By Casey Rosengren
As an entrepreneur, your greatest enemy is time. With a small team and an innumerable list of things that need to get done, you quickly come to the realization that when you’re not working on the project, progress isn’t being made. As a result, you focus your efforts on the areas that add the most value to the business, while making sure other parts don’t catch fire in the meantime. Productivity and prioritization are two key tasks that can make or break a startup.
In such a pressured environment, it’s easy to make decisions that prioritize the business over fitness and personal health. While this may be necessary from time to time to deal with emergencies, when it happens consistently, it becomes a problem.
Most people know of the superficial benefits of exercise: it can contribute to fat loss and muscle gain. However, in the past 20 years or so, scientists have discovered that exercise also has a significant positive impact on the brain.
Of major interest to entrepreneurs are the effects of exercise on productivity. In a NASA study, compared to people who exercised regularly, people who didn’t exercise experienced a 50% drop in productivity after 7 hours of work. For an entrepreneur who puts in 12+ hours a day, this means that allocating 30-60 minutes a day to exercise could reap overwhelming benefits in the long run.
Additionally, exercise reduces stress and anxiety over both the short term and the long term. For someone experiencing the roller-coaster ride of emotions that goes with starting your own business, this can be invaluable.
So, how can entrepreneurs fit exercise into our day in an efficient way?
For the busy, cash-strapped entrepreneur, bodyweight workouts can provide a free, fast, intense way to workout during the day. You’ve probably done some bodyweight workouts in your school days, like pushups and sit-ups, but there are a number of more advanced variations that can work every single aspect of your body.
In traditional weightlifting, you isolate and work a muscle to gain mass quickly. However, in bodyweight workouts, you must also work on balance and technique, which means that you gain a more functional form of fitness.
For cardiovascular health and muscle endurance, circuit training can result in quick, visible gains. Circuit training means rotating through a series of bodyweight workouts without stopping for 2-3 minutes, resting for a minute, and then beginning the circuit all over again. By alternating between a number of upper-body, lower-body, and core exercises, like pushups, squats, and sit-ups respectively, this can be a balanced, intense workout that really gets the blood running. With 5-10 minutes of stretching, a 15-20 minute workout, and 5-10 minutes of cool-down at the end, this entire session takes only 30-45 minutes (plus the shower and recovery meal!).
For those interested in building muscle, there are a number of exercises that increase stress on your muscle groups by gradually progressing to more difficult techniques. Examples of these are the planche, the handstand, and the pull-up.
As an example, here is the handstand progression. First, you would become comfortable with normal pushups, and then you would practice holding a handstand against the wall. Next, you would practice going into a freestanding handstand, as well as doing handstand pushups against the wall. The final step would be progressing to freestanding handstand pushups, a feat requiring muscle and balance that simply cannot be built on isolation machines. Of course, you wouldn’t be completely done yet. You’re still using two hands for your handstand – you can always take one away!
If you decide to make time for fitness in your daily life as an entrepreneur, I’d make the following suggestions.
- Have a plan and measure your results – metrics can be useful outside the board room!
- Make it a priority – do it first thing in the morning or first thing when you get home from work.
- Recover properly – don’t work out every day, and make sure to stretch to avoid injury. Overtraining results in injury. Sleep is also important.
- Connect with other people getting fit – joining a social group will help build and solidify your new habits.
Exercise has a several significant positive effects, all of which are important to keep you fresh and on your toes as you make decisions throughout the day.
Here are some resources:
- Reddit Bodyweight Fitness – Reddit’s community on bodyweight exercises. Over 30,000 members – a great place to ask questions and get advice.
- Overcoming Gravity and Eat, Move, Improve – the book and website of a formal gymnast who goes into bodyweight workouts in significant detail. Very dense and educational – meant for the serious reader.
- Never Gymless – an eBook written by a personal trainer and former boxer on bodyweight training. Never Gymless is focused on attaining the high levels of stamina and endurance required for fighters.
- Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain – a readable, thought-provoking book by a Harvard psychiatrist that covers academic studies about exercise and the brain.
Bio: Casey is currently on leave from the University of Pennsylvania while working on a startup in Tokyo, Japan. His interests include lean methodologies, international entrepreneurship, the intersection of strategy and culture, and making the world a better place through e-commerce. He is also passionate about sesame seeds and avocados.