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Health

Here's How I Actually Became A Morning Workout Person

From someone who definitely hates mornings more than you do.

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Hi, I'm Casey and I hate mornings.

Casey Gueren

My body's internal clock is on Do Not Disturb mode until around 10 a.m. But I also have a career that requires me to keep semi-normal working hours, and for that reason I compromise by waking up at 8 a.m. Well, usually more like 8:17 a.m.

I especially hate working out in the morning.

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I love working out, but I've always enjoyed it most when it comes at the end of my day. Even on the weekends, I prefer to squeeze in my gym time after errands and before fun, rather than right after I wake up.

In the morning I'm rushed and lethargic and usually angry, which makes morning workouts feel like punishment. Plus, exercising in the morning means feeling starving by 2 p.m. On the other hand, exercising after work feels like a reward for getting through a long day, and is immediately followed by dinner. Win-win.

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The problem with putting my workout at the bottom of my to-do list is that it often gets bumped when something else comes along.

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Like happy hour, work obligations, or much-needed couch time. My day-to-day schedule isn't consistent (is anyone's?), which makes it impossible to stick to a consistent workout schedule. Some weeks I get to the gym three or four times, but lately I've been lucky if I make it there twice. I realized the only way to keep a consistent workout routine — without prioritizing it over my work and social life — is to do it in the morning. EVEN THOUGH I AM DREADING THIS.

So, in an effort to transform myself into A Person Who Works Out In the Morning, I decided to go all in for a month.

Casey Gueren

To give you a baseline, I was working out anywhere from two to four times a week, and my gym time was largely dictated by whatever I had going on that night. I almost always worked out after work (or in the afternoons at the weekend), with a rogue morning workout thrown in every once in a while.

Clearly, I needed help, so I asked Jessi Kneeland, a fitness expert and body image coach, for advice. If you despise morning exercising as much as I do, maybe this will help:

1. Don't expect to just wake up an hour earlier and change your whole damn life.

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If it were that easy, this post wouldn't exist. Or it would just be a link to one of those alarm clocks you have to chase around your bedroom to turn off. There's a big difference between dragging your ass out of bed an hour earlier, and actually exercising at a time when you're normally sleeping.

"Most of us have a pretty natural cycle of energy," said Kneeland. "If you naturally gravitate towards working out in the evening or afternoons, then fighting your own body to get in workouts just kinda sucks and is hard to do."

This wasn't exactly the encouragement I was looking for, but it was a good reality check. According to Kneeland, it would be a lot harder than I thought to go against my body's natural energy cycle, but that didn't mean it was impossible.

2. Start off waking up just early enough to get in a decent workout. Then make it a little earlier the next week.

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Kneeland suggested I start by shifting my mindset to focus on just getting in those five workouts a week, and less on comparing my new morning workouts to my typical evening ones. "Get something rather than nothing, and let all that be enough," she said. "Then see if you can get that to be consistent enough, and learn how to push yourself later."

Obviously these new morning workouts wouldn't compare to my evening ones, typically fueled by food, caffeine, and stress. The first step would be transitioning my workout schedule; the next step would be making those workouts really count.

With that advice, I started off the challenge with my alarm set for 6:45 (an hour and 15 minutes earlier than usual). It eased the transition, but I felt incredibly rushed — both at the gym, and when I was getting ready for work. Some workouts felt good, and others felt pretty half-assed. Regardless, I did it, which was goal number one.

The second week I set my alarm for 6:30, and somehow it didn't feel as hellish as I thought it would. Having an extra 15 minutes to play with was a game changer; my workouts felt better and less like a race against the clock, and I still had time to make breakfast and get ready for work without being late.

3. If possible, try to make this change in the summer, when mornings are a little less awful.

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The benefit of this cannot be overstated. If I had done this in the winter, there would be no chance in hell that I'd leave my warm apartment and walk six blocks in the freezing streets before the sun came up.

On the other hand, leaving my blinds WIDE OPEN to let the May morning sun slap me across the face every day was surprisingly helpful. (Now let's hope I can solidify this routine so that I don't slip right back into my nocturnal tendencies come November.)

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4. You don't have to have breakfast before your workout if you don't want to. Figure out what works best for your body.

Casey Gueren

I like having a real breakfast before work in the morning. It allows me five minutes to chill on the couch before my commute, and it gives me more energy than just coffee and a protein bar would.

So I was confused about wtf to do about breakfast when you work out in the morning. Do you need something in your stomach to fuel you? Is it better to exercise in a fasted state? There's a lot of science in both camps, but according to Kneeland it really comes down to trial and error. What makes you feel good during a workout might make someone else feel nauseous or terrible.

If you're usually starving right when you wake up (or lethargic when you don't eat before a workout), try something small like a banana, Greek yogurt, or protein shake. "I would recommend something with protein to everyone, but other than that, things like carbs versus fat is a personal preference," said Kneeland.

But if you're not hungry right when you wake up and you can still power through a workout on an empty stomach, Kneeland said that's fine too. For me, it didn't seem to make a difference to my workout whether I ate beforehand or not, so I decided to skip food and just eat my usual breakfast before work.

5. Downing half a cup of coffee right when you get out of bed is probably not a bad idea.

Casey Gueren

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is already a hard sell. But doing it before coffee was completely out of the question. So on the first day of a morning HIIT workout, I went straight to the fridge and drank half a cup of cold brew. I didn’t even pee first. By the time I got to the gym and finished my warm-up, I could actually feel the caffeine kicking it.

Kneeland says caffeinating before a workout is a great idea, as long as you aren’t sensitive to caffeine (especially if you’re having it on an empty stomach). But if you’re typically pretty caffeinated for your night workouts, you’re obviously going to miss that jolt when working out in the morning, so don't deprive yourself.

6. You need to make it ridiculously easy to get up and out the door in the morning.

Casey Gueren

I know that 6:30 a.m. Casey will find literally any excuse to keep sleeping. So I needed to trick that sleepy bitch by accounting for all possible scenarios before I went to bed. That meant laying out my clothes, packing a gym bag, even checking the weather for the morning.

So trick your bitchy morning alter ego, too. Set multiple alarms, move your alarm clock across the room (and set it obnoxiously loud), preset your coffee maker, leave your makeup bag in your gym locker, schedule one of those free trial personal training sessions super early — whatever you gotta do to get you there in the morning until you've made it a habit.

7. When all else fails to get you out of bed in the morning, have a mantra ready to go.

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Kneeland warned me that I would need a strong "why" to stay committed to switching my workout schedule. "If your reason is something like 'because I should,' then I can stand here and promise you its going to fail," she said. Overall, my "why" was to finally make fitness a part of my routine so that I can reap the benefits almost every day — rather than only sporadically when my schedule opens up.

But my morning "why" had to be a little more specific to grab my attention through the heinous alarm blaring from my iPhone. Mine was, You'll be just as tired and pissed off at 8 a.m., so just get up dammit.

That may not be glamorous or inspirational, but it's the truth. I hate mornings — whether they start at 6:30 a.m. or 8 a.m. is really just a minor detail. Reminding myself that I wouldn't magically feel more rested if I hit snooze for an hour was often what got me out of bed in the morning. And once I did, I was always happy and awake once I actually started working out.

8. Schedule at least one session with a trainer to find out how to be most efficient in your workouts.

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Not only will this guarantee you'll get up early at least one day, but you'll also get some pointers for making your workouts more time-efficient and tailored to your goals.

Most gyms offer at least one free personal training session if you ask. And even if you have to shell out something like $50 or $100, at least you know you'll wake up on time when you're paying for it.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to set up a training session this month because my gym's trainers were all booked, but talking out a strategy with Kneeland was super helpful (we decided on three days a week of total body strength training, and two days a week of HIIT). Having this routine and sense of purpose at the gym was such a refreshing change of pace from my usual just-get-there-and-do-whatever-you're-feeling approach.

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9. Write down your workouts ahead of time so you don't waste any time in the gym.

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Trying to navigate the weight room at a time when I'm normally tucked soundly up in bed is the worst. So I jotted down some workout notes most nights, so I wouldn't be going in without a plan. I even watched fitspo videos on Instagram to get excited about new exercises to try the next day (like the brutal back-and-shoulder workout above).

10. Fun fact: Things will come up that will make you want to cancel your morning workouts, too.

Twitter: @CaseyGueren

I thought switching to morning workouts meant that I pretty much had no reason to miss them. But I forgot about my period, which I can always count on arriving one fateful Tuesday morning each month and just fucking shit up.

This month, that happened on DAY ONE of the challenge. I woke up cranky, crampy, and basically half dead. I almost pushed the whole thing back a week. To anyone who says working out on your period helps with cramps: I don't believe you and I don't trust your life choices.

Normally, I'd use this as an excuse to go straight home from work and take solace in my bed with a glass of wine. This time, I realized I could still do that if I just got up now and went to the gym. So I did, and it wasn't great, but I also didn't die. And it made going straight home to my couch and pinot noir so worth it.

11. Have so much protein. Then have more protein.

Casey Gueren

I had two main concerns when starting this challenge that had nothing to do with sleep: 1) would I be hungry all the damn time? and 2) would I be sore all the damn time? Apparently, upping your protein intake can help with both of those things. So every morning, after my workout, I drank a shake with 26 grams of protein. This was honestly the only dietary change I made during the challenge, and it legitimately helped with hunger and soreness.

"In general, more protein improves both satiety and blood sugar stabilization, which makes you feel less starving, less angry or irritable, and experience less mental fog/fatigue, or cravings," said Kneeland. "Most people would feel better with more daily protein, in general, but the harder you work out the more important that becomes for recovery."

The half hour after a workout is the best time for your body to take in all these nutrients, said Kneeland. "If that doesn’t work for someone, no stress though. More protein any time during the day will probably make them feel better. Aim for 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight."

12. Actually celebrate your new free time. But also don't go out drinking every night.

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I had SO MUCH TIME FOR ACTIVITIES. As is probably obvious by now: I'm naturally a night person, so getting out of work and having the option to do whatever I wanted was so freeing. On the first week, I cleaned and rearranged my apartment one night. On the second week, I got off work and did laundry, made dinner, cleaned a sink-load of dishes, and took out the trash, all before 9 p.m. Typically I would just be getting back from the gym at 9 p.m. I also said yes to more after-work invites, because I could.

But, OK, you can't do anything with this extra time, because post-work happy hour can also get in the way of morning workouts (the next morning's workout).

13. Make sure you're actually getting enough sleep and recovery.

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Due to my new 6:30 a.m. wake-up call, I typically fell asleep much earlier than my usual midnight bedtime. And honestly, there's nothing like tucking yourself into bed by 10 p.m. to make you feel like an adult.

But obviously there were nights when I had plans, stayed up late working on something, or just couldn't get to sleep. And the following mornings, I really really didn't want to go to the gym. When this happened during week three I ended up skipping a workout to stay in bed. That felt pretty shitty, but I also knew that I needed the rest.

"Sleep is crucial for recovery, so if you don’t get a great night’s sleep once that’s probably fine, but if you’re consistently not getting good sleep, your workouts (and health) will start to slide downward," said Kneeland. "You can train really hard with proper recovery, but if your recovery is consistently inadequate, in order to maintain health and safety I recommend dialing down the intensity of the workouts."

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14. As much as it blows, getting up around the same time every day will really make mornings easier.

Casey Gueren

This is advice that I've heard, given, and completely ignored for years as a health editor. It's one of those things that you know is true, but just hate so much that you refuse to believe it. Turns out, it's legit.

I strategically planned a rest day on the first Saturday of the challenge so I could finally, FINALLY sleep in. I deserved this. Then my early-riser boyfriend told me we had to be up at 7 a.m. that morning for a day trip we had planned. The next day he woke me up before 6:45 a.m. for literally no reason at all. This was the worst, but I'm convinced that it helped me push through some sort of threshold and actually make a habit out of this whole wake-up-and-go-to-the-gym thing.

In contrast, when I slept in on a midweek rest day I felt super lethargic, and going back to the gym the next morning felt so much harder. The power of consistency is real, guys.

15. On that note, when you start to feel like it's becoming a habit, keep going!

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Something weird happened during week two. I got about five hours of sleep one night and I woke up the next morning ready to hit the gym. And then I had a great workout. And then I was energetic and productive at work. And then I went out that night. I realized, Holy shit, it's working. I'm becoming a person who can work out in the morning and not die.

After a few weeks, the routine became so ingrained in me that even on rest days I would instinctively walk from the shower to the kitchen to make a protein shake (as if I had already worked out that morning). And some evenings, I would actually forget that I had already worked out in the morning until I felt that familiar ache in my triceps or hamstrings. Ah, yes, I'm a person who worked out this morning.

16. But if after a while you realize it's definitely not getting easier, you might just need to accept that your body isn't wired that way.

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As Kneeland explained, we all have a natural energy cycle, and fighting that cycle for the sake of convenience will be very hard. If morning workouts still don't feel as good to you, maybe they never will. And that's OK.

In fact, morning workouts aren't inherently healthier than nighttime workouts. There is no "best time" to work out. "It's the time you're most likely to do it and the time you feel best doing it," says Kneeland. "You will work out harder when you're more energized, more motivated, more excited, and in a better mood." And if that's just never going to be you in the morning, then you might have to alter your schedule in other ways to make time for exercise.

Also, if everyone became a morning workout person then the gym would be bonkers every morning and we'd all hate it. Turns out, my gym is actually more crowded in the mornings, which is not something I was expecting. If a few of these people could switch to evening workouts that would be great, thanks.

So, am I a morning workout person yet? Ugh, yes.

Guys, I really wanted to end this month by saying that my body was just too nocturnal to ever get used to a morning workout routine, and that anyone who tried to tell me otherwise was WRONG. But exercising in the morning all month was actually better for me in almost every way:

Pros:

* It finally made working out part of my routine, and that felt great. I actually enjoyed my short walk to and from the gym in the mornings, and getting something done before I got to the office changed the whole vibe of my day.

* After getting over the adjustment, I did feel more energized on the days I worked out.

* I was less hungry at night (probably because I wasn't expending most of my energy then). And although I was definitely hungrier during the day, upping my protein intake helped.

* I loved having my nights to myself and never feeling like I was giving up on work or social life to squeeze in a workout.

* It actually improved my sleep pattern.

* I logged significantly more days and more hours at the gym than I had done in months. As a result, I feel healthier, fitter, and stronger than I did a month ago.

Cons:

* It required me to leave my bed earlier than I would like. That said, leaving my bed at 8 a.m. is EARLIER THAN I WOULD LIKE.

* Walking outside before 7 a.m. was hell for my allergies, since pollen blooms in the early morning. But remembering to take my allergy medicine as soon as I woke up helped with that.

It's been a week since the challenge ended, and I've (more or less) stuck with my morning workout routine.

Ok, admittedly I haven't made it to the gym on five mornings this week (because it turns out life gets in the way of morning workouts sometimes too). But, on the days I do make it, I actually find it easier to squeeze in a morning workout than a night workout. And — here's the clincher — I actually enjoy them more now. I know. I don't even recognize myself.

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