The are two kinds of people – the kind that jump out of bed at 5 a.m. rearing to go, ready to take on a new day with zest and zeal, and unable to function without their pre-dawn run.
The other kind… well let’s just say when the alarm goes off in the morning, we roll over, grunt, and try to pretend it never happened. Getting out of bed for us is a feat achieved through sheer force of willpower. Making it to work or class on time every day is no minor accomplishment. So squeezing in a workout too, might just seem to be asking for the impossible.
Morning people are the equivalent of skinny people who eat anything and eat all the time – and who wouldn’t want that? Alas, it’s just DNA, how we’re built. Though let’s face it, the world revolves around the morning time – stuff happens in the morning. Be it going to work, taking exams, or just getting more things done. The early bird gets the worm. They weren’t wrong.
Just because you weren’t born to love mornings doesn’t mean you can’t learn to love mornings. Plus it’s a really great time to get your workout done.
Why workout in the morning?
- Your workout is done and no matter what the rest of your day brings, you have done your bit to keep yourself fit and healthy
- Gyms are inevitably less crowded than at evening peak times
- Roads are less congested and pollution is lower – great if you run or cycle outdoors1
- An early morning workout is a great wake-up call and should leave you feeling energized for the rest of the day
- If you miss your morning workout it’s not too big a deal as you still have the rest of the day to exercise – not the case with evening workouts
Here’s how to meet the dawn chorus head-on and exercise first thing in the morning.
1. Prepare the Night Before
Lay out your exercise clothing and equipment the night before to make it easy to get yourself ready to train – preferably in a room where you can turn the lights on without waking your significant other. Searching for your sneakers in the dark is not a good way to start a workout – especially if you annoy your partner in the process.
If you are going to go out for a run on a cold morning, putting your workout clothes on a radiator so they are nice and warm can make those first few minutes of your run so much nicer!
If you work out at a gym, make sure you have everything you need for the rest of the day ready in advance.
Pack your briefcase or school bag, pack your clothes for the day, make sure you have your shower gear – the last thing you want to do is finish your workout and then discover you have forgotten something essential. Incidents like this can really put you off early morning exercise.
2. Set a Sleep Schedule
Set a sleep schedule and stick to it. If your early morning training session means you are going to have to get up an hour earlier than usual, make sure you go to bed an hour earlier.
Sleep is essential not only for exercise performance but also post-exercise recovery.2,3 Early morning training without adequate sleep is like burning a candle from both ends.
As soon as your alarm goes off, get up and get your feet on the floor. Stand up and stumble off to the bathroom or kitchen before you get chance to talk yourself out of it.
Snoozing your alarm to allow yourself “just ten more minutes” can easily turn into not getting up and missing your workout.
3. Give Yourself Extra Time
Give yourself time to wake up properly before you start your workout. Maybe watch five minutes of news on the TV while sipping a coffee or glass of water.
This transition period means you don’t have to go from sleeping to sweating too quickly and helps you get yourself geared up to work out. And if you’re honest, you know that the morning TV presenter’s cheery, happy, it’s-a-new-day outlook rubs off on you a little.
Also, allow some “fudge factor” time. Just because you intend you train for 40 minutes, doesn’t mean your workout will finish (or start) on time, so don’t start your day trying to stick to an overly tight schedule.
If you have to leave for work at 8am and you have a one-hour workout planned, make sure you give yourself not only time to train but also shower, eat, get ready for work and leave on time.
That “fudge factor” time means you won’t have to rush from your workout to your first commitment of the day.
3. Exercise with a Friend
Recruit a training buddy to exercise with and agree to meet them at a pre-arranged time and place.
That way, when your alarm goes off and you are considering skipping your workout, there is a little more pressure to make sure you get up and out the door.
Read more: How to make exercise a habit
4. Warm-Up Longer
Employ an extended warm up. Your body has been pretty much static for the last 6-8 hours and your joints and muscles are not ready for lots of impact or heavy loading right off the bat.
Do some light cardio, plenty of dynamic stretching, foam rolling and joint mobility exercises before you get into your main workout. Not only will you feel more active and energized after a proper warm up, you will be able to train harder and may also reduce your risk of injury.4,5
Read more: How to warm-up before exercise
5. Post-workout snack
Have a post-workout snack or drink (basically your breakfast) packed and ready for easy consumption so you can chow down as soon as your workout is finished. Like sleep, food is essential for your recovery and energy levels.6
If you have just done a great workout but end up skipping breakfast, not only are you sabotaging your recovery, you are increasing the chances that you’ll fall face-first into coffee and donuts by mid-morning as your hunger levels spiral out of control.
6. Start on a weekend
Early morning training can work really well but getting into the A.M. habit can be hard at first. Ease yourself in gradually by trying morning training on a Saturday or Sunday and then, once you feel happy with it, try a regular week day.
Don’t dive right in with an early morning workout on the day you have an important business meeting or exam at school – do it on a day where it doesn’t matter too much if you end up running a little late.
Feed your muscles
Include slow-acting carbs in your last meal of the day. This ensures your muscle glycogen stores (stored carbohydrate) are topped up so you have plenty of fuel for your workout.
Keep fine-tuning your early morning routine until you have found the perfect way to get your workout done before you head off for the rest of the day.
- Zhang K, Batterman S. Air pollution and health risks due to vehicle traffic. Sci Total Environ. 2013;450-451:307-316.
- Halson SL. Nutrition, sleep and recovery. Eur J Sport Sci. 2008;8: 119–126.
- Watson AM. Sleep and Athletic Performance. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2017;16(6):413-418.
- McCrary JM, Ackermann BJ, Halaki M. A systematic review of the effects of upper body warm-up on performance and injury. B J Sports Med. 2015;49:935-942.
- Herman, K., Barton, C., Malliaras, P. et al. The effectiveness of neuromuscular warm-up strategies, that require no additional equipment, for preventing lower limb injuries during sports participation: a systematic review. BMC Med. 2012;10, 75.
- Levenhagen DK, Gresham JD, Carlson MG, Maron DJ, Borel MJ, Flakoll PJ. Postexercise nutrient intake timing in humans is critical to recovery of leg glucose and protein homeostasis. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2001