. Winton Rossiter says:

    An eloquent piece, Paul. Good to see your baby, Goal Master, gathering momentum. I agree with your prescription for a healthy and long life: diet, fitness, sleep. If you have not already addressed it, I suggest you tout the benefits of the afternoon siesta (I mean siesta, not the SPN – Strategically Place Nap) – people object due to time and difficulty of regaining alertness, but I find a sip of orange juice does the trick – 100 million latin folk can’t be wrong, it just takes a bit of practice. Also you might consider the benefits of a morning ritual upon awakening – reading, planning the day, brief calisthenics, a quick piece on the cello in my case – NO PHONE (after a quick check). Works for me.

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