Working & Exercising

One benefit of working from home that doesn’t get discussed much is the ease of small, but frequent exercise activities through the day. I’m sure it’s not outlawed in an office to get out of your chair and do 20 jumping jacks, or plank for a minute, I definitely would feel awkward doing so. This is something on my mind as I’m working this week around ~400 colleagues for our once-a-year Grand Meetup.

When I’m home and have a ton of work to get through, my favorite approach is the Pomodoro Technique with 25 minutes on followed by a 5 minute break. (I use this app but any timer will do.) The 5 minute break is a fantastic time to do something small, like a few push-ups, squats, a plank, or even meditate. (The new Pause app is cool, and of course I love Calm.) You don’t have to do a ton, but over the course of a day or a week these 5 minute break exercises add up to be quite a bit and can kickstart a Tiny Habit. And don’t even get me started on the benefits of naps.

Again, not something that’s impossible in an shared office, just feels a lot more natural and less embarrassing in your private home office.

15 thoughts on “Working & Exercising

  1. Totally my biggest pain transiting from freelance to employment.

    In addition to waking up to beat the commute, I have to wake even earlier to get a decent exercise in.

    I was literally wondering if there’s a gym nearby so I can do a light workout at some point in my work day.

    Good and timely topic.

    Any suggestions for office workers?

  2. Could not agree more. I either work in blocks of 25 minutes followed by a 5 minute break or 50 minutes with a 10 minute break. It seems counterintuitive at first to take so many breaks but I find I actually get so much more done when I take regular breaks.

    I like to use the pompdone app ( on my desktop so that I can link it with todoist, that way I know exactly which task I need to be working during each session.

  3. I agree working from home can make taking exercise breaks easier. For me, that includes playing with a cat with a teaser wand, playing with a dog by throwing around balls or playing tug-of-war, and also going outside to feed a chicken some corn or watermelon or lettuce. I also like to think while either pacing or walking outside. Those all would be hard to do working in a conventional office.

    Treadmill workstations are another option to bring work and exercise together. The human body seems to be adapted to be in one of several positions — such as lying, swimming, walking, climbing, and squatting — and sitting in a chair is probably not yet one of them.

    For several years, I’ve had DIY treadmill workstation set up I put together using a conventional treadmill with a board across the handles for a keyboard and trackball facing a wall with shelves with LCD monitors on them. I find the rhythm of walking at about 0.5 mph to 1.0 mph can even help sometimes with concentration (a bit like some music), although there are other times when I find walking is a distraction (same as music sometimes). A tall stool lets me switch between walking, sitting, and standing. I have not been using the treadmill much lately though, including to let a foot injury heal (possibly from rollerskating for the first time in decades at my kid’s friend’s birthday party at a roller rink). I’ve also since learned that walking barefoot on a treadmill is probably not a good idea for me because it can cause foot problems compared to walking with good shoes. I’ve also had a knee sometimes bother me, possibly because of the quality of the treadmill deck and also again walking barefoot. The focusing distance to monitors can also be problematical as it is beyond reading glasses but not quite distance, especially for older eyes. I asked my eye doctor to give me a special prescription for the right distance for those monitors (about three feet away) — although I still find using a laptop is increasingly easier now for focusing for me. There are also commercial treadmill workstations where a desk can rise and lower and the treadmill deck is softer and the motor is designed specifically for walking at lower speeds. Those commercial setups also can accommodate a laptop in a way my DIY setup can’t. My DIY setup also had several issues related to the optical encoder disk warping and making noise probably related to the base cheap treadmill just not being designed well.

    Such workstation are also not for everyone. I set one up for my wife at the same time in her office, but she does not find she can type on hers while walking. She uses hers mostly as a standing desk. She generally only walks when on a phone call or watching a video (whereas I never walk when on a call for some reason). She also found focusing even more of a problem than I did early on, probably due to having bifocals and focus distance moving somewhat while walking. Standing desks can be good as far as increasing exercise just by maintaining balance. However, standing a lot in one place can cause blood pooling in the legs unless you’re always shuffling around or moving in other ways as a habit. My wife jokes that someday, with display walls or position-tracking virtual reality headsets and gloves, things may change to the point where it is assumed that of course a programmer is physically fit because they walk around so much doing their job.

  4. Great stuff, Matt! I’ve started using Pomodone and I love it. One little thing though – I tried to share this post with my team on Slack and it Slack brings in a load of JS in the preview, rather than the content! Not sure if it’s your theme or Slack…

  5. THANK YOU for blogging this. We have a very fitness-friendly office and yet I still feel funny doing squats and toe-touches in my work space. I also am too shy to do planks or push-ups. Rock on, work-at-homers!

  6. I switched last year from working nights/weekends, not sitting, barely any bathroom breaks (I am an RN) to my position in Clinical Informatics. This still entailed doing “rounds” but also a ton of desk work. I have a very bad habit of not taking breaks until a task is done so I think I want to try this technique because being sedentary is really kicking my energy level.

  7. Agreed. Stretching and trying to work out in an office and take a nap doesn’t sound optimal.

    I recently switched to a standing desk, and I’m using an old yoga mat to cushion my feet. It is also great because I can easily stretch, and do yoga poses whenever I want. My neck and back also feel so much better standing now. I’m also seeing a mental improvement standing too.

    Have you tried a standing desk?

  8. A very motivating post, Matt! I’ve found that short, 10- or 15-minute intervals work well when confronting unfamiliar or “difficult” pieces of music. The short duration helps me plow through procrastination and “jump start” my mind. By the time the timer beeps, I’m hooked and ready for more. It’s amazing how little “slices” of time can add up over the course of a day.

    On a related note, it’s great to see–from the Grand Meetup photo–that your tenor is treating you well! Your fingers, embouchure and posture look totally spot-on. You’re definitely “one with your horn” in that shot. In a zone. What mouthpiece/reed combination are you using? Looks like a matte finish on your tenor… Matt on matte?

    Way to get it ALL in. Groove on! 🙂

    1. That’s good advice. I did get to play a little at the gGrand Meetup. 🙂 I need to check in on the mouthpiece, pretty sure it was an Otto Link Vintage Series rubber mouthpiece, with a Rovner ligature, and Vandoren Java 2 1/2 reed. The sax is a Selmer Paris 74 Reference 54. I have a lot of practicing to do…