With so many other commitments that can get in the way before or after the working day, often the best time to pack in a quality session can be your lunch hour. It’s not the longest slot though so optimising the content of each session, and getting into good habits pre- and post-workout can really make a noticeable difference.
Chris Stanton is a master trainer for Wattbike and at London gym ThirdSpace. As someone who regularly helps people maximise their lunch hour for a worthwhile workout, we thought it would be a good idea to speak to Chris for his recommendations on how to maximise your fitness gains by making best use of this hour(ish) slot for exercise.
We all have different schedules, so your free hour may not be at lunchtime; maybe yoiu're on a night shift, or it could be in the early evening when you're dropping the kids off at swimming lessons. Much of the same principles apply whenever your power hour is, so read on...
Indoor riding is a very controlled environment, so it’s a great opportunity to make fitness gains. “You’re taking away the skill of riding and just enhancing your physical capability,” Chris points out.
“Shorter sessions tend to lend themselves to higher intensity work because you can’t do excessive amounts of sets,” Chris notes. “If you were doing a true HIIT session, it would only last 30 minutes, whereas an aerobics session can go on for two hours.”
If you have a limited amount of time, Chris recommends always looking to drive the intensity of that workout, leaving endurance work for when you have extended periods of time, most likely at the weekend.
“The shorter, sharper sessions is what I tend to do in my lunch breaks, meaning I’ll do a bit of threshold work or some vo2 sets,” Chris notes.
We also spoke to ABCC accredited coach Jonathan Melville of BCA (Breakaway Coaching and Analytics) who suggests doing a neuromuscular power ride when you are time-crunched. “These are 30-second max efforts, going as hard as you can, and then you repeat these six to 10 times.”
Here are some other sessions he suggests for your hard days:
Hitting high intensities in your lunchtime workouts is important for maximising your limited time, but Chris warns against doing those ultra-tough sessions every day you have free during the week; you just won’t be able to reap the benefits of your hard work if you go hard all the time.
Split the hard sessions up, by alternating between intense and easy days.
“You want to make sure you’re adequately recovered for the high intensity sessions so you can either do that by spinning your legs very lightly or having a complete day off the bike where you’re actually focused more on mobility,” Chris notes.
“Otherwise, your system just gets over fatigued and you just won’t be able to produce the workouts which is demotivating,” Chris says.
If your day job involves sitting at a desk all day, it’s important to think about incorporating mobility exercises into your lunch hour instead of a hard workout to maximise your performance on the days you are on the bike.
Chris explains that mobility is the range of movement that you have at each joint. “Including mobilisation work in your training routine will make you more resilient to injuries, make you more comfortable on the bike in a fixed position, improve your performance and help you absorb the forces upon you,” Chris says. “Cycling offers many health and fitness benefits but, on its own, has very limited movement patterns.
"A mobilisation routine focuses on your ankles, hip and thoracic spine to get them functioning better to optimise performance.”
Chris recommends the following mobility sequence below, spending 30 seconds on each exercise in the first round and 45 seconds in the second. You can click on the links to watch Chris’s demonstration of the exercise
Keeping your legs spinning while letting your breathing and heart rate settle, and rehydrating, are of course your main objectives during your recovery blocks in a session, so you can attack the next hard effort.
But, if you’re able to, try not to switch off completely as you recover. Use the opportunity to dial in on your pedalling technique and riding position to really maximise the time you have on the bike.
“The same focus should always be applied to the recovery as the intensity with regards to how you’re pedalling,” Chris says. He recommends paying attention to how each pedal stroke feels, concentrating on making sure it’s smooth and balanced.
It’s a lot harder to focus at those times when you’re catching your breath, but there are ways of ensuring you continue to concentrate.
“Music is a massive driver that can often keep you highly engaged for those down periods,” Chris points out. Another option is following sessions such as The Sufferfest workouts on Wahoo’s SYSTM training platform which continue to fire demands at you during the supposed downtime. It’s tough but you get a lot of quality work done.
If you’re using power meter pedals, Garmin has its Cycling Dynamics insights with the dual-sensing Rally pedals. There's data on left/right balance, power phase (which part of the pedal rotation you're putting the power in) and platform centre offset (whether you're pressing more on one side of the pedal platform).
“With the lower intensity, you can really focus on how you’re pedalling and understand what’s happening within that pedal stroke,” says Chris.
If you only have an hour to spare, don’t overcommit by choosing a session that’s nearing the 60-minute mark. Only so much on-the-bike time is possible, as you need to prepare beforehand and then afterwards ensure you’re on the correct road to recovery, and not go back to the office/your place of work looking like a sweaty mess. Even if you're working from home like many of us during these times, it's still not ideal if you have to return to your desk before you've recovered fully. Budget some time in for a tepid shower, and fixing yourself some recovery fuel!
Chris recommends sticking to sessions that don’t last more than about 40 to 45 minutes. “The reason is that you need to have time to properly mobilise, warm up and cool down effectively, all in that space, while also having the time to eat.”
If you’ve got a set schedule for each week it’ll also be easier to slip into the habit of getting the session done.
“Choose what sessions you’ll be doing at the start of the week rather than choosing on the day,” Chris recommends.
Make sure you know what specific workout you’re going to undertake, rather than just deciding that, for example, Tuesday and Thursday are going to be your intense days. The more you plan beforehand, the easier it’ll be to execute.
Added to this, if you know what session you’ve got planned, then that can help you better prepare everything else you need for the session.
“I’m always fueling 24 to 48 hours before,” Chris says. “If I know I’ve got a hard session, I know I need to make sure my energy levels are at surplus for it, and how I’m going to recover afterwards.”
You can also remember to pack the dry hair shampoo, which could be a good idea for getting back to the office quicker.
On days when you’ve got a workout planned, Chris says the focus should be to have a good breakfast and a good evening meal, and then just constantly fuel throughout the day.
“I’d always have a snack about an hour in advance for just a little bit more fuel and then go for something more convenient afterwards,” Chris says.
“A lot of people prepare their food, but I grab on the go, because I know the nutritional content of the food I’m grabbing - I have selected places I know I can pick up what I need and eat that post-workout.
“There are also post workout shakes that I consume instantly as, again, you know that you’re getting the nutrition you need.”
As well as considering how best to fuel before and after a session, Chris says you can also consider fuelling on-the-bike. There are energy powders for drinks which enable you to fuel at the same time as hydrating.
With such a short period to complete a workout, every distraction can really make a noticeable dent in the time you have available to pack in the exercise you’ve got planned.
“Try and take away anything that’s going to distract you from getting onto that bike on time,” Chris recommends. Switch off notifications on your smartphone if possible and just get on with things.
“Always plan to start straight away because then you’re not trying to buy time at the end of it,” Chris points out. With this approach you’re less likely going to have to cut your session short.
To be able to get going quickly and efficiently, you’ll really notice the benefits if you prepare all your kit the night before. “It just reduces the number of decisions you have to make on the day.”
Often the toughest bit about doing a workout is just getting started. We’re all wired slightly differently and therefore what motivates us is different too. Dialling in on what works for you will really help you consistently achieve what you have planned.
Some riders may find they need to arrange a session with a buddy, or another method is attending an organised class at a gym or studio.
“Classes are a great option because they are already expertly crafted by coaches,” Chris highlights. “It’s at a specific time and then once you’re there you have that enhanced motivation with a coach in front of you and other people, too.
“Or there’s looking at pure data, just trying to hit targets.
“It’s good to experience all three to know what makes you tick,” Chris recommends.
What’s your favourite session for doing in your lunch hour? Let us know in the comments as always.
Anna has been hooked on bikes ever since her youthful beginnings at Hillingdon Cycle Circuit. As an avid road and track racer, she reached the heady heights of a ProCyclingStats profile before leaving for university. Having now completed an MA in Multimedia Journalism, she’s hoping to add some (more successful) results. Although her greatest wish is for the broader acceptance of wearing funky cycling socks over the top of leg warmers.