Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living and I explain what a normal day in my life looks like, their eyes widen and they ask me how I fit it all into one day. The life of an entrepreneur is not easy and requires a different type of work ethic and stamina. Most young entrepreneurs are involved in many different projects and probably have to keep a day job in order to pay their bills. This can seem impossible to manage mentally and physically.

Creating a start-up requires a tremendous amount of effort and probably a steady schedule of 16-18 hour days. This can be absolutely exhausting but if you have trained your body to have a high work capacity (the amount of physical stress you can handle) physical exhaustion is the least of your problems.  In addition to keeping healthy, exercise has a huge mental benefit because it requires an individual to overcome the physical struggles of exercise. Daily exercise has played a huge role in my achievements. Of course my passion for working out led to my success in several health and fitness companies but it has also given me the mental and physical edge to outwork the competition.

Robert Pozen, Author of Extreme Productivity and senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, reviewed several studies that showed a significant increase in happiness and productivity in those that exercised daily vs. those that didn’t. The most obvious benefit of exercise is having more energy. Sacrificing one hour a day to complete high intensity exercise will make the other 23-hours of your day more productive. You can take fewer breaks, you can complete work with more enthusiasm and you will sleep better each night. The old excuse “I don’t have time” is invalid because exercise will make you more efficient and save you time overall. Neural imaging has shown that after exercise the activity in the amygdala slows down while activity in the frontal lobe is ramped up. This means that the emotional center of the brain is muted while the center for executive function is turned on high. Exercise will increase your critical thinking skills and allow you to make more logical decisions the rest of the day.

Intense exercise is uncomfortable. It makes you feel like you’re going to die and makes you want to quit and do something easier. People try their best to avoid discomfort but guess what? Becoming successful requires you to step out of your comfort zone: working all through the night, mastering new concepts, presenting your ideas to strangers, the potential of failing, sacrificing immediate pleasures for a better future. All of these things are extremely uncomfortable. The more time you spend in discomfort the easier that next task seems. The more times you overcome adversity, the easier it is to take on another challenge. Whenever I am faced with a daunting task or am overwhelmed by a massive to-do list, I will take a break and go complete an intense workout. When I’m done, the most amazing thing happens. I’m no longer stressed. When I get past the feeling of “I feel like I’m dying”, answering 200 emails doesn’t seem so hard anymore. Intense exercise builds mental toughness and teaches you how to "embrace the suck."

So how does a busy entrepreneur fit exercise into their life? Taking an hour out of your busy schedule may seem impossible and that’s because it is. Between answering emails, attending meetings and completing operational tasks of the day, there is no time to fit in exercise. That is why it must be done before you start your day. I wake up at 4am, make my coffee, walk my dog and then head straight to the gym. This way I am done with my workout, showered and dressed before the clock hits 6 am. If I were to try and fit it in later in the day, something more important would always push my workout back. The greatest thing about this is that my day started with fully completing a task. In Tim Ferriss’s book Tools of Titans he recognizes how every billionaire makes their bed in the morning. When asked why they do this, they all explain how starting your day by completing a task, sets your day up for success. I decided to take this one step further. I make my bed but I also want to complete something really difficult. When I finish my morning workout and I overcame the struggle of lifting something incredibly heavy or running until my lungs are on fire, I know I can accomplish anything that comes at me that day.

For over stressed, hardworking entrepreneurs, less is more when it comes to exercise. When I worked as the exercise physiology specialist for a local medical clinic, I learned the concept of the minimum effective dose. When running a start-up, we carry an unbelievable amount of stress and while exercise is a healthy habit, it is another stress on the body. Studies have shown that higher volume exercise is more stressful than higher intensity exercise. So, let's define those terms:

  • Volume (how much) - volume is the total amount of repetitions or time you spent exercising
  • Intensity (how hard) - intensity is the difficulty level of a specific exercise

We want our exercise plan to have low volume with high intensity. To make this simple, workout as hard as you can for short periods of time. These short but difficult workouts take less time, are less stressful on your body, and have been shown to stimulate the same effect. If you do not have exercise experience, start off with easy movements that you feel comfortable with. Something as simple as hill sprints can be extremely effective. Find a steep hill near you that you can run or walk up as fast as you can several times for no more than 20 minutes. If you desire more a more advanced strength and conditioning program, please adhere to the same restrictions of high intensity and low volume. To simplify, lift heavy for low repetition.

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About the Author

Jordan Pilkington was born and raised in Las Vegas and graduated from UNLV with a degree in Kinesiology. He started a career at Life Time Fitness, and was coordinatior and brand ambassador for their in house medical clinic. Now he is an MBA student focusing on several businesses that he has started. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RVF or UNLV. In addition, thoughts and opinions are subject to change and this article is intended to provide an opinion of the author at the time of writing this article. All data and information is for informational purposes only.