For the past six months, I’ve stuck to a workout regimen that makes a lot of people cringe. On Mondays and Thursdays, I get up at 6:30 and go for a run. On Wednesday, I get up at 5:15am and go to a boxing class from 6am-7am. Then I throw in a fun workout like surfing or a hike on the weekend. San Diego is an active community, so there’s plenty of folks out and about during those same early hours as I am. But there’s also a ton of folks who give me the “you are totally nuts” look when I tell them how early I get up to workout.
Here’s the thing: I am not a morning person. I’m actually the furthest thing from that. Left to my own devices on a weekend day, I will happily snore away until 10am. During the week though, my evenings fill up quickly with family and friend meet-ups, paperwork and emails and this blog, and the call of the couch and a Real Housewives marathon. If I leave my workouts to the afternoons and evenings, they’re highly likely to get shoved off for more appealing or pressing matters. At 5am though, there’s nothing that can interrupt my day…except the desire to sleep more, which I will get to in a second.
So how did a sleepyhead like myself get into a thrice-weekly, pre-dawn workout pattern? The same way I’ve ever accomplished any physical goal: I trained for it. When I realized that mornings were the only time I was going to get consistent, uninterrupted workouts, I devised a plan to overcome the sheer dread of getting up early and sweating. They say it takes 30 days to make a new habit, so I started there. I told myself I only had to try this new workout plan for 30 days. If I hated it after a month, I could quit, no guilt allowed.
I read a study that said the more decisions you automate throughout the day, the more willpower you will have to stick with healthy choices. Decision making can actually wear down your willpower, which is why many dieters and exercisers start the day off virtuously but find themselves saying “screw it” and downing a box of Pop-Tarts by 7pm. I have no idea why these two brain functions are linked, but it gave me an idea for my new workout plan. If I made a decision that Mondays and Wednesdays are the days I workout, then that decision has now become automated.
So, that’s where I started. At first I only did two days to make it simple. Mondays I would run before work, Wednesdays I would go to boxing. NO MATTER WHAT. This eliminated the excuse of staying up too late the night before. If I did stay up too late for whatever reason – too bad. I realized that all it meant was I was more tired the next day and went to bed earlier – which comforted me because I knew the next morning after a workout day I could sleep in. As soon as that decision was made, it was easier to accept that two days a week, I’d just be up early and a little tired. I felt like I could handle that.
The next step was to force myself to actually get out of bed. One thing that helps is sharing a bed with my fiance – when your alarm goes off at 5:15am, it’s cruel and unusual punishment to hit snooze and have it keep waking up both you and your partner. As a courtesy to him, I get up to shut off the alarm only once – and then I’m up.
Next, I needed a little comfort to push me into the workouts. I’m a huge coffee lover, and I don’t have any issues working out while caffeinated – in fact, it helps me work out better. The mornings I get up and run, I have a quick, hot shot of espresso before I head out the door. On Wednesdays, I have a triple shot cappuccino made with almond milk on my way to the gym (regular milk upsets my stomach during the subsequent workout). Yes, that might seem like a crutch to some people but for me, it gives me a little reward for being up so early. I’ve now come to savor those 15 minutes in the car with my hot drink on the way to the gym. It’s peaceful and reflective time alone, and by the time I pull into the lot, I’m ready to rock.
After a month of doing two days a week, getting up in the mornings became so much easier. But the best part was all the free time I now had in the evenings, and also relief from the pressure to squeeze in a workout after work and before dinner. I got comfortable enough that I added in my Thursday run. I still get to “sleep in” on Tuesdays, Fridays, and of course both days of the weekend, and now I get in three workouts a week, no matter what.
Of course, there are also special challenges when it comes to diabetes and morning workouts. There’s always the risk of waking up too low to run, or the post-workout high blood sugars that can come from a combo of adrenaline and hepatic glucose output. But there’s diabetes issues no matter what time of day we work out. Having my evenings free has literally been life-changing for me. No more running out of time for a workout, no more guilt when the evenings get too full. It’s more time with my family and my friends.
As for being a morning person, I can’t see that ever really happening. But with my little espresso maker and bit of willpower, I’ve been able to pretend to be one at least three days a week.