The day's exercises are mapped out on a whiteboard.

"It kind of started off more as a joke," says Graybeal.

Push-ups for the strong; planks for the less strong.

Tricep dips -- it must be 4 already.

Salt-N-Pepa is the favored soundtrack for freestyle dancing at Overit.

This Company's Hourly Exercise Breaks Make It More Fit, Sure, But Also More Successful

Overit Media's employees can tell the time by whether they’re doing leg lifts or tricep dips. And they’re convinced their workout program is good for the company’s bottom line.

About a year ago, Jen Graybeal, the managing director at Overit Media, received an email from her friend who was getting married. Her friend had asked Graybeal to be a bridesmaid, and though the wedding wouldn't be for several months, her friend had already selected bridesmaid dresses, including a link to J. Crew’s website. Graybeal hurried to buy the dress online, since it was on sale. But when the black silk taffeta dress came in the mail, Graybeal, who’d recently had a baby, found that she didn't quite fit in her old size.

That’s how it all began.

“It kind of started off more as a joke,” Graybeal recalls. She walked into the office one day and made an announcement: “Listen, ladies and gentlemen. We’re gonna do some exercising.” What began as a power walk during lunch time evolved into a full-blown exercise program. Today, the 30-odd employees in Overit’s Albany, NY, office are invited to take a quick exercise break every hour, on the hour, for two minutes. They call the program "OverFit."

“We’re missing our jumping jacks!” said Graybeal over the phone. I had thoughtlessly scheduled an interview with her and her colleague, Sarah Szewczyk, for 3 p.m. At 9 a.m., the team had done stretching. 10 a.m.: crunches. 11 a.m.: leg lifts. Noon: that power walk. At 1 were lunges; at 2, push-ups (or planks for the faint of bicep, noted Szewczyk). At 4 would come tricep dips, followed by a freestyle dance session at 5. A colleague serves as the informal DJ, cueing up the ideal YouTube video--“something with a good beat,” says Szewczyk. Salt-N-Pepa is a favorite.

The benefits of such a program are manifold, says Graybeal. “We’ve seen a big difference not just in terms of the way we look but the way we feel,” she says. The two estimate that about half the employees are regular participants, with another five or 10 who drop in and out. They span both ends of the fitness scale, from a marathon runner to folks who weigh well over 200 pounds. “The people who aren’t super athletic are kind of surprised by the fact they can do jumping jacks for a whole minute,” says Szewczyk.

Doesn’t the hourly rhythm disrupt workflow? What if you’re right in the middle of something when a migration of colleagues and the wafting sounds of Salt-N-Pepa begin to beckon? “We’re cognizant of that,” says Graybeal. “If that person can participate at that time, great. If not, they can do it on their own time.” On a recent day, a long meeting caused her to miss some of the workouts. She found six minutes to string several of exercises together, and borrowed a colleague to hold the timer and cheer her on.

As we undergo a Marissa Mayer-inspired debate about the merits of working in the office versus at home, it may behoove companies to bring many of the perks of the latter to the former--the ability to freestyle dance at your desk among them. It helped in instituting OverFit, of course, that Overit already had a relaxed company culture. The company has a “chief fun officer.” Its CEO will often take a break in the middle of the day to play the drums.

Ultimately, the folks at Overit are convinced that OverFit boosts productivity, and they unconditionally recommend it to other businesses. Graybeal finds that merely getting the blood circulating seems to fuel her creativity and that of her colleagues. Not to mention, it’s likely to reduce health care costs. “We’ve seen the articles that say that sitting is the smoking of our generation,” says Graybeal, referring to studies that suggest the perils of a sedentary lifestyle.

And of course, there’s that ancillary benefit that drives so many of us to the gym in the first place. Graybeal’s friend’s wedding is next week. That black bridesmaid’s dress? “You know, it fits me now,” she says.

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40 Comments

  • Brydie

    Just wondering how the productivity improvements were measured? I am looking at ways to demonstrate effectiveness of similar initiative to try an motivate other businesses from taking on such approaches. Cheers
    Brydie 

  • Gshult845

    Wow, I am jealous! What a great way to incorporate more movement into the primarily sedentary lives so many of us lead these days. My boss recently installed an hourly micro-break program on our computers that guide us through a 2 minute stretch/exercise break video once an hour (called themovementonline.net). I've definitely noticed a difference in my energy and productivity levels and it feels great to stretch and move around every hour. But now that I see this, I have to say...what they're doing at OverIt sounds a lot more fun :)

  • Ilias

    this is so bad it's almost not even funny. BTW pushups are a tricep and chest/back exercise--they don't really work your biceps. 

  • AlmostaPT

    I think this is a great idea; however, I did notice in one of the pics that push-ups are being done incorrectly....elbows out to the side.  Does anyone on staff have the knowledge to make sure that these exercises are done safely?  Just curious about that.

  • Standing Fit

    Whatever it takes, you gotta get up & move!  I use a Standing Fit on my desk; love it!

  • Speeddls

    Looks like an awesome place to work!  I am impressed with the "healthy attitude" of management and employees!  And it can build camaraderie among co-workers and management alike.  Overit Media can be an example of "healthy living & working" to all businesses - big & small!

  • Themetris

    Sure, whatever. Good luck doing that when working towards a tough deadline. You barely get up to visit the loo, let alone do office cartwheels with the rest of your team. 

  • Bit Hammer

    An hourly break is a good idea. But where I work I get an hour of soccer at lunch almost every day.

  • Monica Hahn

    Kudos to Overit. There's a growing body of research supporting the health AND business benefits of short activity breaks. I work with Instant Recess (www.instantrecess.com). Dr. Toni Yancey, the founder, advocates for getting up & walking around hourly, & doing 10-minute breaks twice daily. As many others have noted, business need to make sure they're leading their teams in safe exercises.

  • Mary Livingston

    John Raty's book "Spark" shows us how, via recent neuroscience research, our brains perform significantly better as a result of exercise--even standing, vs. sitting at a desk or around a conference table.  More creativity, efficiency, and thoughtfulness = better business results, and definitely more fun.

  • Dr. Marc Tinsley

    Your day should be a balance of sitting, standing, and walking. Any position for too long is hard on your body. Too much sitting - hemorrhoids. Too much standing - varicose veins. Mix it up. Your best posture is your next posture.

  • pops07

    If people stood at their workstation, there would be fewer physical problems. We humans were built to stand.

  • Leila Bachelon

    It would appear that the standing/not sitting thing hasn't done much to help your repetitiveness. 

  • pops07

    Standing at one's computer would obviate such gyrations. Human beings were never designed to sit for long periods. This is why our species is called "homo erectus." I have been standing at my work station since 1989 with all equipment raised accordingly. I move freely and often dance to music. I have never had back problems, nor carpal tunnel issues, nor any of the other maladies that come from single-position activity. BTW, I'm about to turn 78 and feel terrific!

  • CitizenWhy

    When I was in grade school we did calisthenics for 5 -10 minutes once or twice an hour. Some the same, some different. Some were loosening, some vigorous. We were an all boys Catholic school with large classes. There was never any need to tell us to sit still, and the exercises and drills we did were quite energetic. I wish college lecturers would have done this (not that attendance was required and I usually preferred not to go). I did consult with the pros after reading  the syllabus materials. They often gave me extra material to read, lol.

    In grade school we also had to write what he had learned after every lesson (20-minutes to a half hour), with the written learning paragraphs reviewed by each other and on a spot check basis by the teacher. Then two to four boys had to summarize out loud what we had learned. If comprehension appeared faulty, there was more scrutiny to find out what was specifically misunderstood and the lesson was repeated in whole or in part. Boys who learned the weekly lessons early (often by Tuesday) helped the other kids master them. Even the mildly retarded boy passed the Post Office test and got a good job, which he could perform. Many received scholarships to private high schools.

  • Dr. Marc Tinsley

    I'm not crazy about the picture of the dips off of the desk. That's really hard on the shoulders. If you're already doing push-ups that's enough for the chest and triceps.

    And I see "sit-ups" on the board. Change that to curl-ups. Nobody should be doing sit ups if they want to save their back.

    Stick to basic movements (instead of muscles) when doing exercises. Functional exercise is better than the bodybuilding types of moves that isolate muscles.

  • Dr. Marc Tinsley

    Our bodies weren't built. If they were they would be recalled.

    I've treated what I call "the usual suspects" for over 20 years in my office. About 18 different conditions, including things like carpal tunnel, sciatica, tennis elbow, and rotator cuffs, all resulting from our bodies design flaws that are further injured by the activities and postures (including too much sitting AND standing) that we engage in.

    We need to utilize tissue sparing strategies to minimize the microtrauma and postural stresses that we encounter throughout the day, as well as prehab the injuries before they occur.

    Now I spend most of my time speaking to organizations about how they can keep these same conditions from affecting their bottom line.

  • 16 minutes a day of these simple exercises won't be sending anyone to the operating table or causing any significant damage the these worker's bodies.