The Working Mom Workout: Getting the Most Out of the Gym

I rarely get to the gym, and when I do get there, I’m on a tight schedule. So I want the biggest cardiovascular benefit and most calorie burn in the least amount of time.

Plus, I’m a Type A, perpetually multitasking, frighteningly nerdy medical professional… and you know how we are. Regardless if it’s the healthiest approach to life or not, if we can be more productive, then that’s what we’re going to do, dammit. Apart from texting while driving, we’re usually doing more than one thing at the same time.

For this reason, when I actually get to spend any time in a real gym, I almost always aim for the stair treadmill (AKA stepmill), the one that looks like an escalator:

The machine next to it, the Jacob’s ladder, is also excellent, and maybe cardiovascularly superior as it provides a lower and upper body workout.

But, the stair treadmill has a distinct advantage: You can do work while you get a killer workout.

Yup, just put the machine at a steady, moderately difficult level of resistance, whatever that means for you, and then just, well, step. And step.

It’s key not to lean over on the armrails or digital display, for two main reasons: One, it’s a potentially damaging posture. I’ve seen patients with neck and back spasms because of hunching over their cardio machines. Two, it diminishes the workload. If one is leaning heavily on the machine, one is not effectively using their legs. It defeats the purpose.

So I have a suggestion to both prevent one from hunching/ leaning/ pulling on the armrails, AND for being super-productive: just pull out your phone or iPad and do work while you work out. I am serious. As a matter of fact, I studied for the Internal Medicine Boards (and passed) using this exact technique.

Recently I had a luxurious forty-five minutes at the Y, so I set the machine at level 6 and climbed 152 flights of stairs. While I climbed, I went through my emails, logged in to work, read patient care messages, reviewed labs and radiology results, and approved a few refill requests. Then, I drafted two blog posts (including this one).

And that forty-five minutes FLEW by. Meanwhile, I sweated a disgusting amount, so much that the machine required a good mopping up afterwards.

Yes, I’m sure I could have climbed higher and sweated more had I set the machine at level 7 or 8, but I wouldn’t have been as productive. If I only have twenty or thirty minutes, I will set it higher, but I won’t try to do too much. Maybe read the news, check in with social media, or order groceries, lighter fare like that.

Of course I don’t believe that ALL exercise should be on a machine, and I don’t recommend working through every workout. Outdoor activities such as running, walking, and hiking offer benefits beyond the cardiovascular, especially if the kids are involved. Physical activity PLUS family bonding time!

And, I do love a good Spinning class. If I could get organized enough to make it to a scheduled Spinning class AND stay the whole hour, I would do that. That is, frankly, unrealistic for me, and probably for most working moms. (Though, I have created a hack so I can spin at home when I want to; more on that later!).

After all, variety is key when it comes to maintaining an active lifestyle. Still, if you’re gonna go to the gym, you don’t have alot of time, and you have alot on your plate (or, you’re a Type A perhaps-slightly-hypomanic medical professional like me), think about using this technique.


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