I don't know about you, but I'm a pretty busy person. Between my career and family obligations, my commitment to my community and to working out, and the simple need to just veg out every once in a while and be a semi-normal human, I often feel like my days, if not also my nights, are accounted for down to nearly the minute. I haven't always been super-committed to my exercise routine – which me for is running and training for long distance events, like marathons and ultramarathons – and it took me a long time, and lots of trial and error, before I realized that if I didn't run in the morning, it was more likely than not that I wasn't going to end up exercising at all that day.
Maybe this also describes you: maybe you intend to work out every morning, but then inevitably something gets in the way, and your new plan is to hit the gym over your lunch break … or before you go home … or after dinner … and before you know it, you're vegging on the couch, binging on Netflix and feeling sorry for yourself and guilty about another failed attempt and figure that you'll just plan to start your new routine “next Monday.” You think it's not so much a matter of willpower; instead, it's a time management issue. If you only had a couple more hours in each day, you'd surely work-out!
Recent research suggests that people's willpower levels are highest in the morning – think of the promise that a fresh, new start each day can bring – and as the day drags on, so, too, do people's willpower levels falter. If you're trying to get into an exercise routine for the first time in your life, or maybe for the first time in a long time, then I can't suggest enough to try to set up a morning routine for starters. Why not begin your day on the right foot?
My guestpost here today will give you some of my tried-and-true best practices for setting up and sticking to a morning exercise routine. If there's nothing else you take away from my post, let it be this: successfully executing a morning exercise routine takes patience, practice, and planning. It's not something that you can simply wing, at least not initially.
Before You Hit the Hay
Set a bunch of alarms. If you need to wake-up earlier than usual so you can fit in your workout, play it safe, and set more than one alarm … and be sure that you're setting it for A.M., not P.M. (a rookie mistake that you can hopefully avoid).
Get your “stuff” ready. Take the extra 10 minutes before you go to bed to set-out all your exercise stuff you need in the morning – things like your shoes, shorts, watch, and the like – so you don't spend 20+ minutes fumbling around, looking for a runaway sock in the morning. If nothing else, realize that the time you spend at night getting ready will mean that you can sleep that much more in the morning (win!). Hell, if need be, even consider sleeping in your exercise gear if you think it'll help you. Set your coffeemaker timer for the appropriate time in the morning; put out all your pre- and post-workout foods and smoothies; and before you know it, you'll be able to more or less literally roll out of bed in the morning and get going. Remove all the guesswork from the equation, and you'll find that you remove a lot of the timesuck from getting ready, as well.
Get your ZZZs. I spend more time on my phone than I need to, and this is especially true at night. Wasting time watching cat videos, liking facebook posts, or perusing Instagram is so detrimental to getting enough sleep, and if you don't get enough sleep, then obviously it's going to be that much more challenging to get out of bed in the morning for an early exercise wake-up call. Consider setting some boundaries for yourself with how much time you allow yourself to spend on your phone before going to bed, and if you want to be really hardcore about it, cut yourself off entirely. Besides, once you get into the routine of going to bed a little earlier than usual each night so that you can rise a little earlier than usual each morning, you'll probably find that you're really not all that interested in watching cat videos every night anymore, anyway. Sleep is so important for everyone, and it's especially crucial for those of us who wake-up early each morning. Don't let the internet sabotage your efforts!
In the Morning
Accept (and expect) that things will probably be rough at first. The first few times you do this early morning wake-up thing, you'll probably wonder what the hell you're doing and why the hell you're doing it. That's ok. I encourage you to almost expect that it won't be pleasant at first, accept it, and then get up (literally speaking – stand up! Don't hit snooze and roll over) and move on with your day. The first few times we do anything, things will be a bit awkward or uncomfortable, and this is especially true when you're establishing an early morning exercise routine. Eventually, with time and a lot of practice, you'll get used to the early mornings, and with all the prep work you do the night before, you'll figure out ways that you can streamline your process. It takes that initially-crappy adjustment period and the learning curve that accompanies doing something for the first time, but you'll figure it all out. Just because it sucks for the first week or so doesn't mean that it'll be that bad forever. Give yourself the opportunity to at least try it for a while before you write-off early morning exercising, especially if that means the difference between you working out and not working out at all.
If you're going outside, check out the weather, but otherwise avoid the social media timesuck. Unless you're heading outside for a run, you really don't need to spend copious amounts of time – or really, any time at all – “just checking” your phone and all your social media channels. SM is a killer timesuck, and “just checking” things can quickly devolve from what you think will be a 5-minute affair to a good 30+ minute endeavor, effectively eliminating your opportunity for morning exercise. Don't shortchange yourself here. Your email, blog, Instagram, twitter, facebook, and whatever else you have can all wait to be checked until after you rock your workout.
Get a buddy. Finally, one of the best accountability tools you can use is to enlist the camaraderie of a buddy, whether that's your best friend who will give you hell for standing him up or your furry, four-footed canine who will shoot you looks of hatred when you refuse to put on your running shoes in the morning. I mean, c'mon, I bet your motivation to get out the door will be higher than usual when you know someone is waiting for you on the streets or at the gym. There's also the increased feelings of safety that you can get when you're out with a friend (person or canine) when the rest of the world is asleep. Finally, an added bonus is that spending time exercising with friends make the time pass by really quickly, and it helps both of you start your day off on a really positive note.
Give yourself several opportunities to try to establish a morning exercise routine before you decide that you're just not “one of those types of people.” Just like with any other habit, developing and maintaining a morning exercise routine takes a fair amount of trial and error, in addition to a good deal of planning. Plus, realistically speaking, if early mornings are the only time you can feasibly fit in a workout in your hectic life, you owe it to yourself (and to your health, and to your partner, and to your family) to at least try to get into a routine. As you do it more and more often, you'll figure out ways to improve your process, ways you can minimize distractions, and ways that you can get your routine on autopilot, to the extent that it simply becomes something that you just do every morning without thinking too much about it. The first step is always the hardest, but with some planning and intentionality, it's totally feasible. Just give yourself the opportunity, and do everything you can to set yourself up for success.
Writing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dan is an entrepreneur, husband and ultramarathon distance runner. He spends most of his time on runnerclick.com and he has been featured on runnerblogs all over the world.