How to exercise when you work 40+ hour weeks (11 tested tips)

How to workout and go to work

I’m really lucky.

I work from home, for myself, so it’s pretty easy for me to sneak away and hit the gym whenever I want.

I’ll usually get in 3 intense and 2 lowkey workouts per week.

But not everyone has it so easy.

How are you supposed to get fit while working full time? When you have no time to exercise because you work too much, losing weight or just staying decent shape seems impossible.

In order to fit in exercise when working long hours, you’ll have to carve out small sections of time each week and prioritize your fitness, often at the expense of something more relaxing like watching TV (Sorry!).

You’ll also need to look for ways to stack small wins, like turning down a slice of cake at the office or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

It can be really hard, and sometimes the compromises you’ll have to make (like skipping your nightly Netflix binge, or waking up super early to workout) will suck.

But getting your physical health in order is incredibly rewarding, it makes you feel great, and ultimately, it’s not impossible, just difficult.

Let’s dive in deeper and check out my top 11 proven tips to get fit and lose weight while working full time.

1. Ruthlessly examine your routine

Let’s get real here.

You can get in a pretty good workout in 15 minutes.

Hell, if you’re really strapped for time, you can get in some great calorie-burning conditioning work in 7 minutes! In your own living room, no less.

(Check out my guide to the best free workout plans where I talk about some cool apps you can use at home.)

Can you really not carve out 7-15 minutes a few times per week? Or would you just rather do other things?

Almost everyone I know who works long hours and is generally insanely busy takes SOME time for themselves at some point in the week, whether it’s an hour of TV at night, a quick video game session here or there, or playing around on their phone while they drink their morning coffee.

If you work 40, 50, or 60 hour weeks and want to find the time to workout, you might have to sacrifice some of these leisure activities.

I know, it might suck! I said so at the beginning!

But unfortunately you can’t create more time, you can only choose how you spend it.

Some ideas to get you started:

  • Wake up 30 minutes earlier and do a quick home workout
  • Cut your TV time at night in half and exercise instead
  • Swap video games for a living room HIIT workout 3 times per week
  • Skip out on fraternizing in the break room and take a walk on your lunch break, instead, a few times per week
  • Working out at work (if practical) — even just a few push ups between client calls can help

You don’t have to cut out everything that’s relaxing and fun in your life, but if you really map out your schedule and examine where you spend your time, I guarantee you can find 3 15-minute blocks to get your sweat on.

It’s a good place to start, at least.

2. Get enough sleep

Two of the easiest places to find extra time to workout will be:

Late at night after work

Early in the morning before work

These are fantastic options!

Working out in the morning is a great way to start your day and feel way more energized than any cup of coffee can make you.

And ending your day on a high note with a good sweat can erase all of the stress you might still be feeling from work.

Just, whatever you do, be sure you get a solid 7-9 hours of sleep every single night.

Trying to get in shape or lose weight without getting the right amount and quality of sleep can be an impossible uphill battle.

Plus, when you’re tired and feel like crap all day, finding the motivation to workout gets even harder than it already is.

Some general tips for more and better sleep:

  • Read a book instead of watching TV or your phone screen before bed
  • Get some heavy-duty blackout curtains for your bedroom
  • Experiment with natural sleep remedies, if need be, like melatonin

3. Dial back the caffeine & drink more water

Drinking less coffee at work

Speaking of feeling tired all day…

There’s nothing wrong with a cup of coffee or two in the morning, and maybe a small one as a pick me up in the afternoon.

But downing mug after mug all day long is probably not helping you as much as you think it is.

I can tell you from personal experience that staying more hydrated by drinking water will do more for your energy levels than caffeine, past a certain point, because dehydration is a major cause of fatigue.

Too much caffeine can actually make you sleep worse at night, which only compounds the problem.

Plus, if you’re loading up your coffees with creamer, milk, and sugar, dialing back could be a super easy way to cut some calories out of your daily consumption.

(You can always learn how to drink black coffee in the morning, as well.)

Some ideas you can bring to the office with you:

  • Keep a large water jug on your desk and sip from it all day
  • Swap your afternoon coffee for a sparkling water like La Croix (this is my favorite zero-calorie afternoon pick me up)
  • Have water with your meals instead of iced tea or Diet Coke, and save those for special treats

4. Find a workout that you love

If you dread exercising, finding time to do it will feel impossible.

So try some different activities until you find what feels good to you.

Me? I love lifting weights. I love competing against myself from the previous week or month and constantly trying to best my own personal records.

My wife, who works 50-60 hour weeks as a consultant, adores yoga. She’ll move heaven and earth to make sure she makes it to a few yoga classes per week, whether that means rushing there after a day at the office or waking up at 5am to get in a practice.

Here are some ideas to find your perfect workout fit:

  • Your first class is usually free at places like Orangetheory, Cyclebar, Flywheel, and Burn Boot Camp. Try them all.
  • Experiment with at-home workouts. Try some free workout videos in different styles, or join Beachbody on Demand and get access to an insanely huge library of different programs.
  • Try a beginner weightlifting routine for a week, even if you don’t like the idea of bulky muscles. You might be surprised how good it feels!

5. Enlist help

If making room in your life for proper nutrition and exercise is important to you, let the people in your life know!

They can help you stay accountable and often help hold down the fort while you go take care of yourself a few times per week.

Some ideas:

  • Ask your partner if they can handle making dinner while you hit an after-work exercise class
  • See if Grandma can pick the kids up from school once a week so you have time to go to the gym
  • Ask your boss if you can block your calendar at lunch most of the week to make time for a walk or a short workout

People want to help you, so let them!

6. If you have to choose, choose strength

Strength vs cardio for busy people

Let’s talk about getting the most bang for your buck from your workouts.

In my opinion, you’ll see the most positive improvements to your body from workouts that have a strength component.

That can mean:

  • Lifting weights
  • Doing bodyweight and HIIT style workouts
  • Yoga
  • And more

So if you have limited time and can only squeeze in a few short workouts per week, you’ll probably get the best results from strengthening and toning your muscles.

That will usually inspire you to keep pushing and continue making even more time for fitness. Hooray!

I have nothing against pure calorie burn exercises, and it’s great to work on your cardio and conditioning, but it’s hard to replace the amazing benefits you’ll see when you start looking and feeling stronger.

7. Move more

You know the basic weight loss formula, right?

It’s Calories In versus Calories Out.

When you burn more energy than you consume, you lose weight (mostly fat).

(There’s a little bit more to it, like not starving yourself, eating nutritious and satisfying foods, and learning to create a healthier, sustainable lifestyle versus constantly “dieting”, but you get the idea.)

How you create that calorie deficit doesn’t really matter.

So one of the best things you can do is try to move more and be active to combat the sedentary office life — even if it means working out at work.

Here are some basic ideas that, if you do all of them consistently, will really add up:

  • Shoot for 10,000 steps a day. It’s a little arbitrary and not easy to track accurately, but it’s do-able if you’re mindful about it.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Cliche, I know! But you’d be surprised how few people are willing to do this.
  • Park farther away from the office and other destinations. Ditto.
  • Stand whenever possible. Did you know standing for an hour burns about 50 more calories than sitting?

These small activities won’t get you ripped or even impact your fitness or conditioning much, but they can make you a lot healthier and actually help you lose weight when paired with a proper meal plan.

(Check out my guide to exercise equipment you can keep in your cubicle.)

8. Take back your lunch break

If at all possible, try to block your lunch break on your work calendar and take it for yourself.

It’d be great if you had time to eat a nutritious lunch and squeeze in a walk around the block or a quick trip to the gym, but even if all you can do with your break is sit and eat, it’s still better than scarfing your lunch at your desk.

Did you know that researchers found eating while standing makes you way less conscious of what you’re eating, and makes you enjoy it far less?

A similar thing can happen when you’re eating at your desk and completely disengaged, focusing on work tasks instead.

You’ll enjoy your lunch a lot more if you take the time to focus on enjoying it.

And if you enjoy your lunch more, you’ll likely be more satsfied and less likely to snack or overindulge later.

9. Plan your meals ahead

When you don’t plan ahead for lunch at work (or dinner at night, for that matter), it’s really easy to fall back on eating out.

Eating out is delicious and fun, but often pretty unhealthy.

Plus, as people who work in corporate offices know, you’ll frequently get pulled into lunch-out meetings and catered work sessions on the fly, where you won’t have a ton of choice in what you eat.

So, whenever possible, try to plan a couple of healthy lunches for the week.

Here are some ideas:

  • Cook up extra servings of healthy, balanced dinners (a good amount of lean protein and some whole grains and veggies) and package them for lunches.
  • Stock the freezer with low-calorie frozen meals. Fresh food is better, but these are great and pretty healthy in a pinch.
  • Scout out a few restaurants near work that have lower calorie or healthy options and suggest those to colleagues.

10. Have a plan for temptations at work, and aim for small wins

How to turn down birthday cake at work

I know what offices are like.

There’s birthday cake in the conference room. Someone brought in brownies. Everyone’s going out for drinks and apps.

There’s a fully-stocked snack bin full of chips. Everyone’s constantly guzzling Diet Coke and coffee.

There are temptations literally everywhere you look, and if you aren’t intentional about your eating choices, things can spiral out of control quickly.

It’s unrealistic and damn near impossible to completely steer clear of all of this stuff. After all, no one wants to be the guy who never eats cake during birthday celebrations.

But pick and choose a few spots to draw a hard line, and try to stack some small wins.

Here are some examples:

  • Find your signature low-calorie cocktail, like a gin and tonic, versus heavy beers at happy hour
  • Budget for some indulgances. Pack healthy, low calorie lunches so you don’t feel bad having a snack or some dessert.
  • Limit yourself to one happy hour per week. If a second invite pops up, use that time to go workout instead.
  • Grab from the oft-neglected fruit bowl instead of the chip basket (most of the time, at least).
  • Try to move after-work drinks meetings to lunch at a healthy spot, or a chat over coffee, instead.

Those are just examples.

You don’t need to deprive yourself of all the fun and treats, but you might have to make some hard choices now and then if this is important to you.

11. Work out to feel great, don’t wait until you feel great to work out

Finally, and most importantly, don’t fall back on the mentality that you’ll start working out when you feel like you’re up to it.

If you wait around for that, it’ll never happen.

You’ll feel better because you work out. Not the other way around.

A good sweat after an intense workout melts away stress, releases happy endorphins in your brain, and gives you more energy to live your best life.

I know it’s going to be really hard to fit it in regularly, but once you start building the habit, it gets easier and easier (not harder) because of how good it feels.

Wrapping Up

Getting fit or losing weight when you work full time (40 hours a week or more, in a lot of cases) isn’t easy.

The biggest thing you can do is prioritize working out and making a few good nutritional choices every week.

You’ll HAVE to make sacrifices and compromises, whether that’s skipping out on the 3rd birthday cake of the week or cutting back on Netflix so you can workout at night.

But it doesn’t take much to get started, just 15 minutes or so a few times per week.

I started with just three 45-minute gym workouts on my lunch break every week! And I only became more and more protective of that time as things went on, and I learned to love it more and more.

Were these tips helpful at all? What did I miss? If you work long hours, how do you stay healthy and fit? 

Tell me in the comments!

(If you liked this article, scroll down and send me your email so I can give you even more of my best fitness and nutrition hacks for busy people.)