My wife works out every morning at a CrossFit gym at 5:30am. For months, the sheer sound of that alarm clock going off at 4 something made me squirm. I'm not a morning person, so even the thought of waking up that early seemed insurmountable in my mind.
Fast forward, and a few months ago, I got up at 6am, walked downstairs to our basement, and worked out. The only reason I did it was because we had plans in the evening when I normally exercise.
The next day, I tried to do it again, but I hit the snooze button, then re-set my alarm all together to wake up an hour later.
For the next three days, the alarm went off, and I'd lay there and think about all the reasons why I didn't have to get up. The minutes would pass, my mental conversation would eventually come to an end, and then I'd slowly drift back to sleep. I can work out later, I thought.
After a fun weekend, I decided to try to get up early on Monday to make up for my lack of activity on the weekend. I set out my clothes the night before, put my headphones and shoes next to the exercise bike in our basement, and went to bed. When my alarm went off, I didn't really think about it. I just got up, hopped on the bike, and started pedaling. And when I got done, I felt good. Like really good.
For the next month or so, I was able to get up before 6am and work out about twice a week. The more I did it, the easier it became to get out of bed. In fact, the more I did it, the more I looked forward to doing it again.
Subconsciously, my mind was changing. All of sudden, it wasn't "I'm going to feel so tired the rest of the day if I get up and exercise." The reality was that I had more energy than I'd ever had when I got that morning workout in.
Today, I try to get up and exercise 4x per week, with Wednesdays as my rest day. Here are the things that helped me.
1. Planning Ahead
When I set out my clothes, fill up my water bottle, or even think about the music I want to play the night before, it's a lot harder for me not to get up.
It's like I subconsciously know that I did things in advance to prepare for this. Are you going to let that stuff just sit there? Why did you do it if you weren't going to get up? For someone that doesn't like to waste time, it's hard for me to justify doing something and letting it go to waste.
2. Don't Overcomplicate It
Going back to my college days, I had a belief in my brain that said, if you're going to get up early, you better make the workout really hard. As a former college athlete, that idea is there because I went through hundreds of workouts early in the morning that were absolute killers. Frankly, I dreaded them.
Sometimes when I travel, I go down to the hotel fitness center before the work day, and I struggle to decide what I should do. There's weights, and treadmills, and bikes, and a whole slew of stuff, but I'm trying to pack it all into a 40 minute time slot.
Now, I take both those examples and throw them out the window. I don't kill myself in these 6am workouts because I want to get up and do them again. Misery and repeatable don't necessarily go together. Second, I ride the exercise bike 90% of the time. I don't overthink what I'm doing. I recognize in myself that I'm still kind of waking up, and it's ok to pedal mindlessly for a bit before I fully come to.
I turn it on every morning because I enjoy watching it. Sometimes I listen; other times, I have music in my headphones. 100% of the time, it takes the pressure off of having to focus solely on the workout.
When I'm done, I take a quick shower, get my daughters up and ready for school, and then drive them to daycare. I feel refreshed, more alert, and a sense of accomplishment before they wake up.
When I get home, I eat a bigger breakfast. I'll make eggs, sausage, and toast and feel like I've earned it. For someone that loves a hot breakfast, this is a worthwhile thing to look forward to.
I did all of this knowing that inherently, it was good for me. But how good was it, really?
Research suggests that working out in the morning is good for your circadian rhythm, meaning that you become more alert in the mornings and naturally get tired (and sleep better) in the evenings. The quality of your sleep is better too.
The one thing I had heard but wasn't sure if it was true was this: exercising on a fasted stomach is proven to burn more fat. Not only that, but your body continues to burn more calories throughout the day when you exercise in the morning. Some call it Afterburn.
I've also read that morning exercise increases your endorphins and other brain chemicals that help you feel more confident, happy, and less stressed. Put simply, it puts you in a better mood.
Now, you're probably reading this and thinking, if it's so good for people, why doesn't everyone do this?
Here are a few things to think about:
A lot of people will argue that by getting up early, you're disrupting your sleep pattern. I'll cut right to the chase here: you can't have it both ways. If you stay up late at night, you simply can't get up super early and perform well. Sure, you may feel like superwoman for a day or two, but it's not sustainable. Getting up early to work out has to be complimented by going to bed at a decent hour.
Some people simply can't exercise on an empty stomach. If that's you, eat a healthy snack before you start. You're not going to kill your gains by chowing down a banana.
3. Physical Performance
Research from The National Library of Medicine indicates that peak physical performance is higher in the evening. I mentioned earlier my thoughts on pushing super hard in the mornings, and my intuition is supported by this research.
Does this mean that my workout is easy? Absolutely not. I push myself in a healthy way, and the more awake I become, the more I feel like I'm working out at a pretty normal pace.
I'm simply saying: your morning workout probably isn't the time to push for PR's.
So What's Stopping You?
While I referred to the last section as "downsides," I think you'll agree that every action has some pro's and con's. In this case, the con's really are less of a detractor and more about putting yourself in a position to be able to do this consistently.
I started this journey because I liked how it felt. I probably should've had a stronger "why" when I started, as I think that may have helped me early in the journey. As I've continued, I've come to realize that not only is this good for me, it's good for my family. Every parent feels that conflict of time: you can't do it all. And when you do one thing, you often feel guilty about not doing the other. Exercising in the morning has allowed me to be more fully present when my wife and kids are home in the evenings.
It's also helped me overcome a preconception about myself: when people said I'm not a morning person, I believed them. It was an easy crutch to lean on, a weak excuse to use. Today, I'm just a person. I can get up and workout because I choose to. Are there days when I feel groggy? Of course. That's called being a human being.
My advice: give this a shot. Work your way into it, and don't get frustrated if you struggle at the start. At a certain point, you'll need some willpower to pull you out of bed, but trust me, it does get easier. Before you know it, you'll look forward to this time (and the time it unlocks with your family). Good luck!
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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