Startup Fitness

This is a guest post by Mike Schoeffler, founder of iPhone running application Roadbud. He writes a refreshingly approachable fitness blog.

But maybe we should

I hesitate to take issue with Jason’s Sacrifice your health for your startup — particularly after his wife gave her up-close-and-personal. His main point is dead on — we need to unhealthily obsess over our creations. But take this too far and your productivity drops off the cliff.

As founder of a run/bike app startup, I can write off my workouts. I have a ready excuse for squeezing in a little “sweat equity” — I need to get in shape to know my customers’ issues. However, I also know firsthand that exercise increases total productivity. I avoid colds and I have more mental staying power. Plus, I have a better attitude when I don’t resemble shtik fleysh mit oygen (Yiddish for a piece of dead meat with eyes).

shtik fleyshTechnology startups can be horrible for your body. Not mangle-your-arm-in-a-press horrible. But we have all sat in front of a computer for hours on end, tapping on the keyboard and lost in thought. Your only movement is reaching for the can of Mountain Dew or grabbing the bag of chips. Maybe you tear yourself away long enough to call for pizza delivery.

Perfect for veal, not so much for humans. It wasn’t always this way. Joel Spolsky notes that in times long gone, programmers got washboard abs while waiting for the compiler.

Think about exercise in light of a situation we’ve all faced: all-night coding sessions. Remember the all-nighters you pulled, heroically pumping out code until dawn to make a big deadline? Seemed like you were getting lots done while you took a bullet for the team. The truth is your programming was probably awful. Even a few hours’ sleep would have prevented your spaghetti mind from dumping spaghetti code. The worst part: as you got more sleep-deprived, the better the whole idea looked.

Workouts are the same — as you drop further into sloth, inactivity seems smart. Only the uncommitted have time for exercise, right?

Exercise is pretty useful for anyone in a startup even without the health and stamina benefits. Just as your best ideas appear while you’re soaping up in the shower, elegant solutions spring up when you’re out running. Your mind is searching for something to think about besides your body’s pain. And while you don’t have a pen in the shower, you can always use your cellphone if a brainstorm strikes during a run.

Let’s say you’re ready to start an exercise regimen. What next?

Some of us already know how to work out – we’ve just given ourselves license to be lazy in this one area. If you’ve never been in shape, start gradually. Choose an activity you already enjoy (biking is my favorite). Regular exercise is far more important than going Charles Atlas overnight. Couch To 5K is a great place to start.

A little goes a long way. You already knew you don’t have time to train for a marathon. Maybe get in a quick run before work – you’ll feel great all day. Or inch up to a hundred pushups while prepping for a sales call. Zen Habits has a detailed list of exercise hacks to help ease you into the habit.

The critical thing is to just get started. Close your door, wipe the crumbs off your pants, and give me ten pushups now!

What are your fitness tips? Leave a comment and join the conversation.

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  • Ian Potter

    While I have not worked at a start up, I have also searched for a way to keep fit with minimum time commitment. I stumbled on a book called Body by Science by Doug McGuff and pretty much found what I wanted. He details a workout that can be completed with a very small time commitment (minutes per week as opposed to hours) and also details why high-intensity strength training is best for long-term health when compared against long, low-intensity workouts like running. It probably won’t make you look like a body builder, but you’ll be stronger and healthier without spending a huge amount of time in the gym.

    • Ian – I recently stumbled across Body by Science and it piqued my interest – do you have some practical experience in terms of results you could share? I’m trying to see whether it is just another fad or there’s something real there. Thx.

      Jason – great guest post – my first start-up was a disaster health-wise and I’m trying to do better this time. Three and a half years off fifty, I don’t want to get there and find myself a physical wreck, unable to enjoy the fruits of my labour. So thanks for the encouragement.
      .-= Steve Wilkinson’s latest blog post: Low-Burn in a Lean Startup – living to fight another day =-.

  • Dave McLain

    Huge thanks to Mike and Jason for this kick in the pants. I’m almost 2 months into my startup in Austin and after having a fairly regular workout the first few weeks I competely stopped. A couple miles of running and a dozen push ups later I’m feeling more ready to work than I have in a while.

  • My exercise hack is yoga (Bikram) – It’s equal parts meditation and physical workout. I used to try to do these separately but it was impossible to sustain. Now it’s a one stop pitstop for mind and body.

    Did I mention the room is heated to 105 degrees… The sauna effect is an added incentive…
    .-= Ash Maurya’s latest blog post: Customer Development Checklist for My Web Startup – Part 2 =-.

  • I agree with Mike 100%. As a personal trainer for over 18 years, I have worked with hundreds of extremely successful business men and women. EVERY single one of them credits exercise for contributing to their ability to function consistency at a high level.

    After launching my own internet start-up, I could certainly much better identify with my clients with regards to the challenges and rewards of keeping up with an exercise routine.

    Based on my experience, here are 10 reasons entrepreneurs should maintain/embrace an exercise program (aside from just the physical health benefits)
    1) Its’ a Great Stress Reliever
    2) It Helps To Increase Productivity
    3) Monkey See/Monkey Do – You are a role model (the head monkey) to your employees.
    4) It Improves Self-Confidence
    5) It Improves Brain Performance
    6) It Improves Company Morale
    7) It Can Help Reduce Employee Turnover/Absenteeism
    8) It Improves Creative Thinking/Problem Solving
    9) It Will Help Provide Consistent Energy Levels Throughout The Day .
    10) It Can Help Reduce Medical Expenses

    Try having a conversation with a successful businessman who developed a health issue as a result of a lack of exercise. I bet if he had to do it all over again, things would be different….Don’t be that guy/girl.

  • Physical fitness and success go hand in hand. You cannot work yourself to death and expect to be productive or creative. I found this one out the hard way and will never let my work or life get in the way of staying fit (as an aside, 12 years ago, I was 50 pounds overweight and headed for a heart attack because of a startup).

    My most creative moments are while doing something physical. If I ever had to give that up, it would crater my creativity and my ability to solve problems.

    In fact, it’s better to step away from challenging problems to give your brain time to sort things out. The best way to do that is to go exercise.

    BTW, great first guest post.
    .-= Jarie Bolander’s latest blog post: Celebration Of Knowledge #5 =-.

  • I have been exercising since 1996 till date. Totally fit. Rarely get sick. I do 45 minutes exercise 4 days a week. I do practice mediation daily before I go to bed.

    If someone is not really monitoring the health then the worst will come really soon.

  • dave rupert

    This is actually something I’ve been thinking about a lot this week. I gotta think exercise will increase your ability to focus 10fold. Thanks for the tips!

  • Completely agree with Mike, doing activity can really improve how you feel, and consequently how you work.

    I’m an amateur windsurfer, and living near a lake I sometimes get up at 6am, go windsurfing, and take the early morning mountain wind. Sometimes, I go in the afternoon, between coding sessions.

    It’s unbelievable the power of doing something great, have lots of fun with it, for 1 or 2 hours, and then come back refreshed.

  • Insightful post as ever, Jason. And something that’s weighing heavily on my mind, as I’m at an age now where I need to look after myself and try to shape up a bit. It’s easy to make excuses (especially balancing a day contracting gig and projects in the evenings and weekends, alongside being a husband and father to two boys (3y and 9 months)) but finding the time is very tricky…

    I’m going to follow the responses to this with great interest, as I’m physically neglecting my duty to my own health and I know that’s very bad. I’m finding pain in my back regularly due to lack of tone and a lifestyle centred around a computer and a desk, and that’s not a good thing so I need to motivate myself to do something – and topics like this DO have a lot of value as they make me realise that it IS possible to juggle so many responsibilities without sacrificing my health…
    .-= John Clark’s latest blog post: Wireframe or Interactive Prototype? =-.

  • break evry 3 hours for 25 minutes, keeps me attentive and focused for long during the day, than without breaks. I normally like to go down to the nearest corner shop. not to buy something to eat, but for a short wlk. The best thing that works for me.
    .-= Asad Ali Butt’s latest blog post: Generate Rss and Atom Feeds using Asp.Net MVC – part 2 =-.

  • Hey Jason,

    What are your best practices for getting “in the zone” when you are working?

  • I can honestly say that as my responsibilities at work have increased, there have been days where the highlight has been my lunchtime workouts. I won’t skip them for anything.
    .-= Greg’s latest blog post: 4 Signs You Suffer From Tanorexia =-.