How to Build Muscle While Working at the Office

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Too Busy to Gym? There is a Solution!


A common challenge to staying fit with Hong Kongers, is having the time for disciplined exercise into already busy schedules. If there is one thing we love to do, it’s work. And if there’s one thing our employers love, it’s to see us at the office working as long as possible.

I recall with joy the work ethic of my fellow colleagues when I first arrived here back in 1991. It was joy, because I finally felt I had found my spiritual working home with people who had the same grunt and grind work ethic as me. A couple of my colleagues at MCC Mercantile (Maersk Logistics) regularly slept at their desks and stayed in the office for 24 hour stints.

Admittedly things have changed slightly, and thankfully we all try harder to have a better work/life balance. And with Covid allowing WFH practices to be tried and tested successfully, employers now realise that time in the office does not necessarily equate to productivity. 

That being said, many of us still spend a majority of our time at the office. And many still have a fear of gyms due to the unknown. So if there is a way to combine fitness inside the office, then it should surely be considered as a viable option.

With the gyms again closed, I needed to find a way to keep resistance training going. It’s all very well to increase steps and other activities which the government cannot stop. But muscle retention is still a concern without any resistance training.

Mind Pump Sal has mentioned a few times on the podcast a strategy which built a positive habit loop into his daily routine. Sal wanted to improve his pull-ups. So he began a simple behaviour pattern; each and every time he walked under the pull-up bar he had at home, he would do a set number of pull-ups. This can be as little as one, or as many as you can comfortably do. The results of this process was a massive improvement in his pull-up ability and some excellent muscle growth results.

I therefore brought the same strategy into the office. Unfortunately there is nowhere I can put a pull-up bar, so I focused on push-ups and squats with a 16kg kettlebell.

This began in the week beginning 7th March 2022, with 6 push-ups and squats each time I entered my office room. Admittedly I have an advantage of my own office space, but this can be done elsewhere if you do not have your own office.

By the end of the first day, I had done 15 sets of 6 reps each. And therefore decided that 15 sets was my target for each day.

As I am only at the office three times per week currently, the mathematics on this was very interesting:

  • 15 sets x 6 reps = 90 reps of squats & push-ups per day
  • 90 reps x 16kg = 1440kgs volume of squats

Therefore, in the first week, I had done 270 push-ups and squats I would never have done otherwise. That’s a massive amount of volume. 

Focusing on the squats of 1440kgs total volume, another interesting calculation is to compare this with a typical 5×5 gym workout. My current maximum barbell back squat with good form is 60kgs, making the following equation:

  • 60kgs x 5reps x 5sets = 1500kgs total volume

Therefore by applying this strategy and spreading it out over a working day, I am lifting the same volume as a 5 x 5 maximum barbell squat day. And, I can repeat my office workout on repetitive days without being over sore with DOMS.

I am now in week 3, and have increased my reps to 8 each time, which is bringing me close to 2000kgs total volume on my squat. Whilst I am doing 360 push-ups and squats per week.

My target will be to increase to 10 reps each time, which will be 450 squats and push-ups per week. Being 1800 per month, which is absolutely phenomenal.

Results after three weeks

It’s all very well showing these amazing numbers. But what are the actual results and how do I feel?

Clearly I can already feel a difference in my body. It’s not always easy to judge just by looking in the mirror. I find a better judge for me is a more tactile approach. And I have definitely noticed my pecs feel bigger, and my legs feel stronger.

Now I have started this, I know the basics of this new strategy won’t stop. When the gyms reopen I will continue my office training, although maybe cut the sets down to 10 to become more manageable. Maybe not. One thing is for sure, I will continue doing this and report back with a progress update in three months time.

What can you do

You do not have to aim for 15 sets, maybe that is excessive. I tend to do everything in my life like this. I’m a little “all or nothing”. But that’s not necessarily the right way, so for sure you can begin with just five sets per day. And you can also bring that practice into your home when WFH.

This would mean, even at 5 sets per day x 5 reps per set, this is still 25 reps per day / 125 reps per week / 500 reps per month more than you would have ever done before. Imagine if you were told you could do 500 push-ups per month without taking any time or much effort out of your day. You would potentially jump at this as it sounds too good to be true. 

But it doesn’t have to be too good to be true. It can be too good, and very true, as I am proving with my excessive reaching and own experience. 

Something else you will gain from this practice is possibly even more valuable. And that is a positive habit loop. If you do something positive continually, it encourages you to apply similar patterns in other aspects of your life. So you never know where these small steps can take you and what more it can bring you.

Begin with the bare minimum. Begin with what you feel comfortable with and what you know you can stick to for at least two weeks. Then let the results speak for themselves, and allow the momentum take you even further into the stratosphere.

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