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Best Workouts for Your Career

Everyone knows that consistent exercise relieves stress, improves health, fights fat, counters aging, and generally gives you a body like Beyonce or L.L. Cool J ... well, almost. But what you rarely hear is how regular workouts can help you work better. That's right, crunches can further your career.

Researchers at the University of Bristol in England had people rate their job performance and mood on workdays when they exercised and on workdays when they didn’t. The results will make any efficiency expert raise an eyebrow. On the days they worked out:

  • 72 percent of participants reported managing their time better.
  • 79 percent said their mental and interpersonal performance improved.
  • 74 percent reported managing their workload better.

If that’s not a prescription for getting a raise and being promoted, we don’t know what is. A smaller, but significant share of exercisers reported other benefits as well: improved dealing with stress (26 percent), feeling motivated to work (33 percent), concentrating on work (26 percent), working without unscheduled breaks (28 percent), and finishing work on time (27 percent).

Although any type of moderate-to-vigorous exercise should return these results (Bristol researchers let study participants do whatever activity they wanted), we thought it would be helpful to get a bit more specific. What follows are suggested workouts for specific job situations. Whether you’re worried about a layoff, feeling under-appreciated, or just looking for a great way to juice your job performance, here are five ways to muscle your way through the challenges.

1. If Every Day Is a Struggle ...

Situation: The economy has sent your company or business reeling, and you’re constantly worried about layoffs or bankruptcy.

Sport: Swimming

It provides an escape from stress that is largely unrivaled. With your goggles on, earplugs in and Speedo (hopefully) knotted tight, you’ll be in your own private Idaho.

Plus, swimming imparts two important lessons: 1) with a little work you can stay afloat in any environment, and; 2) progress is all about being evermore streamlined and efficient. Oh, and should things not work out at your present job, swimming can burn 500 to 700 calories per hour and — get this — it can actually slow physical aging, according to a study at Indiana University. So at least you’ll look good on job interviews.

Skill: Do a flip turn

Laura Hamel, editor-in-chief for U.S. Masters Swimming, recommends this:

  1. When you can almost touch the wall with extended arms, begin folding from the hips, with chin tucked, legs still straight and hands pushing toward your feet to initiate the flip.
  2. Fold more tightly, bringing nose toward knees and hands toward feet, then bend your knees and kick your heels toward your butt.
  3. As your legs come around, feel for the wall with the balls of your feet while keeping your arms straight behind your head (you’re now upside-down).
  4. Bring your hands together, pinching your ears between your biceps and push off the wall
  5. Cross your legs slightly to automatically rotate onto your side and resume your stroke.

2. If You’re Pulled in Too Many Different Directions ...

Situation: You’re being asked to wear so many different hats at work you feel like a Stetson model.

Sport: Yoga

Just 20 minutes per day can reduce workplace stress by 10 percent, according to an Ohio State study. Yoga also improves flexibility and balance. In fact, you’ll bend yourself in ways you never thought possible while still remaining poised and centered. Additional research with older adults found that a 12-week hatha-yoga program yielded a 34 percent increase in flexibility and a slight reduction in their fear of falling.

Skill: Stand on your head

Registered yoga instructor and Morgan Stanley vice president Sybel Pacis recommends this:

  1. Kneel on your mat with elbows shoulder-width apart, forearms on the floor, fingers laced together, and the back of your head nestled in your palms.
  2. Lift your knees off the floor and walk your feet toward your elbows, forming an inverted V.
  3. When you can’t walk your feet any farther, simultaneously raise both legs and extend them overhead, supporting your weight with your shoulders and forearms not your head (tip: look straight ahead, not up).
  4. Find your balance point, hold the pose for 5 breaths (about 10-15 seconds), then pivot at the hips to slowly lower your feet to the mat. Enlist a helper (or two) to spot you and have your back to a wall for further support. Things look different?

3. If You Feel Like You’re Overworked and Underappreciated ...

Situation: You do all the work and get none of the recognition or credit, and you’ve had enough.

Sport: Boxing

... But not in the way you might expect. Strapping on a pair of gloves and hitting the heavy bag is a great workout, but research at Iowa State University found that doing so doesn’t reduce anger and aggression. In fact, study participants actually became angrier and more aggressive after all that walloping. No, you’re in a delicate situation that requires a combination of strength, finesse, and patience, so a better boxing skill to practice is working a speed bag. It teaches control and coordination, two traits you’ll need when it’s finally time to set things straight (or leave). Plus, studies suggest that repetitive sound and movement can trigger a more relaxing and satisfying state of mind.

Skill: Work a speed bag

Alan Kahn, author of The Speed Bag Bible, recommends this:

  1. Hang the bag so its fattest part (the belly) is at mouth level.
  2. Stand about 18 inches away with feet squared, and use the side of your fist (opposite your thumb) to strike the bag’s belly.
  3. Lightly hit the bag once with your right hand, wait until it almost stops swinging, then hit it with your left hand.
  4. As you get the feel of the bag, try punching it after seven rebounds, then (once you perfect that) after five, and finally after three (called triplet rhythm).

Visit for additional tips and for equipment. There now, feel better?

4. If You’ve Got a New Job ...

Situation: You just started a new job and, while you’re thankful for the opportunity, you’re realizing it’s going to take a while before you’re recognized and rewarded.

Sport: Long-distance cycling

Buy yourself a skinny-tire road bike (not a hybrid or mountain bike, because their greater weight, wider tires and upright riding position can require up to 30 percent more effort to propel over pavement) and begin training for a century. These 100-mile rides, many of which are held in the fall, will prove that you harbor more endurance and fortitude than you ever thought possible. All you have to do is keep your head down and your eyes on the goal. To find out about rides in your area, check your local bike shop.

Skill: Fix your pedaling technique

Ed Pavelka, the editor of and a member of the four-man team that holds the senior world record for cycling across America (5 days), recommends this:

  1. Push down from the top of the stroke until the pedal nears 6 o’clock.
  2. Pull your foot through the bottom like you’re scraping mud off the sole, which will help you pedal in more efficient “circles” rather than up and down.
  3. Repeat a few million times. Learning to pedal this way insures you’ll apply force more consistently throughout each stroke, which will help you travel faster and farther without greater effort. It’s one of the reasons Lance rolls on.

5. If You Work at Goldman Sachs ...

Situation: You work in the financial sector and, post-bailout, everyone seems to despise you.

Sport: Basketball

Forget about shooting solitary jumpers or challenging another vice-president to a game of HORSE; those activities will do nothing to demonstrate that you’re a team player. Instead, search to find a pickup game at a local playground or gym (or use the resources there to organize your own game). Then by all means employ the deft moves you know so well, but at the same time notice the beauty of the well-set pick, the elegance of the 3-on-1 fast break, and all the delicate interplay that’s part of being on a winning team.

Skill: Set a roll-off screen.

Chris Ballard, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated and the author of Hoops Nation: A Guide to America’s Best Pickup Basketball, recommends this:

  1. Set a pick for the guy with the ball.
  2. After making contact with his defender, immediately turn and head for the basket, instead of waiting for your teammate to make a move first.
  3. Clap your hands or otherwise call for the ball because you’ll be wide open for a short jumper or lay-up.
“It’s basic basketball,” says Ballard, “but nobody does it in pick-up games. You’ll be open every time.” Now that’s a worthwhile assist.

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