How I Haven't Become an Amorphous Blob While Working Remotely
With it being February, I’m sure quite a few folks out there are still trying to keep their New Year's resolutions intact. Since I’d wager quite a few of those are in the area of fitness or personal wellness, this post falls in line with a resolution that I made years ago.
I’ve been working remotely full-time for the last three years and did a quite bit of it part-time for my previous employer. Remote work can be challenging for several reasons. It requires a great deal of self-discipline, both personally and professionally, and it can be tough to find that balance between focusing on your work, your family, and yourself.
This post is going to revolve on the last one of those items: focusing on yourself, specifically with regards to fitness and what has worked for me in my career as a developer, specifically a remote one (where a kitchen filled with all sorts of terrible things to eat is never more than a few steps away).
It was circa 2008 and Jeff Atwood's well-written article 'Investing in a Quality Programming Chair' was making the rounds on all the good developer related circuits. After reading this article, I did as most might, and began searching for a chair that would qualify as quality and surely it was improve my life... unfortunately my wallet didn't seem to agree with me.
Enter the Target clearance aisle and a Swiss Ball. This ball has been my daily chair for the last seven years. It’s never popped, I’ve never had to replace it, and it cost all of $6.99.
It greatly helped my posture, balance, core strength, and has been worth its weight in gold. While you might not fully replace your chair with it, it’s a great supplement throughout the day, especially if you don't have the cheddar lying around to go pick up a nice Herman Miller.
Beware Those Who Enter
Another great purchase that can be worthwhile is a simple pull up bar. Most are inexpensive and can mount in nearly any doorframe. Since there isn’t always a ton of opportunities to work out your upper body (typing doesn’t exactly get you looking ripped), you can make it an easy option with one of these.
I think that most would agree that pull-ups and chin-ups aren't the easiest of exercises, especially if you aren't someone that works out regularly. Therefore, it's so important to adjust and focus on what you can do. Every exercise has variants and approaches to accommodate different skill levels and pull-up/chin-ups are no exception. If you consider yourself in that category, explore doing "negatives" or employ the aid of a nearby chair to help you bridge the gap.
It may seem daunting at first, but if you can build a habit of knocking out a few reps each time you enter/leave the room and it’ll pay dividends over time.
While all of the previous items on this list could be considered general purpose, this next item would probably fall into the more specialized for office-use category. The Deskcycle is from the folks at 3D Innovations and I can honestly say that I rode one of these until the imaginary wheels fell off. At its peak, I probably averaged several hours a day in a serious sweat while working and I'd estimate that I clocked several thousand miles on it.
It’s worth noting, if you find yourself churning along at 15-20+ miles an hour. You are going to sweat, so dress, deodorize, and plan accordingly (especially if you are in a shared office)
I never ran into any issues, besides the complaints from my co-workers at the time because I'd be drenched in sweat going into a meeting (small, poorly insulated office, so the devastating Louisiana summer heat is partially to blame). As with most workouts, there was a bit of an adjustment period (really, really sore legs), but after some time, I left every workday feeling like I had just left the gym.
It has all sort of neat tracking features regarding calories burned, distance, and all the usual jazz that you’d expect from something like this. It’ll easily slide under just about any desk, although if you are tall, you may want to do some measuring before getting one.
Probably the most classical and ubiquitous item on the list: iron. Free-weights, dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, whatever suits your fancy. The options are really timeless and can adjust to your needs (or whatever specifically you want to work on). They come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties to work just about every muscle group in your body and most are small enough to hide away in any office.
On a long conference call? Maybe knock out a few reps/sets. Waiting for that long running build process that you’ve been needing to fix? Fix it later and do a few Turkish get-ups.
While it can be handy to have a complete barbell set with plates at your home, which I recommend if you are interested in doing the major Olympic lifts, it's not required by any stretch. Some of the hardest workouts that I've done have taken place in my office over a matter of minutes with just a single kettlebell. In addition, the benefits of doing HIIT (high-intensity interval training) periodically throughout the day has been found to yield benefits for hours after you've stopped working out, so a few sets every few hours might be all you need.
Weights can be pretty easy to ignore, but if you can find a quick program or series of exercises that you make a few minutes for throughout the day, you can sometimes walk away feeling mentally and physically productive.
The real reason behind this entire post is this last section, which might not be the most practical, but it’s done wonders for me: the treadmill desk. Now it’s worth mentioning, these things are not cheap, and they are not by any means just some ordinary gym treadmill. These are made for specifically for lower speeds and extended use (several hours). Don’t go expecting to run sprints and train for the 2024 Olympics on one of these.
As soon as I took on a fully remote position, I began scouring sites like Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and Craigslist to try and find a deal on one. Given that they can run in excess of $1000 for a quality one, that I'm horribly frugal, and the nearest major city is about two hours from where I live, it look months for me to find a deal on one, but when I did, I jumped on it.
Four hours later, it was all cleaned off and sitting my office, ready to change my remote life forever.
At this point you might be thinking "A four-hour drive for a deal on a treadmill desk? That's crazy" and you might be right. But all things considered, if this thing burst into flames tomorrow, I'd be ordering one for full price that same night, because that's how much of a difference it's made.
I spent the majority of my days on it while actively developing. There was quite a bit of a learning curve to learn how to walk, solve problems, and write code all in conjunction, but after a while the walking isn't even given a thought. Usually for day-to-day writing code, I'll probably average between 2.0-2.5mph, with that going a bit higher if I'm just in a meeting, conference call, etc. I’d say I would easily average between 10-15 miles a day, which is something I’ve adapted to (don’t kill yourself trying this if you get one).
To be honest, it was a game-changer for me working remotely, especially living in a place with really, really good (read as fattening) food. It’s yielded numerous healthy benefits and improvements, but above all else, it’s allowed me to finish every work day feeling satisfied both physically and mentally, and allowed me the additional time to spend with my family instead of finding time for me to work out.