For Halloween last year, I dressed up as Deathleisure. This meant donning my finest Nike lycra, adding a couple of ketchuppy wounds to my ensemble, and posting a photo to Instagram captioned: “Yoga really killed me today.”
Whilst my costume may have poked fun at athleisure culture, in reality I’m (deathly) serious about trying to make more time for exercise in 2020 (a highly original resolution, I’m sure you’ll agree). But how to fit it in? In the mornings I like to sleep, in the evenings I’m too tired, and on the weekends I’d rather see my friends.
Ladies and gentlemen: I offer you the lunchtime workout.
I often hear colleagues extolling the benefits of a quick lunchtime class, heading off merrily around noon and returning to the office radiating what I can only imagine is the glow of someone successfully grasping the holy grail of millennial existence: work-life balance. Keen to emulate these corporate unicorns, I embarked on a trial run, testing a week’s worth of workouts to find out which might help me on my quest to join the ranks of ladies who crunch. Perhaps my journey will help you too?
The Class: To clarify, this was actually boxcon (or rather BOXCON—the gym I attended is one where all the classes are written IN CAPITALS just so you know you’re getting a FUCKING GOOD WORKOUT). In this instance the “con” refers to conditioning, which meant 45 minutes of intensive circuits interspersed with periods of punching. The class was tough, but after a morning spent grappling with my overflowing inbox, it felt good to imagine taking a swing at all those pesky emails.
The Regroup: In terms of sweat factor, I was drenched. This made it one of the longer classes I tried, simply due to time spent in the shower slathering myself in complimentary Malin & Goetz products. My muscles had also turned to jelly, making performing practical tasks such as getting dressed a little slower than usual.
The Aftermath: I’d recommend this as a lunchtime workout for someone who already has a good level of fitness. There’s definitely something to be said for a brutal power hour to break up the monotony of a day at a desk, but for fairweather fitness fans such as myself, the intensity proved pretty tiring. Also, if you’re in a super strict workplace it might be hard to find time for the shower required afterward. Nevertheless, my mood was definitely boosted and I was buzzing with exhausted elation for the rest of the day.
Total Time Away From Desk: 1.5 hours
Overall Lunchtimeability: 6/10
The Class: Whilst I might have given yoga a bad rap on Halloween, this Vinyasa class was actually perfect. A few sun salutations, a couple of downward dogs, and a nice moment in child’s pose took me out of the mental mayhem of the work day, reminding me how grounding it feels to take some deep breaths and connect to something more spiritual.
The Regroup: Often when I go to the beach, I’ll abstain from showering afterwards in order to let the salty residue sit on my skin as a memento. Similarly, I decided not to shower after this class because a) I wasn’t that sweaty and b) I thought perhaps this would make my serene afterglow last longer. Fast forward about three hours and one feels more sticky than serene, so I’d only recommend doing this provided you can bear the slight ick factor later in the day.
The Aftermath: That afternoon I felt calm, confident, and focused. What’s more, the sun salutations proved a great way to stretch out my spine after a morning spent curled over my inbox.
Total Time Away From Desk: 1 hour
Overall Lunchtimeability: 9/10
3. Sleep & Meditation Pod
The Class: Somewhere along this voyage of discovery, I decided that if it’s listed on Classpass, it counts as exercise. Having located this loophole, I booked myself a 60 minute “Sleep & Meditation pod” at a spot called “Pop n’ Rest” near my office. The session was pretty much what it said on the tin, namely a glorified nap. I couldn’t have picked a better day to do it, as I’d been suffering the after-effects of an extremely festive holiday party the night before, and had spent most of the morning wanting to pass out under my desk.
Upon arrival, a softly spoken gentleman ushered me into one of a series of small indoor cabins, replete with a freshly made bed, a dim lamp, and the vague smell of cedar. Leaving me to sleep for an hour, I was woken by a gentle knock at the door to signal that my time was up.
The Regroup: Aside from being a bit yawny, the regroup was minimal due to no change of clothes being required. The few minutes walk back to the office pepped me up enough that I felt ready for work by the time I reached my desk, not to mention amused that I’d essentially just spent an hour in a meditation motel.
The Aftermath: Whilst I could have done with staying in the pod all day, my session certainly helped. Plus, the notion of having a siesta in the middle of work feels very chic and European. Were I not so worse for wear, I imagine this “class” would have left me feeling very refreshed.
Total Time Away From Desk: 1 hour 10 mins
Overall Lunchtimeability: 8/10
The Class: If you haven’t yet read Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror, I’d recommend making your next workout a swift jog to the nearest bookstore. If you have, then you’ll be familiar with her searing takedown of barre class in the essay “Always Be Optimizing.” Having never tried barre myself, I was keen to see if it lived up to Tolentino’s vivid description (“barre offers you the opportunity to repeatedly clench your left butt cheek in a room full of women experiencing mute, collective, 7 a.m. agony while listening to an EDM song about banging a stranger at the club.”)
It wasn’t 7 a.m. but the class was hard. The series consisted of the kind of small, sneaky movements that start off feeling like nothing and then steadily begin to unleash a world of pain on certain localized muscle groups. Limited to 45 minutes, however, the workout felt bearable, avoiding that last 15-minute stint where everything becomes a bit boring and achy and endless.
The Regroup: I naively assumed that such a female-friendly class would muster little more than an upper lip sweat. Instead, I was rewarded for my internalized misogyny by some prolific perspiration, meaning I once again had to extend my gym time to conduct the necessary ablutions. I returned to work fresh and fragrant, albeit a little later than intended.
The Aftermath: Grappling with the tension between cynicism and submission Tolentino describes in her essay, I’ll reluctantly admit this was a great class, both overall and as a lunchtime option. Sure, it was a room full of young women, sure we were all the epitome of the athleisure generation (one woman wore a “no pain, no champagne” shirt), but the post-exercise buzz made me resist my deeper existential judgement on the grounds that it left me feeling stronger both mentally and physically.
Total Time Away From Desk: 1 hour 15 mins
Overall Lunchtimeability: 7/10
The Class: Pilates always strikes me as the brown rice of workout classes—wholesome, healthy, and never really in or out of fashion, but a slightly boring choice amongst other, more flavorsome options. I decided to try reformer Pilates in the hope of giving this workout some spice, so spent the hour sliding around on an exercise daybed whilst carrying out the targeted mini moves that Pilates is famous for.
The Regroup: Like the yoga session, I didn’t work up much of a sweat, so managed to get away with skipping a shower. Workmates, if you’re reading this, sorry if I was stinky.
The Aftermath: Despite sometimes feeling rather clinical, Pilates has definitely earned its reputation as a subtle workout that leaves you feeling simply better. For the rest of the day my breathing felt easier, my spine felt longer, although I did ache a bit the following day. One downside I’d mention is that Pilates has a habit of being very expensive, particularly reformer classes, so I couldn’t afford it regularly.
Total Time Away From Desk: 1 hour 10 mins
Overall Lunchtimeability: 8/10
For those with stricter lunch hours, or looking for a low budget alternative, I also experimented with walking on the days I couldn’t manage a full class. To add a little vigor, might I recommend my canny incentive system, namely a delicious treat that can only be purchased from a suitably distant shop, adding a little motivation to a 30 minute amble.
The hardest thing about all of these workouts ended up having little to do with the activities themselves. Despite working at a company that encourages flexibility (pun always intended), my inner goody-two-shoes felt fearful about not looking like I was working hard enough, or panicking that my inbox might catch fire if I took so much as a moment away from my desk. As a result, I ended up missing or rescheduling many of the classes I’d originally booked, convincing myself I simply HAD to attend to things I later realized could definitely have waited an hour.
Thus what my lunchtime workout spree granted me was not only a chance to move my body, but also to practice the mental discipline of relinquishing control and allowing myself a break during the working day. A midday dollop of endorphins with a side of emotional growth? Sounds like a recipe for success to me.
Photos by Jamie Walden.