Squeezing in Workouts

Happy weekend!

Glad you all enjoyed the sinful smoothie. Reader Nathalie posed a good question about it:

I’ve been toying with adding coffee to some of my smoothies. Like you, I LURVE my coffee. However, my one concern is about whether or not the coffee impedes absorption of all those wonderful nutrients in the smoothie. As it is right now, I usually leave 1 to 1 1/2 hours between my morning smoothie and my morning java. Is this unnecessary?

Well, you’re right, Nathalie: caffeine has been shown to decrease the absorption of certain nutrients in the small intestine, especially the water soluble vitamins (the same vitamins most susceptible to destruction via heating). These include Vitamin C and the B-complex of vitamins. There aren’t many hard figures about how great the effect is, so the best we can say is that there’s a correlation between caffeine consumption and decreased absorption. This means that, if you want to get the full scope of nutrition from your breakfast, it’s wise to wait a little while–say, an hour–after you drink coffee to eat it.

Of course, coffee hasn’t been proven to block all absorption of water soluble vitamins. And if you eat a diet that is very high in those vitamins otherwise, it’s probably safe to say that limiting some vitamin absorption once in a while is far from tragic. Always remember scope. Eating a nutrient rich diet allows you freedom to miss a couple of vitamins here or there–it’s negligible in the grand scheme of things. It’s habitual and substantive repetition that starts to have an impact on your health.

Moving right along, to a different question. A few posts ago, when I mentioned the demands of my summer work schedule, LC piped up and asked:

“Whew good luck with all that work! I admire your resilience. A post idea for you – how do you fit in workouts when you’re this busy? I believe you said before that you go to the gym every morning – maybe some background on that?”

Great question, LC! To be honest with you, the answer is pretty simple. I go every morning before work, at around 7 am. This means I wake up at 6 am, take an hour to read email and sip coffee, and get moving. I work out for about an hour, change, and get to the office. Obviously, this changes when I have a morning meeting or function to get to, but it’s the norm. It’s so much the norm, in fact, that I typically do the same thing on weekends, only an hour later!

Going to the gym when I wake up is about as second nature to me as brushing my teeth. I’ve been going to the same gym almost every day for almost a decade. And to be frank, I’ve been doing the same sorts of workouts for about a decade, too! Sure, there are some variations–like the addition of yoga to my exercise rotation–but the fundamental routine has remained largely the same. A bit of cardio here, a bit of weights or machines there, and lots of bonding with my iPod.

It’s this force of habit that makes it easy for me to squeeze my workouts in when I’m super busy. It would feel bizarre not to go. Recently, I was at the gym watching a rerun of The West Wing on Bravo. It was the pilot, and Allison Janney’s character is pictured on a treadmill, gabbing to her neighbor. She mentions that 5-6 am is her “me” time. I smiled; I may not work at the White House, or bat down bloodthirsty reporters for a living, but I’m busy in my own way, and my forty-five minutes or hour every morning is my own rendition of “me time.”

Are there days when I can’t go? Sure. Are there days where I can’t stay long? Dear lord, yes! Plenty of them. But I’m a huge believer that even a short workout is worthy: if you have a desk job, twenty minutes of motion can make all the difference in the world. I’m a master of the thirty minute workout: an easy twenty minutes on a stairmaster or elliptical, and ten minutes of crunches or stretching, and it’s back to work I go. I’ve been known to squeeze these workouts in on my lunch break, between meetings, after I leave the office, or even between work and an event. To facilitate this, I keep a set of workout clothes and a set of sneakers at my desk.

Though I’m a morning exercise to the core, these impromptu gym jaunts have actually given me an appreciation for the non-morning workout, too. Lunchtime exercise can be great: I return to my desk full of energy, and afternoon lulls are virtually nil. Evening workouts, though rare, give me a chance to clear my mind and decompress; for that reason, sunset is most definitely my favorite time to practice yoga. And it goes without saying that weekends give me time to do the things I don’t have time for on weekdays: rollerblading in the park, longer jogs, ninety minute yoga classes. These days, long workouts are luxuries, but I’m hoping August (and getting over my tendonitis) will afford me more.

Friends sometimes ask me how I remain consistent with my gym-going. Another simple answer: I only do what’s feasible. I’ve noticed that many women take the same sort of “all or nothing” approach to fitness that they do to food: they plan difficult and intense regimens, and then if they can’t keep up with them, they give up. I’m not competitive or goal oriented when it comes to working out. That’s not a statement of virtue: I’m a competitive beast in my professional life. I just don’t apply any of that hardcore ambition to exercise. I’m not training for a race, or doing a fitness challenge, or trying to firm up a body part. So I’m more than happy to have a wimpy workout if that’s what time and energy dictates; what matters to me is that I show up. The gym is an oasis in the the constant shuffle of everyday life–an oasis that offers me TV reruns and the chance to catch up on pop music.

So if you’re asking for tips, LC, I think I’d say the same thing I say to my clients about healthy eating: be a realist. Don’t set elaborate fitness goals that demand more effort than you can give them. Look at the time you have, and figure out what you can do with it. There’s no reason to miss a workout: they can be squeezed into even the of busiest days. You just have to be willing to concede that not every workout will be epic.

And if you do skip a workout? Big deal. Life happens. Go tomorrow. With gym-going, as with eating well, there is no such thing as “throwing in the towel.” (Unless we’re talking about throwing a sweaty towel in the laundry basket in the ladies’ locker room.) 🙂

As long as I’m on the topic, I asked two of my favorite fitness divas to give me their tips for working out on the go. Here’s what they had to say!


  • One of my favorites is TV aerobics–do them at night while watching your fave show! Do workouts during the commercials–I’ll alternate between cardio moves (jumping jacks, jog in place, high knees, floor sprints) and strength moves (tricep dips, planks, pushups, squats and lunges).
  • Even during my studying days, every 20-30 minutes I would take a break and do some workout moves. It helped to keep me focused and maintain my weight loss even when I was too busy to make it to the gym.
  • Some other tips: desk yoga, taking a break every hour to walk around the office or find an excuse to run an errand, or working out first thing in the morning–its always a good idea to wake up a little earlier, schedule it in, and get it over with.


  • Too busy? Committing to making exercise a part of your life will pay off down the road in spades by keeping you young, healthy, happy and more active down the road.  You don’t have to go to the gym; just try to fit in 10-minutes each morning, noon and night. That can be 10 minutes jogging in place while watching the news, or a 10 minute power walk at lunch and 10 minutes of sit-ups, lunges, squats and pushups during prime time TV commercial breaks.  Believe me, once you get in this routine, it will become completely second nature.
  • Go Natural.  The recent buzzword for this is N.E.A.T. (NON-EXERCISE ACTIVITY THERMOGENESIS). Basically, it just means that normal activities (folding laundry, taking the stairs, shopping) count as exercise, and make a difference to your overall health.  Pump it up a notch by making a point of being a mover—fidget, take breaks to walk around the office every hour, stand on the subway, ALWAYS take the stairs when it’s less than 5 flights, clean with vigor, walk like you are late even if you are early!

Thanks, ladies!

Speaking of all this, I wanted to give you all an update on my hip tendinitis and strain. It’s doing OK! Physical therapy is helping tremendously, as is working out in ways that don’t exacerbate the injury. I’m feeling much better than I was three weeks ago. Is it frustrating sometimes? Yup. But I also have a renewed gratitude for my body and all it does, and in that regard I guess all injuries are humbling.

I’m off to meet a friend for coffee, and then it’s work, work, work till a movie date later tonight. Happy Saturday!


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  1. So glad that your tendonitis is better! I can really relate to your approach to exercise–I think consistency is key. I exercise 6 days a week, alternating between cardio and weights. And since I’m totally non-competitive, I go at my own pace (and it really is “me” time). But I do find that if I miss it for while, say if I hurt my back, then it is MUCH harder to get back into it again. Going regularly, even if it’s just 15 minutes, keeps the routine alive.

  2. Again, you’ve hit the spot on “all or nothing” workouts that are actually the root of the problem. I never realized I’m like that till you put it in words for me. Thank you so much for your good work and for being an inspiration.

  3. I’m not a person who works out to build muscle and to look “good”…actually, I really do not think that women should be all buff and muscular…I think we are meant to be kinda soft, absolutely huggable. I mean, our bodies are built for motherhood, like it or not…can’t go against biology!

    I don’t go to the gym, but I run almost every morning…Like you, I like to get it done in the morning. It puts me in a better mood for the whole day, gets my appetite going, and well, prevents me from being a bigger bitch. lol. It is also a great quiet moment for myself, the time when I can communicate freely with God and nature. 🙂

  4. I love your comment ‘not every workout will be epic’. This is so true and yet so hard to commit to sometimes. I often struggle with the idea that if you are going to make the effort to get to the gym then you should always work your butt off while there. I’m going to try and make this my new motto!

  5. my workouts are definitely “me” time. if i don’t get a workout in, i don’t fret about the lack of calories burned… i fear for my sanity! it mellows me out so much and gives such a positive energy to the day
    so many awesome tips here!
    thank you for including me 🙂
    hope you had a fabulous weekend <3

  6. great idea here and interesting facts. thanks for such an insightful post!

  7. I think you totally hit it on the head with this – be realistic/reasonable, and fit it in however you can. The physical and emotional benefits of even a teeny bit are undeniable!

  8. Great post and I totally view exercise as “me time” too. I typically workout in the evenings on weeknights since I have to be at work so early and mornings on the weekends. Agreed on the all or nothing point, I work in what I can and try not to sweat it if I have to shorten workouts.

  9. Thanks for the inspiration. In the last few days I have been nearly depressed because my baggage got lost during traveling along with my running shoes. Since running is my go to exercise when traveling, I didn´t know what to do to get a workuot in (definitely my me time everyday). This morning just doing some push ups, crunches, jumping jacks and other simple no gear necessary exercises for about 40 min made all the difference in my mood and energy. Will definitely keep doing this until my trip is over in a few days! Thanks for the motivation!

  10. Great post with practical tips. Many people feel discouraged if they cannot give exercise the time, energy, and attention they feel they should be expending on it. But continuing to neglect it until their busy lives magically become less busy is not much better a success strategy.

  11. I’m also curious whether we somehow maintain childhood fitness levels … I did a lot of gymnastics as a kid and ran competitively for eight years in high school and college. Don’t get me wrong, I think exercise is important throughout our lives, but I think the exercise we do when we’re young pays bigger dividends (just like the retirement contributions when we’re young…).

  12. I wish I had a routine. But every time I try to establish one, life seems to get in the way, and I end up not working out. You’d think as a result I’d be the proverbial fat skinny person but no, my blood work always wows my doctors and I have the resting pulse of an endurance athlete. And even though I hardly exercise, I can always run five or six miles or make it through a 90 minute sweaty power yoga class without resting (I’m like the Mercedes parked in the garage, that you never drive, but when you do, it still outperforms your trusty Honda…). I guess my pattern is a month of exercise, three or four months off, repeat. I haven’t exercised daily since college (a long time ago). I do have a super-busy lifestyle and I bike everywhere, carry my groceries several city blocks, opt for the stairs over the elevator, etc. Maybe that helps me to maintain a low level of fitness, who knows. I do envy your discipline though.

  13. So glad to hear you are making progress with your hip. I dealt with a similar injury after my son was born last April and it took what felt like ages before my hip felt right again. But the good news is if you do exactly what they tell you in PT (even when it seems more like torture) you will get better. I’m proof!

  14. LOVE this post! I’ve read elsewhere that it’s better for your body to work out this way – have a regiment, but mix it up from time to time, and do the best you can. A friend of mine has been doing desk yoga from yogadownload.com and has found a lot of success with it!

    Glad to hear you are feeling better.

  15. Hi Gena, great post! I really like your attitude towards working out. i’ve been more of an “all or nothing” person. If one day I slip up on my training/ exercise regimen and can’t make it, I feel like my fitness has gone down on a spiral and I fret and worry about it the entire day. Love your common-sense approach: “And if you do skip a workout? Big deal. Life happens. Go tomorrow.” Shall try to keep that in mind next time I do miss a workout! =)

  16. Scheduling in your workouts just like any other daily activity is a sure way to find time to do it. I mostly run out side and that is definitely my ME TIME. I am myself – not a mom, not a wife… just me.

  17. exercising in the morning, especially before breakfast, makes me feel SO much better during the rest of the day. i’ve been doing more frequent morning workouts (after reading this blog especially) and i really enjoy it. i used to be totally all-or-nothing with exercise, but i’ve come to become a lot more chill about it… if all i can fit in in the morning is 20 minutes of running, so be it. i can’t believe there used to be a time when i HAD to exercise for an hour to two hours daily, otherwise i wouldn’t forgive myself.

  18. I completely agree with you!! I used to hate exercising in the morning, but a few years ago when I started reading Kath’s blog KERF I really liked how she was so consistent with her morning workouts so that no matter what came up in the pm, she didn’t have to worry about missing workouts. I’ve since totally hopped on the morning workout bandwagon 🙂

  19. THanks for this post! ! I’ve been needing more motivation to become a morning exerciser!!

  20. Wow I really admire that you get up and work out every day. I think I might try to mimic your schedule exactly. Waking up at 6a with an hour to spare is a good idea, especially for me since I like to prepare mentally before going for a run.

  21. Although this isn’t quite the norm on your blog, I was wondering if you could possibly take the time to show us the ways you plan on packing your 3 meals, gym clothes, work clothes, and any/everything you need for work without looking like a bag lady. I am currently in college and prefer to pack snacks (because it’s the much healthier option) instead of running to the dining hall and find that I’m a crazy bag lady with everything I have to carry. Any advice on what types of bags/totes you use would be fantastic! Thank you for all of your great advice and information.

  22. It’s refreshing to see a post from an early-morning exerciser who also needs an hour to wake up before busting it out in the gym. 🙂 Quick question: how do you streamline your early morning shower/makeup routine after the workouts, especially those during lunch? I especially hate dealing with my hair; it seems to take forever to dry when you’re trying to rush to work.

    • Hey Carly!

      That hour is more for pleasure than anything else–it, along with the workout, is often my only totally quiet time each day.

      As for hair and makeup: after an AM workout, I usually take a 3 min shower. My hair is fine, so it only takes about 5 to 7 min to blowdry! And I don’t wear makeup, so that’s easy 🙂

      And don’t think I’m gross, but after a lunchtime workout, I just don’t shower. I do it later that night. Sorry, coworkers :-/


  23. Awesome post as usual!!! When you say that you go every day does that mean you don’t do programmed rest days?

    • Hi Hannah —

      I don’t do pre-programmed rest days, no. That’s because my job and lifestyle do them for me: inevitably, there are days when I really can’t make time to work out. Sometimes these are clustered together; sometimes, they’re very rare. But they’ll definitely happen.

      If I were training for a race or doing some new sort of routine that was working muscles in a new way, I’d take some rest days as I progressed. But to be honest with you, I can’t remember the last time I was sore from a workout! My workouts are fairly routine at this point, and they aren’t working muscles in such a way that I feel demands rest. So rest days, for me, are days when I can’t workout; if I can, I always will. Hope that makes sense!


  24. Oh the irony of reading this post during a break during my bodybuilding and fitness competition! Of all posts to read!

    I agree with Gina’s tips and yours, Gena, of short is ok if that’s all you’ve got!

    I think in 15 mins you can bust out a couple hundred push ups, sit ups, jumping jacks, plank holds, Sun Salutations, lunges and squats. No resting! Get your heart rate up and maximize your 15 mins. It’s so much better than doing nothing b/c you “don’t have time.” As Melissa said, the investment in health is worth it! And if NEAT counts (i.e. folding laundry and groc shopping…oh, I am the queen of that workout)

    Off to retouch my tan and pump up 🙂

  25. Great post! I just started a 9-5 desk job (interning at a newspaper) so this post came in the nick of time. In college, my classes started late enough that I could just go mid-morning. Now I have to get up at 6…but no matter the early-morning suck-age, it’s infinitely better than trying to do an intense night workout. At night, I cap out at yoga or low-intensity cardio. It’s so much better to just get it over with. Even though I like working out, dumbbells are not sexy after 7pm.

    I’m a bit addicted to taking the stairs. My co-workers gawk when I see no problem in taking 7 flights. Since I focus more on weights, sometimes I don’t have time to squeeze in some morning cardio. To fill in, I park on the 9th or 10th level of my work’s parking garage. Then, after work, I race (or step-lunge) up the stairs. It’s basically interval training!

  26. Cool post. What I love about consistent working out is the immense amount of creativity that seems to flood my brain during and after. It’s incredible. I credit almost all my great ideas in life to being able to run.

    🙂 aletheia

  27. I totally understand the me-time, even though gym workouts are my least favorite. My zone is when I am running in the park for a while with nothing but nature and the bubble of trail I can see around the crazy bends. It’s fantastic. Sometimes it’s really tough not to go all out every time, but it pays off injury-wise and motivation-wise in the long run!

  28. I think I’ve been the first to post a couple times now, but I love this post! I just started having a really hectic schedule and am going to start early AM workouts. I like your idea of waking up and giving you some email/coffee time. Ideally, I’d want to jump right out of bean. head to the gym, and get as much seep as I can. But I think it’s much more practical to have a slow wake-up to get yourself going and make sure you follow through!

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