Author: Courtney Kruggel
Overview: Learn about the benefits of morning workouts and tips on how you can make them a part of your daily routine!
Estimated Read Time: 6-8 minutes
My alarm goes off at 5:18am every weekday morning. Why 5:18am?
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.
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.
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.
Make sure to sign up for a Rise Over Run membership to stay on top of more helpful tips and a repertoire of already planned training guides for you to incorporate into your new routine!