The complete guide to working out before work

Getting up and moving may be easier than you think.
Getting up and moving may be easier than you think.
Image: AP Photo/Mark Blinch
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Life inevitably gets in the way of your gym date. That’s why people who exercise in the morning are more likely to stick with it, Barbara Brehm, a professor of exercise and sport studies at Smith College in Massachusetts and author of the recently released textbook, Psychology of Health and Fitness, told Quartz. “It’s because they get it out of the way first thing. They haven’t been exposed to a whole day of draining activity and stress, which can leave you feeling pretty depleted by the end of the day.”

Some studies even suggest that working out before breakfast can have some fat-blasting, muscle-building, and disease-preventing benefits. Yet for most, the idea of working out before work sounds like advice from Satan. But it is possible to make a new habit that doesn’t feel like a date with the devil. Here are some tips for rising early and lacing up:

Prepare for success

Start by scheduling your morning workouts just like you would a doctor’s appointment or office meeting. You’re much more likely to complete your early morning exercise if you write it down, Alice Burron, a Wyoming-based personal trainer and spokeswoman for the National American Council told Everyday Health.

The next step, Brehm says, is to adjust your sleep habits to suit your new schedule. “Sleep is just as important as exercise,” she told Quartz. Seven to eight hours is recommended for the average adult.

But before dozing off for the night, eliminate any barriers between you and the door come morning. Experts suggest laying out your clothes (or even wearing them to bed), filling up your water bottle, and placing your keys in your sneakers by the door the night before. It should take no more than 10 minutes to get ready. Fewer obstacles means fewer opportunities to revert to your pillow and a higher likelihood of success.

Make getting up your warm-up

When you first wake up, your muscles are stiff and inflexible. Hopping directly from bed into a workout routine is a recipe for injury. Moving your alarm clock across the room or trying out one of Woman’s Day’s “10 alarm clocks that’ll get you out of bed“ (the Carpet Alarm Clock looks promising) is a perfect way to get you up and moving. But before jumping into your workout routine, Brehm suggests another 5-10 minutes of light intensity cardio to get your muscles limber and ready to work.

Don’t go at it alone

“People often weigh the pros and cons of working out, but if they have a friend waiting for them they’ll feel obligated to show up,” Brehm says. Accountability is a good way to establish an early morning routine. Brehm adds that working out with a friend can also be a great way to maintain relationships and make exercising fun, both useful for developing a habit that will stick.

Experts also suggest that the more workout buddies, the merrier. Studies have shown that committing to a workout group with social support and structure helps form the habit. And having an instructor at the helm can make your workouts tougher and more complete.

Sites like Meetup or Global Tennis Network can help you find people for specific activities. And at least in big Western cities, there are plenty of shower-equipped studios offering everything from spinning to high-intensity bootcamp at times early enough for you to make it to the office.

Master the workout-to-work transition

With time so short in the morning, your pre-workout prep doesn’t end with laying out your clothes and finding your sneakers. It also means packing your work bag and knowing what you’ll be wearing to the office.

More importantly, you must perfect your post-exercise meal—you don’t want to blow all your hard work by speeding through the drive-through. Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Davis, told Quartz that at least 20 grams of protein is required, and always a fruit or vegetable. Adding in a recovery carbohydrate such as whole wheat toast or oats is also a good idea. So think about prepping a dozen hard boiled eggs the night before your work-week starts, or gathering ingredients for the perfect post-workout smoothie before bed, so you can seamlessly transition from running wear to business wear come morning.

Reward yourself, so you’ll want to do it again tomorrow

Ultimately, the goal is to make this a habit—to rise and work out without thinking. A habit has three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward.

We’ve covered the cues: setting your new alarm (or placing your old one across the room), laying out your clothes, and prepping your breakfast. These will trigger the routine: an early bedtime and morning workout.

As for the reward, Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, explains in a Big Think video that a genuine post-workout treat—a piece of chocolate, for example—trains your brain to connect the rewarding “chocolate signals” with the powerful endorphin and endocannabinoid rush you get from working out. Eventually, you will have tricked your brain into enjoying exercise without chocolate (which is probably a good thing for your waistline) and developed the intrinsic motivation to keep your habit. In time, your routine will become automatic, and surprising as it may seem, you’ll soon be craving your morning workouts rather than dreading them.