6 tips for staying fit while working from home (from someone who’s done it for 5+ years)

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There are a lot of misconceptions about remote work and working from home.

One of the most pervasive is that it’s somehow so easy to work out, eat healthy, and stay in great shape when you’re remote.

Take it from me — I’ve been working out of a home office and exercising regularly for years now. Just because your schedule has a little more wiggle room doesn’t mean fitness requires any less commitment, discipline, and willpower.

A lot of people who start working from home (whether by choice or not), feel the exact opposite — they have no motivation, low energy, and can’t seem to get a new fitness routine up and running again.

So what’s the best way to stay fit when you work from home?

Treat your fitness routine the same way commuters do. Carve out time and space for workouts and commit to that routine — and adjust if it isn’t working, but don’t just wing it because you can.

Choosing the right workout or program is key. Knowing what your fitness goals are and developing a plan to reach them gives you energy and motivation to stick to the schedule every day. Just working out to check it off your list is a quick way to get bored and give up.

Let’s dive in to the rest of my favorite strategies.

(Note: I’m writing this in the middle of an international pandemic that has shut down a large portion of society and forced a ton of people to work from home (if they’re lucky enough to be working at all). These tips are for those people, but I’ve also included evergreen advice that should serve regular work-from-homers well.)


1. Go to a gym or studio, or create a space for home workouts

As a full-time work-from-homer I HIGHLY recommend using your exercise time to get out of the house.

I go to the gym 3x per week for intense workouts, but I’ll often go on my off days when possible just to walk on the treadmill, stretch, and listen to podcasts.

The quick trip is a much needed breath of fresh air, change of scenery, and mental break from the repetitive drudgery of staring at my office wall.

You don’t have to go to a commercial, big box gym to get a workout.

You could try:

  • Spin class (like Cyclebar)
  • Boot camp studios (like Burn Boot Camp)
  • Orangetheory
  • Yoga studios
  • Boutique gyms with personal training
  • And more

Join Classpass free for a month and try ’em all until you decide what you like (or just keep hopping around if that works for you!)

But what if you can’t go to the gym?

As I’m writing this, all gyms and fitness studios are closed in the United States — with very few exceptions.

Even diehard gym bros are having to adapt.

My best tip is to create a space for yourself to work out at home. You could clear out your garage and put in a whole power rack set up, or just re-arrange the living room enough to lay out a yoga mat.

Knowing exactly where you can exercise each day takes some decision fatigue out of the equation.

My wife and I cleared out half of our garage and just laid out a simple, jigsaw style exercise mat (Amazon link) with some basic equipment like a pull-up bar, dip stand, yoga mats, etc.

It’s been more than enough for the time being!


2. Work out at the same time of day whenever possible

This is the same tip I would offer to anyone who works in an office.

(Read: My guide to staying fit and working 40+ hours per week)

Sure, you may be able to squeeze exercise in at any number of different points in the day. But if you leave it to whim and chance you’ll end up skipping it.

Create a routine and stick with it for a while. If it’s not working, try a new routine — but don’t just wing it.

Usually I like to:

  • Wake up around 6:45am
  • Do the “morning stuff” – get my daughter dressed, fed, and off to school
  • Work from around 8:30am until around 11am
  • (I’m almost always holding off on my first meal at this point with intermittent fasting)
  • Work out from around 11-12:30pm or so
  • Eat lunch
  • Continue on with my day

Lately, during these more “complicated times”, I’ve had to adjust my schedule a lot.

I’m on childcare duty in the morning while my wife works, and we switch off around lunch.

The exact timing varies from day to day, but I try to workout around lunchtime and before I start working to keep some sense of normalcy and routine.

Pick a time when you feel at your most energetic and, if possible, block your work calendar during your workout time and protect it at all costs.


3. Set a goal & choose the right workout

This is KEY.

What do you want to get out of your workouts?

Do you want to build muscle? Improve your conditioning? Work on flexibility and mobility?

I find few people actually ask themselves this question and just pick a workout they can do and “check off” each day.

And while there’s nothing wrong with staying active just for the sake of general health, it’s pretty hard to stick to the habit if you don’t really care about the outcome.

If you’ve never considered this before, now is a good time to pick a goal or a few goals to work toward with your workouts.

Having specific, achievable goals will help you maintain focus and motivation.

For me, I’m using this lockdown time to try and perfect a one-arm pushup and one-arm pull-up.

Maybe you’d like to:

  • Run a 7-minute mile
  • Nail that yoga handstand
  • Touch your toes
  • Complete a 5K
  • Bench press your bodyweight

(You can also pick a calorie-burn number each day if your main goal is weight loss, but I highly recommend choosing an athletic goal first to shoot for and let calorie burning come second.)

Choose something to work on and pick a routine or program that will get you there.

(Beware: A lot of home workouts are mostly conditioning and cardio disguised as strength. Just because you’re doing pushups and squats doesn’t mean you’re getting stronger.)

Take a look at the workout programs and classes I’ve tried for some ideas.


4. Find the brightside

Mom exercising at home with toddler

If you’re forced to work out at home when you’re used to going to your studio or gym, it’s only natural to mourn that loss.

However…

This is a good time to switch up your routine and challenge your mind and body in new ways.

My first instinct when the pandemic hit was to drop a ton of money on fitness equipment so I could replicate my gym workouts with barbells, free weights, etc.

But instead, after thinking it through, I decided to get excited about mastering bodyweight strength and striving for some cool milestones like the goals I described above.

If you’re used to long cardio session (maybe at the gym or in crowded parks), this is a great opportunity to work on HIIT and strength work at home.

If you’re a powerlifter or bodybuilder, maybe take a chance to improve your mobility and flexibility with yoga in the living room.

It might not match your ideal plan, but chances are becoming a more well-rounded athlete will pay dividends in the long run.


5. Mind your NEAT

NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, and it plays a big role in our fitness, body composition, and nutritional needs.

What is NEAT? It’s all the calories you burn throughout the day EXCLUDING exercise — in other words, it’s the energy expenditure from your regular daily activity.

When working from home it can be extremely easy to do NOTHING all day long. You might only get up from your chair to go to the bathroom and grab a snack.

In an office, there’s usually a decent chance you’d get a lot more non-exercise activitiy.

  • Walking in from the parking lot
  • Taking stairs
  • Walking to and from meetings
  • Standing watercooler discussions
  • Lifting/carrying things
  • Etc

If you’re making a sudden shift to working from home, you COULD see rapid weight gain as a result of plummeting NEAT — these small activities throughout the day can add up to hundreds of calories.

If your goal is to stay fit and maintain a healthy body weight, make sure you give yourself ample chance to move around during the day, even aside from your regimented exercise.

  • Take the dog on a walk
  • Get the mail every day
  • Take a standing and leg-stretching break every 30 minutes
  • Add longer warm-ups and cooldowns to your exercise
  • Put on music and bop along (it all counts, believe me!)

Now might be a good time to invest in a fitness tracker or Apple Watch.

I love my Apple Watch (Amazon link) because it gives me a good idea of how many calories I’ve burned through just existing, working out, and non-exercise movement each day. When you’re low, you know immediately and can adjust.

Forget about fitness for a second. Being too sedentary is horrid for your overall health.


6. Curb Mindless Snacking with Filling Meals

Working from home can wreak havoc on your diet if you let it, either through constant snacking and overeating, undereating, or poor nutritional choices.

Whether your goal is to lose weight, maintain, or put on muscle, you’ll have to come up with a strategy to eat healthy at home.

There are a lot of different definitions of what “healthy” food actually means. (Here’s my basic philosophy.)

The best tip I can offer is to make sure you eat lots of filling foods with your meals.

Sweets and junk are fine in moderation, but low-quality foods don’t keep you full — and they often lead you right back to the pantry for more of the same.

If you want to stock up on healthy food, stock up on filling foods like:

  • Potatoes
  • Oatmeal
  • Fish & lean meats
  • Soup
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit (apples are my go-to)
  • Nuts
  • Whole grains

A lunch with whole-grain bread, turkey, and some fruit will keep you a lot fuller and more satisfied than a bunch of potato chips and microwave mac n’ cheese, for example.

And it’s not all about getting more out of fewer calories. Too much snacking on junk foods can also leave you LOW on calories and vital nutrients at the end of the day.

Better make your meals count and stock up on the right ingredients.


Wrapping Up

The main thing you need to know is that getting or staying in shape (and eating healthy) while working from home isn’t all that different than if you were doing it with an office job.

It takes a solid plan, some strategies and motivational tricks along the way, and a lot of discipline to make it work.

To sum it all up: Set fitness goals (strength, endurance, or skill) and create a plan to reach them. Follow a workout program that gets you closer to your goal each workout — not just a 10 minute YouTube video so you can check “Work Out” off your list.

Create a space in your home where you can exercise if you can’t get out of the house to a gym, studio, or outdoor area, and try to exercise around the same time each day. That will help you build the habit and stick with the program in the longterm.

Are you a fit work-from-homer? If so, what are your best tips?

How are you staying fit during the pandemic?

(And before you go, check out my full list of ways to stay motivated to work out.)

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