How to Become a Morning Exerciser
They say it takes 21 days to form a habit.
This post has been weeks, months in the making, for one simple reason. I wanted to make sure this was something I actually stuck to before I went swanning around trying to give advice.
But it's been over two months now and this is well a truly a habit.
I have become a morning exerciser.
One of those truly insufferable over-achievers who gets up at 5am to go for a run in the dark.
Who bounce into the office at 9am after being awake for 4 hours and fresh from a workout.
Yep, that's me.
I always thought those people were crazy.
I mean, why get up earlier than necessary? Why exercise at a time when thinking straight is difficult enough, let alone physical exertion?
But after weeks struggling to balance my ever-lengthening runs with unexpected late nights at work and sacrificing evenings spent with friends to get my workouts in, I decided I couldn't be running after work anymore.
So one evening, I set my alarm for 5.30am and vowed to get up and run before work.
And I never stopped.
It's not always been easy, but it's really worked for me. It means I can get my workout done in the morning without it hanging over me all day. I have time to socialise in the evenings without having to plan my social life around the nights I'm running, or skip my workouts altogether. It means I can keep my exercise routine up without sacrificing any more of my time. Because let's face it, what else would I be doing at 5am?
But like I said, it hasn't always been easy. I spent at least a week googling "how to become a morning exerciser" before I bit the bullet and even now I have some mornings where I turn my alarm off and go back to bed, but for the most part, it works for me and I know a lot of people are curious about making it work for them too.
Now, first up, this isn't for everyone and I totally get that. I've actually done the morning exercise thing before, when I lived in Minnesota and the university gym was free, but it was purely for convenience and I really didn't love it. I am also a real morning person. Going to bed at 9, 9.30pm so I can get up for my workouts is not a big thing for me.
But I really think it is worth giving it a shot. I never thought I would be one of these people who gets up at 5am, but I also never thought I'd be running a half marathon in six months time. So give it a go, you might surprise yourself.
I've decided to split this guide into two sections
1) Why it's a great idea to workout in the morning
2) How I work out in the morning
This post is made up of all my own experiences, but also based on some things that I read when I researched the idea of working out in the morning in the first place. Most of the stuff that I read about I implemented and I'm so glad I didn't go into this blindly.
So, first up, why should you be getting up at ridiculous am to workout?
I'm not going to bore you with the health benefits of a morning workout, but believe me, there are tonnes, including extra cardiovascular impact, a metabolism boost and extra energy throughout the day. For me, it was all about convenience.
If you workout in the morning, it's pretty much the first thing you do. It's pretty unlikely that something is going to come up to interrupt you at 5am, right? But at 7pm, all kinds of things can ruin your routine, from traffic on the way home, to having to work late, to a meeting or a dinner. We all know how easy it is to skip a workout because of having a busy day! Doing in the morning leaves you with fewer excuses! I got sick of feeling guilty about missing my workouts when I wanted to do something with friends or if I was just too busy. Now I workout in the morning, it's done before I'd even be out of bed normally!
Other benefits are that it's quiet. I run before 6am two or three times a week, and I love that there are barely any cars on the road and no people around. I don't have to stop at crossings to let cars go past, or dodge around pedestrians. It's just me and the dark and it's perfect. One of my favourite things about running is the beautiful alone time it gives me. It's even better at 5am without car horns and screaming children.
It's also much cooler, which is perfect if you live somewhere warm. The summer here got very hot for a few weeks and I was close to passing out running in the evening heat. Running in the morning meant it was cool and refreshing and perfect for running.
Finally, running in the morning is ideal if you're trying to lose weight and watching your calories. If you wear a HRM you can know exactly how many calories you have burned and how many you have to play with for the rest of the day!
Now this is the one I get asked a lot. As a natural Type A personality, I have a lot of plans and organisation that make running in the morning a lot easier to me. Now you totally don't have to follow any of my ideas, but this is what works for me. I've tried to categorise these tips into sections to make it easier to follow.
The Night before
1) Get as much stuff ready as you can
I like to put a lucozade in the fridge for when I get back, make my lunch for work so I don't have to rush doing it after my run and get my water bottle, headphones, iPhone case and HRM all ready to go for the morning.
2) Sleep in your running clothes
Okay, I know this is weird, but it works for me. Sleeping in my running stuff just gives me one less thing to do in the morning. Especially on cold mornings! I just jump out of bed, put my dressing gown on (I keep it on before I go for a run and put it straight on when I get back) and all I need to do is grab my trainers. Some people have asked if it's uncomfortable to sleep in a sports bra. I don't have any issues with it and my sports bra is from Primark so if you have a better one it should be more comfortable!
3) Set your alarm and put your phone on the other side of the room
That way you have to get up and turn it off. Give yourself plenty of time when setting your alarm. I give myself up to 30 minutes of pre-run time to brush my teeth, put my contacts in and have something to eat and drink, and allow myself at least an hour to run, even if my run should only take 35-40 minutes (obviously it depends on how far I'm running). I hate to rush so I give myself as much time as I can so I don't make myself late. This can take a bit of trial and error. When I first started I wasn't running as far so I set my alarm for 5.30am but I slowly edged it back 10 minutes at a time until I settled on 5am. 5am gives me loads of time to get up, run, get back and still be ready for work on time.
4) Get an early night
I know this seems obvious, but if you're getting up an hour and a half, two hours earlier than usual, you need to make that time up. I really, really notice a difference if I let myself stay up til 10.30, 11pm compared to when I go to bed at 9.30, 10pm. I know it sucks but you need to make that sleep time up, especially if you're exercising first thing. You need that energy! If you can try to get into a routine of the same bed time and wake up time, your body clock will really thank you. I often find myself waking up at 5am on weekends!
I have a bit of time I like to call "pre-workout" where I just have a bit of a relax before I run. This works for me, but some people would probably rather just get up and go. I like to have some time to eat my toast, drink my water and read some blogs before I go for a run. I usually give myself about 20 minutes. The most important thing to do in this time is...
5) Eat something before you go
Seriously, just something. I drink quite a bit of water to quell the morning thirst and I have half a piece of toast with peanut butter. It's just enough to keep me going without making me feel sick. If I don't eat something I do find myself getting very tired and sometimes very dizzy. Don't forget you've just gone 8 hours or so without eating! Your body needs some fuel. Don't worry, you can have a proper breakfast when you get back (I'm getting to that).
During the workout
I have two kinds of workouts that I do in the morning, running or a workout DVD. Obviously some things apply to running that don't apply to workout DVDs, and for this section I'm going to mainly talk about running, because it's a little different than being in your own house!
6) Have a set route planned out
If you're doing a weekend long run and you have all the time in the world, you have time to get lost. If you know you have to be back to get ready and go to work, you can't waste any time. Make sure you know where you're going, how long it will take and how long it will take to get back. Don't make yourself late.
7) Don't worry if it's harder than usual
Stupidly, I only realised this week that I run much more slowly in the mornings. My Park Run and weekend run times had been getting better and better, but my morning run times were much slower. I'd put it down to the competitive nature of Park Run, but couldn't account for minute-faster miles on Sundays. But then I realised it's just much harder in the morning! Your body hasn't had as much time to wake up and warm up, so don't be afraid to run a little slower or workout at a slightly lesser intensity. You will get used to it, but listen to your body and don't push yourself too hard. You've got a full day ahead of you- don't wear yourself out before 7am!
8) Make sure you properly warm up and cool down. And stretch
Obviously this is a given, but it's even more important on cold mornings and when you haven't done more moving around throughout the day yet. I give myself five minutes at the beginning and end of my runs to just walk. And of course, stretch.
9) Find a routine that you like
I'm training for a half marathon at the moment (more on that soon!) and it involves three short runs per week, one long run and one cross-training day. I have it all laid out on a little chart with every day on so I know exactly what kind of workout I'm doing each day. This gives me the push to get out of bed every morning, knowing I need to keep schedule! I break my weekday workouts up with rest days and workout DVDs too so it doesn't get boring.
10) Enjoy it!
When I'm on a morning run, I really enjoy the quiet and the thought of coming home to a hot shower and a cold lucozade! I also say "morning!" to the same old man I see buying his paper every day and I love seeing other runners in the early morning. It's like being in a club! Get a great playlist going and just enjoy the quiet and the time before the rest of the world is awesome.
Just some bits I've picked up on safety when running outside in the morning (less relevant to workout DVDs here!)
11) A hi-vis vest is a great investment
It's starting to be very, very dark when I go out for a run, and even though there aren't many cars around, if there are any, they won't be expecting joggers at 5am. I borrowed one from my dad and I always make sure I wear it on morning runs.
12) Stick to main roads
It's just good common sense. Don't go running down alleys or in parks in the dark. Just stay safe.
13) Get warm straight afterwards
Like I said before, I run straight into the arms of my fluffy leopard-print dressing gown before I get in the shower. If you've been out in the cold you're going to need some time to get warm again.
14) Don't wrap up too warmly
I've lost count of the numbers of days I've felt like an idiot going out at 5am in shorts and a tshirt in the middle of autumn, but after a few minutes I always warm up and am so glad I didn't wear anything warmer! Dress for your body temperature to increase by 10 degrees.
15) Have a good breakfast afterwards!
You need to refuel after that workout, so save time for a proper breakfast of carbs and protein. I like to have something like protein pancakes or eggs for protein, and sometimes a bagel or a banana for a carb fix.
16) Think of it as a long-term habit
There are days when I miss days. Multiple days. But I know that this is a long-term thing for me, so missing a day or two cause I'm tired or busy or sick doesn't mean I've given up. This is a routine for me now. With my new half marathon training I have rest days on Mondays and Fridays and not getting up at 5am is bizarre, and honestly? I miss it. I like getting up before everyone else and getting out there. I like having my evenings back. I like having time to socialise in the evenings, or just veg out and watch Netflix! I love my morning workouts and I know it's something that I want to stick with for a long time.
If it is something you are considering, just give it a go. It does mean you are a bit more tired in the evenings, but it's amazing knowing you've already accomplished something before most people are even out of bed!
Please let me know if you have any more questions. There's a good chance I will keep adding to this post over the next few months as I get more and more into morning running, so I'd love to answer any questions you guys have.