Is a lunchtime workout worth the hassle?

The changing room is another part of the workout as I shower with lightning speed

Rachel Flaherty in Gloucester St Gym with trainer Elaine Hurley. Photograph: Alan Betson

Rachel Flaherty in Gloucester St Gym with trainer Elaine Hurley. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Finding the time to do a workout can be a challenge and I’ve often wondered if it is worth the hassle to exercise during lunchtime.

Exercise has played a large role in my weight loss of 3½st (22kg) – it has helped my mindset, food choices and general wellness – but often I can talk myself out of doing it when I’m struggling for time. I’m also aware my inconsistency with exercise in the past contributed to my 5½st (34kg) weight gain, so I’m always looking for ways to improve.

Through the years I’ve always admired people exercising during lunch, whether it was a class, a run or five-a-side football, and how destressed and happy they look after they have finished. My current work routine normally involves much of my day sitting and looking at screens, and I’ve frequently been guilty of mindlessly shoving a sandwich in my mouth while at my desk, and forgetting to get up off my chair and move about as experts recommend.

I knew I wouldn’t achieve much being left to my own devices at a gym in the short time

A Lancet study from 2016 showed sitting for at least eight hours a day could increase the risk of early death by up to 60 per cent. The authors said sedentary lifestyles posed as great a threat to public health as smoking and have caused more deaths than obesity. But the good news from the research was at least one hour of physical activity a day could counteract the increased risk.

So, I decided it’s worth a shot to make the effort to exercise during lunchtime and see how it goes. I was apprehensive about how much of a meaningful workout I could get in a short time. I knew I wouldn’t achieve much being left to my own devices at a gym in the short time – I haven’t reached that level of discipline yet – so I signed up for a high intensity interval training (or HIIT) at a gym nearby. It was time to put aside being self-conscious about working out in front of others and go for it.

I need not have worried about what I could achieve during a lunch break. I was about to meet a woman who would show me what I can achieve in 45 seconds.

I decided with some reluctance to go for a kettlebell HIIT class. My relationship with kettlebells hasn’t had great success in the past. I had bought one a few years ago with the intention of getting a daily workout done in my sitting room before heading to work (this happened about five times).

It sat in my hallway gathering dust and making me feel guilty each time I looked at it. Then one morning walking from the shower, feeling particularly down about my unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise routine, I accidentally kicked the kettlebell and broke my toe.

It hurt a lot.

It felt like it was a personal attack from the kettlebell – judging and punishing me for ignoring it, even though I was the one who somehow managed to walk into it as it sat in the corner. “Never tell anyone about this,” I muttered to myself limping away while giving the kettlebell evil looks. It got packed into another corner and remained unused.

But now with all my toes intact, I made my way for a midday class where I met instructor Elaine Hurley, an expert in all things kettlebell related. If I was to embarrass myself again with the cast-iron weight, this time it would be in front of colleagues and class members at the Gloucester Street gym. Just the thought I need to add to my concerns on how I would fare in the class.

Elaine’s energy and enthusiasm in the large hall is immediately palpable. She gives me tips and encouragement as a first timer, but I’m in no doubt even before we begin that I will be pushed out of my comfort zone.

It’s hard work and within 10 minutes I’ve a glowing red face and sweating, but enjoying it

Once we start the class there is no stopping. We begin with a run around the hall and quickly switch from exercise to exercise with each beep from the timer. My head is instantly cleared of all else as my only focus is following Elaine’s instructions, breathing, not falling over and not hitting myself with a kettlebell (I still don’t trust them). It’s hard work and within 10 minutes I’ve a glowing red face and sweating, but enjoying it.

The class moves from jumping jacks to American kettlebell swings, crunches, chest press, toe taps, climbers, planks, Bulgarian kettlebell squats, deadlifts, swing pulls, lunges and more. There is no time for overthinking, just doing and sweating, as the music sets the energetic pace. Elaine makes it look easy in her demos; it’s not. It’s tough and intense, but a lot of fun. It’s all over and done in the amount of time I’ve often given contemplating the pros and cons of going to the gym.

Rachel in Gloucester St Gym. Photograph: Alan Betson
Rachel in Gloucester St Gym. Photograph: Alan Betson

I check my watch to see I’ve burned 450 calories. I’m impressed. I felt a lot more energetic during the workout than I thought I would.

With no time to waste, I make my way to the changing room where a woman smiles at me sympathetically and says “this part is another workout”.

She’s right, it is. With lightning speed, I shower, change clothes and back to the office. I feel completely refreshed and refocused. Endorphins are flowing and I’m back in the office energised, engaged while also feeling relaxed.

I didn’t even notice my usual 3pm slump that afternoon and felt my productivity was better.

This could be my newbie euphoria, I’m not sure yet, but I can say for certain it’s definitely worth the hassle and effort to keep going and find out.

Is a lunchtime workout effective for weight loss?

Time will tell.

Rachel Flaherty's column is about getting fitter and healthier.
Contact Rachel on Twitter @rachelfl , Instagram or email rflaherty@irishtimes.com


Part 1: I lost 3st and I'm stronger now
Part 2: Stuck in the weight loss plateau
Part 3: Friend called my fitness holiday a fat camp
Part 4: My plan is driving me up the walls
Part 5: It is slow and fluctuates but has stayed off
Part 6: Why are we doing this? This is terrifying
Part 7: I want to form new habits
Part 8: I gained 4lb. My fear of failure returned
Part 9: It’s time to face my nemesis – running
Part 10: Losing weight without trying
Part 11: Letting go of the shame and guilt helped
Part 12: Habits have led to weight loss
Part 13: I’ve fallen in love with running
Part 14: The mountain doesn’t care who you are
Part 15: Unhappy relationship with food and my body
Part 16: I stopped trying to be perfect

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!). 
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
- Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
- 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!

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