I've always been a self-proclaimed gym rat. But for years, my workout routine was as follows: get home from work, wolf down dinner while simultaneously changing into spandex, then beeline it to the gym before it closed. Consequently, I had a negligible social life and almost no down time. Plus, my workouts suffered because I was forced to rush through them and felt permanently exhausted.
Then one night, I was yawning mid-rep and decided I was sick of this life. What if, instead, I set my alarm at the crack of dawn for 6am workouts from here on out? Would it be worth it, let alone doable?
The "doable" part I realized would be on me, but professionals say the rise-and-sweat is definitely worth it. "If you're the kind of person who can get up in the morning for a productive workout, I highly recommend it," says NYC-based personal trainer and nutritional coach Theo Lusardi. "Post-workout, your body has an oxygen debt called EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) that causes it to burn extra calories for several hours after. When you work out in the morning, you reap those benefits all day. But when you exercise at night before bed, you lose a lot of that effect because your heart rate and metabolism plummet while you sleep."
So, I set that alarm, and six years later, morning workouts are still my do-or-die. I'm not saying it's easy, or that I don't want to light my phone on fire every time it DING-DING-DINGs when it's still dark out. But on top of scientific efficacy, AM sweat sessions can be more efficient because when you're not drained, you're less likely to bail early. You'll make healthier choices throughout the day as to not negate the good things you accomplished at sun-up. You have more "you" time in general. The pro list totally outweighs the cons.
If you're looking to make morning exercise your thing, I give you my full support, as well as a few tried-and-true personal tips for success:
Prep the night before
The hardest part of a morning workout isn't the workout -- it's emerging from the comfort of your warm duvet burrito and forcing your body out the door. That's why it's key to take a little time the night before to set yourself up for success. For example, lay out your gym clothes and sneakers. Fill up your water bottle and pop it in the fridge. Make sure your iPod is charged up and ready with a kick-ass playlist. Determine that it's a leg/arm/chest/cardio day so you have a plan of attack upon arrival. This way, when you wake up at 6am knowing you don't have to scramble around for your Nikes, you'll be less likely to grunt and roll over back into REM.
OK, hear me out. Getting up to work out is like ripping off a Band-Aid -- it hurts like hell briefly, but overall it's worth it.
For instance, I live directly across the street from my gym and set my blood-curdling alarm for a half-hour BEFORE my treadmill ETA. I allot myself time to hit snooze once; then, I crank the dimmer switch to my overhead light on full blast. Yup, it's about as awful as it sounds and I usually whine about it, but I'm definitely not going back to sleep when hundreds of watts are accosting my corneas. To pump myself up, I also blast Ludacris (sometimes Taylor Swift) on my walk over; if you like to have a pre-workout protein shake, put your headphones in while you make it.
By the time you make it to the gym, you'll be completely (eh, 90%) awake and ready for beast mode.
Find a gym buddy
A little help and extra motivation from a friend can go a long way. A few months ago, my friend wanted to get back into working out, so she joined my gym. I told her if she wanted someone to run alongside, however, she'd have to be up early with me. Reluctantly, she agreed to try my daunting AM sweat sessions -- now, she actually prefers getting her workout done early, and says that having someone there to swing kettlebells with makes skipping or slacking off less tempting.
A gym buddy can benefit the morning workout veteran, too. Now that my friend shows up to the gym expecting me to be there, it makes me want to prepare us a cardio circuit and design an ab routine that will keep us both engaged.
Can't find a friend who's up for the challenge? Try signing up for group fitness classes, whether it's spinning, Pilates, trapeze yoga, or CrossFit (for the daring). The group setting and designated class time that you have to show up for both act as extra motivation. Plus, what better place is there to find a new gym buddy than AT your gym? Everyone there is also crazy enough to get up before dawn to sweat, so you already have something in common.
Enjoy your new morning routine
I'd argue that this is the biggest perk. While everyone else is just dragging their butt out of bed at 7:45am, I'm getting home from the gym and basking in muscle fatigue -- I've already accomplished SO much before heading to the office! Sure, waking up sucks, and I have to hit the hay every night earlier than most, but it feels amazing to have time to myself first thing every day. Afterwards, it makes me actually enjoy getting ready for work: brewing a big pot of coffee, blasting tunes while I shower, choosing an outfit (a sleeveless dress if I just did biceps curls). Instead of bringing yesterday's stress with me to my desk, I bring fresh energy and confidence.
… and your new evening routine, too
When 5pm rolls around, guess where you get to go? Home! Out to dinner! The movies! Knitting class! The options are endless because you don't have to drag your ass to the humid, overcrowded gym. Plus, if you already did morning damage control on the StairMaster, you won't feel as guilty about picking at those bar-side wings.
All I'm saying is once you experience the euphoric feeling of perpetual freedom after work, I promise you'll NEVER go back to nighttime workouts.
Don't party the night before
I'll be the first to admit that my enthusiasm for Champagne has hindered me from making it to the gym more than once. It's a shameful feeling the morning of.
If you planned for an early lift, skip happy hour with your co-workers so you're on top of your game at 6:30am instead of nursing a hangover. Can't say no to that evening cocktail? Then at least put the wine down a few hours before bedtime and drink a TON of water that night, as well as before, during, and after your workout.
And I don't mean with French fries (or at least not ALL the time). You should definitely pat yourself on the back for starting -- and keeping up with -- a healthy new routine and lifestyle. So grab that slightly overpriced power smoothie on your walk home every Friday, or buy those new kicks and fancy Dri-FIT shorts. Your forms of self-reward should encourage you to keep up with your morning beast sessions… and continue to feel extraordinary.
But hey, if you want a quesadilla with guac one night? Treat yo'self -- you earned it!
Make it a habit
In order for morning gym sessions to become your new "addiction," you need be consistent about them, especially in the beginning. Go five days in a row to make it a part of your routine; take a necessary day off here and there for recovery, but then get right back on that elliptical the next day. Soon enough, you'll need to feel effing great about yourself at 7am, and NOT going will actually feel weird.
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