A Business Professor’s Fitness Secret: Qigong

A Business Professor’s Fitness Secret: Qigong

“Slow is strong” says George Siedel, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business in Ann Arbor. The 72-year-old is a disciple of qigong, (pronounced chee-gong), a Chinese practice based on gentle movements, meditation and breathing. He was introduced to qigong in 1992 while teaching in Beijing. “Locals would gather each morning in the parks to do this odd dance,” he says. Mr. Siedel travels at least two months a year lecturing on negotiations and liked how he could practice qigong anywhere. He also incorporates elements of tai chi—similar to qigong but with more structured movements—and credits his routine of dance-like exercises, performed at a snaillike pace, for improving his golf and tennis games.

At home in Ann Arbor, Mr. Siedel complements his moving meditation with training at the state-of-the-art Och Fitness Center, located in the business school, steps from his classroom. “There’s no excuse to skip a workout,” he says. Sticking to a routine on the road, however, proved daunting. While Mr. Siedel is disciplined about his daily qigong and stretching routine, cardio and strength pose a challenge. “I hate using hotel gyms,” he explains. “But I was putting on pounds.”

 Last summer, a trainer at Och Fitness Center created an equipment-free routine that he could do in a hotel room comprised of body-weight and resistance-band exercises and interval work for cardio. Still, he missed the motivation of a trainer. Mr. Siedel received an Amazon Echo speaker for Christmas last year and jokes that the device’s voice assistant app, Alexa, has become his new workout buddy. Alexa calls out when to start and stop exercises and even compliments him with phrases such as, “You’re as buff as a superhero” or “If I had eyes I’d say you looked jacked.”

“It sounds silly, but it really keeps me motivated,” he says. “I think my partner Nancy gets jealous.”

The Workout

Mr. Siedel starts each workout with six tai chi-inspired warm-up exercises he learned at a free seminar on campus. Each exercise is based on an animal movement. He then does qigong for about 15 minutes. For example, to perform weaving snake, he clasps his hands above his heads and weaves them to the floor and then back above his head, forming a figure eight. “The exercises challenge my balance,” he says. If he is in Ann Arbor, he does cardio on the elliptical machine. On the road, Alexa commands him through a circuit that includes five minutes of jumping jacks and high knees, five minutes of pulsing squats and mountain climbers and five minutes of burpees and lunges. He rests for 90 seconds between each group of exercises.

Every other day he adds an additional 20 minutes of strength training to the routine, either using equipment at Och Fitness Center or resistance bands on the road. He runs through a series of stretches after each workout. Mr. Siedel spends four months a year in Sonoma, Calif., with his partner. They often go on walks and he tries to play tennis and golf as much as possible.

The Diet

Mr. Siedel grew up eating a meat-and-potatoes diet. “After dinner we’d dip bread in a grease-filled skillet as a treat,” he says. “I’m not sure how I’m still alive.” He jokes that he’s now a pescatarian with “social carnivore” tendencies. “When I have a chance to try unique cuisines abroad or am dining out at work functions, I enjoy meat,” he says. He starts the day with a baby aspirin, a multivitamin, a cup of coffee and steel-cut oatmeal mixed with blueberries and cranberries. On campus, he frequents the business school’s cafe for the salad bar. Dinner is fish with vegetables and a glass of wine, followed by nuts and dark chocolate. He splurges on a post-golf India Pale Ale or two with friends.

The Cost and Gear

Mr. Siedel pays $360 a year for his Och Fitness Center membership. One-hour personal training sessions cost $60. He occasionally treats himself to a one-hour massage, $85. His resistance bands cost $30. The Amazon Echo speaker retails for $180 and works with the free voice assistant Alexa app, which he can access from his smartphone. “It’s kind of like using a walkie talkie,” he says. He isn’t brand loyal. “I’m a pretty cheap guy. I buy whatever is on sale.”

The Playlist

When working out, Mr. Siedel prefers TV to music. ESPN is his go-to station. “Watching sports, particularly University of Michigan football, amps me up,” he says.