How to Become a Morning Workout Person
08.17.17

I’ve never been a morning person, by which I mean I’m a night owl with chronic insomnia and morning time is my enemy. I’ve also never been an exercise person, by which I mean I hate exercise but force myself to do it for health purposes. Add these two ingredients together and you get a breakfast burrito that tastes like my worst nightmare.

I used to spend my entire day dreading the exercise that awaited me at the the end of it, fretting over my energy levels and my protein intake and the last-minute meeting that was just scheduled at 5:30 p.m. and the deadline I hadn’t met yet and the dinner with friends I had to cancel on because it coincided with my SoulCycle class. At a certain point, the mental benefits of a marginal amount of extra sleep were being totally erased by the mental handicap of letting my workouts loom over me like sweaty rain clouds. When it dawned on me that exercise had become more of a chore than a choice, essentially rendering a healthy thing unhealthy, I knew I needed to make a change.

I’m still not a morning person, and I’m still not an exercise person, but in the past six months I trained myself to eat the breakfast burrito nonetheless, three times a week. In other words, I turned myself into a morning exercise person, and I honestly consider it one of the greatest accomplishments of my adult life. Here’s how I did it:

1. I told myself it was just a trial.

“Give it a shot! You can always return to your old ways!” That, my friends, was the exclamatory pep talk I gave myself before my very first day of exercising in the morning before work. Turns out it was just the emotional coddling I needed to get things going.

2. I got serious about fixing my sleep.

If you know me, you know I have insomnia. That’s because I talk about it all the time, which I realize is probably extremely annoying to everyone but myself. Given that my newly minted morning exercise routine necessitated sacrificing at least an hour of sleep every day, it forced me to make a concerted effort to clean up my bad sleep habits. I outlawed TV before bed, point blank, and now read on my iPad instead, dimmed to the lowest brightness, set to the “nighttime” setting. If I’m really struggling, I take a melatonin capsule and listen to a guided meditation on my phone. I still consistently have trouble falling asleep (it takes me at least an hour, no matter how tired I am), but sticking to this routine has helped significantly.

3. I ditched uncomfortable workout clothes.

This is a little weird to confess, but I only recently admitted to myself that I find most workout spandex uncomfortable. It’s just so…tight. It makes my stomach feel like one of those foam balls you’re supposed to squeeze when you get laser hair removal. Except my stomach isn’t made of foam, dammit! There are guts inside there. Ergo, I am now morally opposed to uncomfortable workout attire (working out is uncomfortable enough as is), and I fully reject the oppressive notion that I am somehow expected to look “cute” while in the process of sweating my nips off. Instead I stick to a uniform of soft, baggy T-shirts, spacious gym shorts and the occasional waist-friendly pair of leggings. I look decidedly un-chic, but I don’t care. I’m awake and I’m working out, and that’s enough.

4. I stopped going to workout classes I despised.

After trying and failing to get out of bed for a variety of workouts that sucked my soul with the force of a Dyson vacuum (ahem, running), I realized I could never sustain a morning exercise regimen if the actual exercise component made me want to crawl under my covers and never emerge. I spent some time experimenting with different forms of exercise until I found three that were actually enjoyable (which, coming from a non-exercise person, is a big deal). My go-to morning workouts are “Sculpt” or “Cardio Sculpt” classes at ModelFIT (they’re sort of a barre/aerobics combo platter and the routines change frequently which means I never get bored), yoga at Sky Ting (true story: I never liked yoga until I tried it at Sky Ting) and last but not least, power-walking outside while listening to a podcast.

5. I began fueling myself properly.

When I first started exercising in the mornings, I often found myself feeling slightly nauseous if the workout was on the intense side. I did some research and learned that nausea is a common symptom of mild low blood sugar, which occurs when you don’t eat or hydrate sufficiently before exercising. Ding ding ding! I hadn’t been eating or drinking at all beforehand, mainly because I was too groggy to be remotely hungry but also because I wanted to save time. Dumb! I was amazed at how much of a difference it made once I started having a bite to eat before working out.

Usually I opt for something quick and small — like half an apple or banana or sweet potato — washed down with a glass of water. It’s substantial enough that I have something in my stomach but small enough that I can eat it *right before* working out and still have enough time to semi-digest. I always have a bigger breakfast afterward.

Lo and behold, after implementing these five changes, I can officially call myself an honest-to-goodness morning workout person. As of now it actually feels like something I can sustain for the long run — the figurative kind, that is.

Collage & Illustrations by Emily Zirimis; photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images.

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  • Hayley

    Hooray! Well done, Harling!

  • spicyearlgrey

    woah no 1 is mad im gonna try it

  • DA

    Thank you for calling out athleisure-sportswear combos. They cannot be one and the same because one makes you look hot (eliminating love handles) and one allows you to work off those love handles without feeling like your viscera are being smashed into each other. HATE compression leggings with compression waistbands…just compression in general sounds painful.

    • Hayley

      Really? I’ve kind of always liked working out in compression workout gear, at least with leggings. I feel like it gives me better form/I’m less likely to actually injure my knee or ankle with it on.

      • DA

        It’s very subjective, I personally hate anything that sucks me in, be it spanx, sports bras, or compression leggings. I also prefer pilates and yoga over weight training. I think it depends on the kinds of workouts you like, but I see your point with form. Second you on the athleta tights, if you’re going to buy compression tights they are great value for money when on sale imo.

        • Hayley

          Oh yeah, I NEVER buy them full price. Since I know my size, I wait for a style of the Sonar leggings to go on final sale price (like $24) and then stock up.

    • Cristina

      Doesn’t work for me either. Also, the fabric is thin, despite the compression and you can see alllll my cellulite in a very unflattering way. No thanks!

      • Hayley

        I find that Athleta pants do not give me this issue — lesser/cheaper brands ALWAYS give me this problem. I swear by their Sonar leggings.

  • Rachel

    These tips are so good! I really want to become a morning workout person because otherwise I don’t workout! I’m always too tired in the evening or busy and I always prefer to wash my hair in the morning, and I hate working out and then not washing my hair. I’m perpetually hitting the snooze button in the morning even though I know it makes me more tired during the day. I think it’s really a matter of making exercise a priority and implementing some of these changes!

  • wafflesfriendswork

    This paired with the morning routines of successful people post from the other day…@ me next time!!! But seriously, these are good tips, I’ve been wanting to revamp my morning routine AND start a consistent workout routine. I’m trying to break up with my snooze button but it’s been very hard.

    • Madeline C

      IT’S SO HARD TO BREAK UP WITH SNOOZE. My boyfriend wakes up earlier than me and in an effort to be kind he puts his phone across the room so he has to get up the min it goes off. When I occasionally have to get up earlier than him my snooze wakes us both up soooooo many times before I actually muster up the will to get up. But I just can’t seem to manage to be as thoughtful as him because how does a person live without snooze?!?

      • wafflesfriendswork

        I actually am the one to get up earlier than my SO! He honestly puts my snoozing to shame AND makes it harder for me to get out of bed (WHY is everything so much nicer and snugglier when you’re both still half asleep??). My worst habit though is -alarm-snooze-alarm-alarm off-scroll through my phone-fall back asleep-wake up and I have to leave for work in 15 minutes-later for work. Thankfully my workplace is very casual and I can be late, but I think I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve arrived on time.

        • lilyelle

          you just described my exact life, get out of my head! seriously, how do we stop the snooze/scroll morning habit?! I want to break the wheel.

  • Paula Martin

    Can you guys pug-leaze do a piece on post-workout hair??? I’d love to workout in the morning but it feels like everyone’s got a secret solution to sweaty hair and I missed that day of high school.

    • Cristina

      I don’t go straight to work, so if it’s not a wash day I just rinse and scrub with my fingertips. Then dry shampoo once it’s dried.

    • Alice

      When I had long hair I did some braid hairstyle the night before so I didn’t have to fuss with it in the morning, I just had to pin the braid or braids up. Dry shampoo and a bun after workout, and done. The difficult part was not falling asleep in class after.

    • Kate

      I’m with you. My hair is fine and frizzy and my head can get really sweaty when I exercise, so washing it afterwards is typically a must for me.

    • Alison

      This could help: how to style your hair for different types of workout problems (hair gets too oily, too flat, etc.). http://www.manrepeller.com/2016/07/how-to-save-hair-after-workout.html

      It’s so good! I need an update for “how to style your hair underneath a bike helmet on an 8-mile ride to work.”

    • Harling Ross
  • Jules

    number 3 is so real!!!! that’s why I often resort to at home workouts, because I can wear pyjamas or underwear or whatever and look like a slob while I exercise but feel comfy!! now if only I could find more motivation to stick with these at home workouts….

  • Mellisa Scarlett

    Finally someone who shares my deep hate for chic work out gear. I’m ALWAYS so uncomfortable. Big t-shirts and loose h&m cotton shorts for life. “at least I’m doing it”.

    • Harling Ross

      YES

  • Hilary

    After Amelia’s piece on morning routines the other day (and how great she felt after doing tennis in the AM), I’ve been trying to mentally work backwards to figure out how to implement exercising into my mornings without losing my sanity. Thank you for this!

  • Alice

    I’ve mentioned this 100x times online but I’m so sad I can’t workout in the morning unless I have no immediate plans. Working out makes me so sleepy, even if it’s just pilates and the fact that after I take a shower and eat just leaves me like a tired baby.

    • kellymcd

      YES its the showering that does me in! As a lifetime night time shower-er (say that 5 times fast), showers slip me into “chill mode”. So, when I’m done working out and hop into the warm shower water my brain starts thinking its bedtime and then next thing you know, I’m trying to be productive when my body thinks it is time to sleep (again)

      • Alice

        SAME. I tried to come home and do chores but I end up breaking out on my body or getting stains on my gym clothes. It feels so good to work out, shower, dinner and slip into bed.

  • Alexia

    I would love to work out in the mornings, but I always feel sick and nauseous the rest of the day when I do, and I’m always in bed at a reasonable hour. Is anyone else the same? My mum is so maybe I got it from her.

  • Lindsay D

    I am a morning work out person! I think you get used to it, I do usually wake up early enough to style my hair. I was getting sick and tired of missing classes or dinners because I was going after work. And well showering 2x a day is annoying.

  • Lindsey

    I have no interest in becoming a morning workout person, but I clicked on this anyway because of the egg lady. She’s amazing. Again, kudos to your collage artist!

    • Harling Ross

      Emily!!!!!

  • Mon Valdés

    I have to say I’m a morning workout person… but I used to be a full-time couch potato and a night owl (my usual bed time was about 1:00 or 2:00 am) but about a year and a half ago I decided that I really needed to get out and exercise because I was gaining weight…
    My dad had a family membership for a gym, so I jumped into that, but the only time that I could do was at 6:00 am, so there I was… it was painful (to say the least) during the first couple of weeks… but then I started feeling so much more energized and happy during the day, and as I worked out during the morning, I found myself making better choices about what I ate throughout the day… it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made

    • Melissa

      Inspired.

  • jen

    Morning workouts are hard but I think of it this way – I am so tired in the morning I cannot even process that I am going to do physical activity for 45-60 minutes. I am a zombie on the walk there but by the time the class starts, I’m awake. I convince myself that the extra 30 minutes of sleep won’t make me feel as good as 60 minutes of working out. Lastly, definitely pick work outs you enjoy!!! Makes a HUGE difference

  • Tessa

    Ok: I have maybe-garbage morning workout advice that I learned in my collegiate rowing days (with a grueling 5AM boathouse call-time): wake up early as all get out. I have found that the thing that really helps me get up in the morning is giving myself 40-60 minutes after the alarm sounds to sip coffee in bed, read the news, play that little home design game on my phone, etc. It helps me feel like my morning isn’t a scramble, but a nice, quiet time to myself before a hectic day. I love these tips though, and I’m 100% gonna try to encorporate more sweet potatoes into my morning routine.

    • belle

      Ohh what’s this iPhone game?! I want to try it!

  • Melissa

    That first paragraph is basically the most relatable piece of content I’ve ever read.

  • Please, tell us more about the breakfast sweet potato!

    • Harling Ross

      hahah i know it sounds kind of weird but it’s a great pre-workout morning snack i swear

  • Mar

    I love this article, I want to be a morning work out person so badly because it is way too easy to skip it completely after work. I am fine falling asleep but my anxiety and insomnia wake me around 3/4am and then I’m up till 5/6am. Does anyone have tips on how to stay asleep? Never happens on vacation or weekends!

    • Hannah

      I have the same issue – other than working to actively reduce my stress level via lifestyle changes (success varies from nil to just a little bit), I use CBD to manage insomnia related to anxiety. If you take it via extract, the effects last longer, but if you wake up and need to go back to sleep quickly, vaping a concentrate really helps.

  • Lil

    I can’t go anywhere post workout and with sweaty hair. I have an intense need to go home&shower asap.

  • Natty

    Also, consistency! Working out in the morning just once a week feels extra hard but 3+ times a week builds routine/doesn’t feel like such a “thing”

  • missmg

    Just wanted to point out that there is volumes of Exercise physiology research out there that proves compression clothing when working out is the best option for all types of results (fat burn, tone, etc) there is a reason its made the way it is (tight, specific fabrics, mesh etc) also wearing clothes that are designed for exercise means you can actually breathe in it. Unfortunately your run of the mill cotton or polyester (god no!) t shirt is not doing you any favors. I just think its better to get more out of your work out if you’re already getting up early to do it 🙂

  • ErinPaige

    It is absolutely critical that I find out what podcasts you listen to while walking!

    • Harling Ross

      oooooh!

      This American Life
      Another Round
      Dear Sugar
      Invisibilia
      Here’s The Thing With Alec Baldwin
      WTF With Marc Maron
      How I Built This
      Call Your Girlfriend
      More Perfect

  • Hey! I’ve been working on this this week as well!
    I actually had a personal workout epiphany about workout leggings. I recently started running a few times a week. And I couldn’t figure out why sometimes I got debilitating side stitches as soon as I started, and other times I felt so good the entire time that I’d go an extra half mile. All of my times of day, water, and food were consistent. Then I realized that when it was painful, I was wearing high waist running leggings. So needless to say, those are out. **I did find that Reebok Capri leggings sit far enough below the belly button as to not limit my organs.

  • Heleen Peeters

    Way to go Harling! I also started working out in the morning. I get up at 5.30 and I go for a run three times a week. I’m also considering adding my ashtanga yoga practise on the other days of the week, so 5.30 becomes my ‘normal’ waking up time.. It’s usualy a little hard to get out of bed, but I just do it and 5 minutes later I’m happy I did and I’m off. I never thought I’d “be” like this everrrr in my younger life. In the ashtanga yoga tradition it’s requierd to work out very early when the sun rises, because the energy levels are at their highest at that time. This also adds a spiritual level to it and therefor working out in the morning isnt just a physical training, but also a way to find inner peace. (I’m sorry for the crappy English sentences, my mother language is Flemish) – so keep going Harling! And most of all have fun, smile and enjoy this path you’re on!

    • Harling Ross

      thank you 🙂

  • Bmo

    I got up early and worked out this morning after reading this yesterday, and it was great!

  • Sarah

    becoming that morning workout person has been a big goal of my adult life that i just can’t seem to make happen.. i am a night owl, not a morning person, and also have a lot of insomnia issues. recently i have made it happen occasionally….the days I do are so nice because it is DONE. I go to bed earlier that night- (I always stay up late even when I am exhausted so this is a big win for me!), fall asleep better, eat dinner earlier…and i do seem to work out harder in the morning because if I am up early to do it, it better be worth it…I am also way more likely to actually get it done..so often I plan to go to the gym but then am tired and busy and just go home…the one draw back is my energy levels seem really low mid afternoon though because I am tired from working out! I really want to try to become this person. In fact, this is going to be my fall goal! I agree with Harling on #1, telling yourself its just a test makes a big difference.

    Harling, there is a homeopathic med called Sleep that you put under your tongue…i think the feeling of it dissolving in my mouth relaxes me…it seems to be working pretty well for me! give it a try!

    • Harling Ross

      ooh thank you for the tip!

  • Jay

    Now… I was actually shocked when I read all your posts about morning routines and stuff… Like I’m a night and not a morning person… but my not a morning person relates to people who get up at 7 . Not at 5.30? Lived a good long time in NYC and haven’t caught that trend – do they do that nowadays??! Crazy….

    and I could NEVER work out without breakfast?! Would make me perform as sh***

    So on weekends I workout after breakfast like around 10.

    And during the week – yeah it sucks cause it’s crazy busy at the gym – after work. And actually, though I am a morning workout person, but not a morning person, this works fine for me?!

    It’s nice to put all your anger, frustration, joy, whatever emotion out after a workday (and we know it… even though you might love your job, you will be going through the motions…) and then have time to get home and shower and eat and stuff…

    So I come to be an afterword exerciser and I like it – though I never thought I would.

    BTW – lunch breaks are great for exercise as well – and I love quick crossfit workouts e.g. @jillfit or so…

  • Nicole Winograd

    I’m the same way! I’m such a night owl and usually work out in the afternoon, but once I started my first full time position, it became tough to keep that routine. I also moved my workouts to first thing in the morning (it helps that I live above my gym), but I also started viewing it as a treat to work out in the morning.

    Also, my trainer told me that eating a fruit before your workout (high in carbs) may actually make you nauseas because it’ll cause your blood sugar to spike. Since then, I’ve been eating pecans, but any nut of choice should work. Hope this helps!

  • Caroline Christianson

    Harling, this sounds crazy but my mom convinced me to try taping my mouth shut to sleep (I know….crazy), but if you Google it, you’ll be convinced too. I expected the tape to bother me, but it doesn’t at all. It’s something to do with the rhythm of natural breathing through your nose. Maybe give it a try – my sleep feels more deep and refreshing with it.

  • Marion A.

    Thanks those were some really great tips. Recently My boyfriend and I have started lifting weights it’s actually lots of fun. We found app that’s great called “live fit” that had videos on all the exercises so I’m not stuck looking at a list then googling every exercise to make sure I don’t injure myself with sketchy form. But I digress, the next thing we are looking into it changing the routine to becoming morning workout people. I love that you were intentional in your approach.