My alarm goes off at 5:18am every weekday morning. Why 5:18am?

5:15 am just seems too early.
The two extra minutes before 5:20am are crucial to make sure I am dressed and out the door to the gym by 5:35 am.
I love starting my day with movement!

If you would have told me a few years ago that I’d voluntarily wake up that early almost every morning, I would have laughed. But now, I cannot imagine my days starting any other way. By beginning my mornings with movement, I not only have extra time after class/work/clinical to do other things, but I find myself more energized throughout the day and relying less on caffeine. Plus, I cannot make up excuses to skip the gym or a run if I have already smashed a workout.

The goal of this article is to help you transition to early morning workouts so that you can continue to train effectively and not feel burnt out. Find out the benefits of early mornings and discover some tips on how to reap them.

Benefits of Morning Workouts

I already mentioned some of my favorite perks of working out in the morning, but it turns out that it is not just an anecdote. Studies show that exercising in the morning helps regulate your circadian rhythm, or general sleep-wake cycle, through melatonin release regulation. Those that exercise late at night may actually blunt melatonin release, and thus make it more difficult to get a restful night’s sleep.

Morning exercise also helps to improve circulation and BDNF (“brain fertilizer”) production earlier in the day, resulting in improved cognition and concentration throughout the rest of the day. Oftentimes a morning bout of exercise sets the tone for a more active day and participants end up with higher step counts if they wait until the afternoon to exercise, especially if they are prone to skipping those workouts.

Now as a disclaimer, there are limited reputable research studies that specifically explore the differences between morning and afternoon/evening workouts. Many studies include morning exercise, but subjects are compared to controls that did not exercise at all. Other studies were simply too small to generalize to everyone.

On the other hand, there is a vast amount of research supporting exercise, no matter what type of workout, for people of all ages and with varying other health considerations. These benefits include long term lowering of resting heart rate and blood pressure, weight control, insulin/blood glucose regulation (especially important for those diagnosed with diabetes), stress management, and psychological benefits.

Some people have no choice but to workout later in the day because of their work schedule. Some simply like working out at night because their gym is less crowded then. Others don’t stomach food well in the morning, but don’t want to train fasted. That’s okay, whatever works for you!

For everyone that is interested in how to transition into the AM, the rest of the article I will be sharing some helpful tips!

How to Gradually Transition to Morning Workouts

Successfully working out in the morning does not happen overnight. If you drastically change your morning routine, you will most likely end up stressed and exhausted, which is the opposite of what morning workouts can do for you.

Early to bed, early to rise

You will not have an effective morning workout if you do not get a good night’s sleep. Everyone has a slightly different threshold for how much sleep they need, but aim to get at least 7-8 hours of rest. That means counting back those hours from when your alarm is set to ring and being asleep by then, not just getting ready for bed.

Take a look at your nighttime routine – what sets you up for sleep? Do you have an extensive routine you like to complete, or can you simply brush your teeth and hop into bed? How long does it typically take for you to fall asleep? These are all factors that you need to think about so that you can plan your evening accordingly. Budget at least a half hour before your new designated bedtime so that you can be asleep by that time.

Small Changes

You will not be able to fall asleep or wake up hours earlier with just one try. Let your body adjust your circadian rhythm gradually. Try waking up just 15 minutes earlier at first, and thus, trying to be asleep 15 minutes earlier as well. The first day, just budget that time and enjoy a less hectic morning. The next day, try going on a short walk or doing a yoga flow. Do not shock your system with high intensity exercise until your body is used to an earlier wake-up call. You need energy to complete those workouts safely and most effectively.

Slide your bedtime and wake-up time scale 15 minutes earlier every few days and let your body adjust. There is no set time frame as each individual’s circadian rhythm adjusts at different rates. Listen to your body – is it still tired? Stay at the same timeframe. Feeling energized? Try a more intense workout. Still feel good? Time to slide that scale again!

Fueling Your Morning Workouts

Are you someone that is never hungry in the morning? Don’t force it. However, you need to make sure that you have adequate fuel from the prior day to fuel your morning workout. A machine will not run without any source of power! Check out this article we wrote on fasted cardio vs. fed cardio, it touches on the comparison of the two in more detail.

If you are like me, you are hungry immediately in the morning, no matter what time you wake up. It is best to keep things simple so that you can metabolize and use it for energy quickly. Opt for a bar without a bunch of fiber or a piece of fruit. Do not be afraid to experiment with different foods – what works for someone else may not work for you and vice versa.

Regardless of if you plan to eat before your workout, make sure you are hydrating! Drink a glass or two of water as soon as you wake up and ensure to continue drinking water throughout the day to replenish your stores that you already tapped into.

Helpful Tips

1. Set your clothes out the night before: Make sure you have everything you need to go – workout clothes, socks, shoes, sweats, water bottle, fitness tracker, etc. Will you be driving to the gym? Have your bag packed and your keys and wallet right next to it. Morning jog? Make sure you have your reflective or lighting gear at the ready!

2. Keep a consistent sleep and wake up time: Your body will never adjust to earlier mornings if you do not keep them consistent. Even on rest days, and yes, weekends too, aim to wake-up on the earlier side. Use that extra time to plan your day, meditate, prep meals, or run errands. On weekends, it is most likely not necessary to wake up at 5:18am, but avoid sleeping in until noon.

3. Set only ONE alarm and keep it across the room from you: And do not even think of hitting “snooze.” By setting multiple alarms in a few minute intervals, you are opening up the possibility of continuing to sleep. Instead, get out of bed right as the alarm goes off! The extra minutes of “sleep” you get by pressing the snooze button or sleeping until a later alarm will not be restful sleep anyways since it is so short and will be continuously interrupted. If you know you will be tempted to “snooze” especially in the beginning of your transition to earlier mornings, place your alarm clock (yes, even if it is your phone) in a spot that forces you to physically get out of bed to turn it off. You are ready to start your day now!

4. Simplify your morning routine: The simpler your morning routine, the less time you will have to budget around after smashing a workout. Have your breakfast and lunch already prepped and packed. Lay out your work clothes. For females, dry shampoo and braids help keep hair looking fresh after a workout without requiring a full shower. If you wear makeup, keep it basic. Plus, that extra oxygen and endorphins running through your blood vessels helps those under-eye bags more than any concealer does!
Try out different workout styles: Cardio may be easier than weightlifting in the morning. You might benefit from group classes with the support of others and encouragement from an instructor. Experiment with what works best for you! Whichever mode you choose, make sure that you can complete it safely. Max deadlifting while stifling a yawn will compromise form and performance. Ensure that your energy levels are adequate to complete your workout. As mentioned earlier, you might need time to adjust to higher intensity workouts in the morning.

Overall, morning workouts are typically no more effective than afternoon or evening workouts in terms of long term benefits. However, if you find yourself skipping later workouts due to afternoon burnout or unexpected obligations, setting an earlier alarm every day can help you become more consistent with your fitness routine and ensure that you are reaping those long term benefits. This switch takes some time and dedication, but we hope that this article provides you with the resources you need to be successful with your new routine.

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Sources

Carlson, L. A., Pobocik, K. M., Lawrence, M. A., Brazeau, D. A., & Koch, A. J. (2019). Influence of Exercise Time of Day on Salivary Melatonin Responses. International Journal of Sports Physiology & Performance, 14(3), 351–353. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2018-0073

Wheeler MJ, Green DJ, Ellis KA, et al Distinct effects of acute exercise and breaks in sitting on working memory and executive function in older adults: a three-arm, randomised cross-over trial to evaluate the effects of exercise with and without breaks in sitting on cognition British Journal of Sports Medicine Published Online First: 29 April 2019. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-100168