The Best Workouts for Entrepreneurs

Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe

Abraham Lincoln

You’re buried in work. Who has time to work out?

Being a good entrepreneur doesn’t just mean making money. It doesn’t mean out-grinding the competition, or even loving your work every day. But it does mean:

Selling your service
Leading others
Thinking with a clear head
Overcoming procrastination
…and more.

These are all entrepreneurial skills. No one is good at all of these when they start their business; they must develop their skills with practice. But there’s a reason almost every successful entrepreneur has a workout routine: exercise can make you instantly better at all of these skills.

Immediately after a workout, it’s easier to focus.

Medium-term, a workout can calm you down and help you make objective decisions.

Long-term, working out builds your confidence.

But what workout should you do?

Your workout prescription will change over time. But here’s a solid starting point.

  1. Get yourself a heart rate monitor. Chest strap is best, watches are better than nothing. This is the watch I use. Yours doesn’t have to be that fancy.
  2. Calculate your max heart rate. Here’s a video from my gym on how to do it.
  3. Three days per week, exercise in heart rate Zone 2: about 65-76% of your max heart rate. Here’s a video from my gym explaining why Zone 2 is so important.
    For entrepreneurs, Zone 2 is great for helping you calm down; work through problems in your mind; and regulate your blood sugar. If your blood sugar is under control, you’ll have fewer mood swings, and make decisions with a clearer head. You won’t get “Hangry”–which is just a side effect of riding a carbohydrate roller-coaster. If you can metabolize fat for fuel more easily, you won’t get “hangry” anymore.
  4. Once or twice per week, go as hard as possible. This is heart rate Zone 5. Here’s a video from my gym explaining what Zone 5 is, and why it’s important.
    For entrepreneurs, Zone 5 is a mental break. It’s so hard that you literally can’t think about anything else. It’s important for longevity, but I have to be honest here – I use Zone 5 workouts to “clear the decks”. When I’m stressed out or feeling overwhelmed, a really hard workout gives you a mental break. It also triggers all of those calming endorphins you read about. And, long-term, I swear it gives you perspective on what ‘hard’ actually means.
  5. As often as possible, go for a walk. This is heart rate Zone 1, and it’s really the entrepreneur’s secret weapon. This is really easy exercise – just enough to distract your body and let your mind float. Many experts would call this “flow state”, but you might call it “being in the zone”.
    You know how your best ideas come while driving, or cutting the grass, or in the shower? That’s zone 1 exercise.
  6. Get a coach. As my business coach says, “If it’s important, it gets an appointment.” Workouts are the meta-catalyst that make you better at everything else. You can’t skip them…but you’ll always have more than enough reasons TO skip them.
    My only solution is to make appointments with coaches at my gym. I train in a semi-private setting (there are 3 or 4 of us in the gym at a time, each following our own program, and sharing a coach.) I don’t have to think about what to do, or when to show up, or how much effort to put in.
    Other entrepreneurs at my gym show up for group training, and still others do 1:1 for max accountability. I’ve been doing this long enough that semiprivate coaching is just enough accountability with a mix of seeing my friends.

If you have three hours per week to exercise, do this:
Two Zone 2 sessions and one Zone 5 session.

If you have four hours per week to exercise, do this:
Two zone 2 sessions, one Zone 5 session and an outdoor Zone 1 activity.

If you can squeeze out 5 sessions per week, do this:

Three zone 2 sessions, one Zone 5 session and an outdoor Zone 1 activity.

And, if you’re lucky enough to have a dog, get at least a half hour of Zone 1 every single day when you go for a walk. Taking the 6:30am walk time with my dog has been an amazing addition to my health–and made me a better entrepreneur.

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