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.