I Swapped Evening Workouts for Early Morning Routines and I'm Never Looking Back

I know how energized I can feel after working out in the morning, but finding the motivation to wake up early, every day was challenging.

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I'm someone who both loves to work out and naturally wakes up between 6 and 8 a.m. However, apart from that one time I had personal training at 5 a.m. for 9 months (crazy, I know) the two don't always go hand-in-hand. For the last 12 months, my busy freelance work schedule (often 12 hour days) has only allowed for my workouts to come at the end of my workday. Plus, working out after a long day of deadlines feels like the perfect reward and outlet to get out any frustration from the day. (More: Celebrity Morning Routines That Are Actually Doable, Even for People Who Hate Mornings.)

On days when my agenda isn't as packed, working out directly after I wake up isn't even close to something I crave. I like to take my time in the morning and ease in by making breakfast, do my 5-step skin-care routine, grab coffee from a local shop, or meditate. However, I'm currently training for a marathon and it's becoming tricky finding enough time to log my longer runs (15 to 23 miles) at the end of my work day — mainly because it's way too dark outside or more advantageous things (read: happy hour) pop up during the day that push the workout to the wayside.

But what I'm realizing is my days are never consistent, making it difficult to stick to a workout routine. Sometimes, in a given week, I'll get three runs in and two in-person classes for cross-training purposes. Other weeks, I'll do half of that. So, I decided the only way to have a consistent workout schedule and stay on top of marathon training was to work out in the morning. Thus, I challenged myself with either a long run or a fitness class every single morning for 14 days. No excuse. My only rule: complete the entire days' workout before 9 am.

So, what exactly are the benefits of being a person who works out first thing in the morning? Exercising in the morning after fasting all night will burn the carbohydrates and sugars stored in your muscles and liver, according to Clay Jones, M.S. and certified strength and conditioning specialist. Once your body is done burning through that, you burn fat. "Morning workouts will make you feel more alert, productive, and optimistic throughout the day," shares Jones. Not only that, they help get your metabolism going — burning more calories throughout the day.

With that, I began every morning with a workout. Below are some tips I stuck by to keep me on track.

Wake Up at the Same Time Each Day

The major battle of a morning workout is the part where you have to, you know, wake up. Simply put: wanting to work out in the morning and actually doing it are two different things. Some mornings — especially the first four days — I had to literally drag myself out of bed to put on my yoga pants and running shoes. Daytime me said "Go to bed early! You're running tomorrow!" But when the time comes, you-worked-all-day-and-need-a-break me chimes in with "Oooh, didn't she mention that new show to binge!" And when I wake up in the morning, sleepy me convinced myself that it's OK to go back to sleep. This is a bad cycle — one that keeps you tired and unmotivated all the time. (Related: These Morning Routine Ideas Will Make You Happy to Get Out of Bed.)

After long workdays, you feel like you are entitled to one more episode or one more hour of scrolling social media. Trust me, I've fallen into this trap many times but when you trade sleep for more social encounters, you continue the cycle that keeps you tired and unmotivated all the time.

Having a regular bedtime and morning wake-up call, including on the weekends, regulates your body's internal clock – allowing it to recognize the cues, knowing when to wind down and sleep and when to wake up, according to the Sleep Foundation. I started by consistently waking up at 6:10 a.m. and was surprised how quickly it took (9 days) to signal to my brain that this is when the day starts. Once my body was acclimated to that, I started to feel more alert and less groggy when I woke up. On the fifth day, when I decided to sleep in till 7 a.m., I felt super lethargic and going for a run the next morning was really difficult. Again, the power of consistency. (More: This Sleep Disorder Is a Legit Medical Diagnosis for Being an Extreme Night Owl.)

You Don't Have to Eat Before You Workout In the Morning — Unless You Want to

My favorite meal is breakfast. And as someone that likes to cook, I thoroughly enjoy this routine and wondered if waking up at a crazy hour would jeopardize my time in the kitchen. Do you need a certain amount in your stomach to fuel your workout? Is it better to commit to a fasted workout? Although there are numerous studies supporting both sides, it comes down to trial and error and personal preference according to Jones. "Early morning pre-workout food is dependent on the individual and the intensity of the workout," he says. "If you perceive the workout as a 10/10 difficulty, by all means, eat something before. But if you perceive the workout as less than 6/10 difficulty, perhaps be fasted." Regardless of whether you choose to eat or not eat before, Jones stresses the importance of a post-workout protein shake or meal to facilitate recovery. "Throughout the day, have protein with each nutrient-dense meal in order to feel satiated. This will help minimize frequent snacking." (Related: What to Eat Before and After a Morning Workout.)

When I had a banana or almonds 30 minutes prior to my workout I felt fine. However, if I had anything heavier than that — protein shake, toast, eggs, or yogurt — I felt nauseous during the entire workout and about an hour or two post-workout. For me, I felt better when I didn't eat anything and instead enjoyed my regular cooked breakfast post-workout. But again, the choice is up to you.

Place Workout Clothes Somewhere You Can See the Moment You Open Your Eyes

In an effort to streamline my morning, I placed my workout clothes either on the chair in my bedroom or literally on one of my pillows as a visual reminder and confirmation that my alarm was not out to get me. When your running shoes and sports bra are literally staring at you, it's hard to say no. In addition, I also packed my gym bag and checked the weather on days I was going to a boutique fitness studio. I found that this type of strategic planning helped avoid all possible scenarios of my brain convincing me the snooze button was the best option. (More: I'm a Leggings Snob, and I'm Seriously Impressed By Everlane's New 'Buttery Soft' Pair.)

Be Clear On Your Why

Another visual reminder I found helpful was the sticky note I placed in my bedroom and on my ceiling (only mildly intense) that read: "You want to beat your last marathon time. Go train. You got this." Maybe yours is "Run a 5K by May," or "Plank for 3 minutes straight." Whatever your why is, write it down to remind yourself why you set out to do this in the first place.

When I woke up every morning to that bright pink sticky note, it made me feel as if there was no other option. And by the end of week two, I could literally see myself upping my pace on race day. I was starting to visualize it, which made me even more motivated to continue. (Related: How to Make a Vision Board to Manifest Your Dreams Into Reality.)

Schedule a Class That Charges a No-Show Fee

No matter how pure your intentions are the night before or the moment you booked that buzzy fitness class, it can be tough remembering your fitness goals while you're half asleep and the snooze button feels like the better fit. I know this struggle all too well. However, if you've spent money on a workout class, chances are you're going to make sure you get to it.

Re-Define Your Nighttime Routine

Consistency is the root cause of all good habits, and where you will see the most benefits in becoming a morning fitness person. A stable sleep schedule will help with energy levels in the morning and throughout the day, curb cravings of high-calorie foods, boost your immune system, and reduce irritability. Sleep is also crucial for recovery. (More: How Sleeping Can Help You Build Muscle.)

So, Am I a Morning Workout Person?

Working out every morning made working out a part of my routine. I came to truly enjoy my short walk or bike ride to pilates and bootcamp or smiling at fellow early birds when I passed them on my running route. Getting my workout in before I started work completely changed the vibe of my whole day. I felt more energized, focused, and motivated to get other hard tasks done.

Things that would normally cause me stress (a work deadline got moved up, a source bailed on a story, Zoom fatigue, etc.) seemed more manageable. I had a better perspective of things because I had a more positive outlook, thanks to the endorphins from my morning sweat sessions. Jones notes that by starting the day with exercise, you're more focused and balanced. It can help decrease negative feelings and thoughts that tend to get in the way as the day goes on, making you feel less anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, or angry." (Speaking of endorphins, this workout is a total mood booster).

After more than three weeks of following this routine, am I a morning workout person? Absolutely. I'm shocked to say I never missed a morning workout during my experiment, although I did listen to my body on days I needed to take it easy and focused on active recovery — swimming, yoga, fast walking, instead. The key for me was getting my sleep routine regulated. Fortunately, I didn't have many night work events to attend and completed my workouts by 9 a.m. and was in bed by 9 p.m., sleeping by 9:05 pm. The consistency signaled my mind to shut down for the day, instead of repetitively going over my to-do list for the following day.

Becoming a person who works out in the morning doesn't happen overnight. To reap all the benefits: better moods, focused productivity, and healthier lifestyle — consistency and planning are paramount. Start by working on improving your sleep routine and build up to it slowly, allowing yourself the occasional slip-up.

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