A couple of years ago, I made the switch from working out mainly at night to exercising mainly in the morning. Now I am up and at ’em pretty early most days of the week to either teach classes, train clients, or work out on my own.

It is definitely nice to stay in bed longer some days, but then I know I’m postponing my workout until later in the day when other commitments tend to get in the way: traffic, being too tired after work, needing to get things done at home, a friend calling to go to happy hour, etc. Getting to the gym can be hard enough, and I find that there are simply fewer obstacles at 6am! Plus, my morning workouts energize me for the day and help me be more consistent overall.

Since I am frequently asked to share the things that helped me establish a routine and start regularly exercising before the sun comes up, I am going to provide you with a few of my personal strategies and insights today.

My #1 Tip for Becoming a Morning Workout Person… Plus 8 Additional Strategies

I’ve seen many friends and clients just decide then and there that they want to become morning workout people. They get excited, they tell everyone they going to give it a try, and then what do they do? They go home and set their alarm clocks for 5:30am the next day… when they are used to waking up two hours later at 7:30.

In my opinion, jumping right into a drastically earlier wake up call can actually be a huge setback. Just like I would never recommend that a client jump into barbell back squats if they’ve never squatted with dumbbells before, I really don’t recommend the big leap in schedule differences either. That 5:30am wakeup call will most likely seem pretty terrible, especially if bedtime isn’t adjusted on the other end.

My number one tip for how to become a morning workout person is to actually just take a few weeks to adjust to a new wakeup time, without the workout included. Every night, try to go to bed 5-15 minutes earlier than the night before, and set your alarm the next morning for 5-15 minutes earlier than normal. This will help you gradually get your sleep patterns consistent. For many, it’s not the waking up earlier that’s the tough part, but rather the going to bed earlier… consistently.

Here’s an example of what this might look like for someone who currently goes to bed at 11:30pm and wakes up at 7:30am, with a target total sleep time of eight hours per night:

Week 1

  • Monday: Wake up at 7:30am like usual, bedtime at 11:20pm.
  • Tuesday: Wake up at 7:20am, bedtime at 11:10pm.
  • Wednesday: Wake up at 7:10am, bedtime at 11:00pm.
  • Thursday: Wake up at 7:00am, bedtime at 10:50pm.
  • Friday: Wake up at 6:50am, bedtime at 10:40pm.

Week 2

  • Monday: Wake up at 6:40am, bedtime at 10:30pm.
  • Tuesday: Wake up at 6:30am, bedtime at 10:20pm.
  • Wednesday: Wake up at 6:20am, bedtime at 10:10pm.
  • Thursday: Wake up at 6:10am, bedtime at 10:00pm.
  • Friday: Wake up at 6:00am, bedtime at 9:50pm.

Week 3

  • Monday: Wake up at 5:50am, bedtime at 9:40pm.
  • Tuesday: Wake up at 5:40 am, bedtime at 9:30pm.
  • Wednesday: Wake up at 5:30am. Then go to bed again at 9:30pm.
  • Thursday: Repeat 5:30am wakeup, bedtime at 9:30pm.
  • Friday: Repeat 5:30am wakeup.

Now this is not an exact science, so definitely adjust for your own schedule. Maybe you shoot for seven or nine hours of sleep. That’s fine! Maybe you try 15 minute increments, but you do them for a week at a time instead of switching it up every day (ie bedtime at 11:15 for the 7:15 wakeup during week 1, bedtime at 11 for the 7am wakeup during week 2, etc.). That’s fine! Work your own specifics in, and maneuver it in the way that is the most likely to give you a successful outcome. Try not to sleep too late on the weekends as to not derail your sleep progress during the week. Finally, use any extra morning time to be productive or do some of the things that you tend to do toward the end of the day, especially if you are still exercising at the end of the day during this adjusting period. Clean, throw a load of laundry in, journal, get to work early, meditate, sit and read during a leisurely breakfast, you pick! You might find that starting your morning in these ways can actually be quite nice.

Sunday Breakfast

Once your sleep schedule becomes a little more consistent, then give the AM workouts a go. Here’s where some of my other morning workout strategies might help you maintain your early to rise habit for the long haul:

  • Schedule it in. Just like you would put social obligations, appointments, etc. into your planner, schedule your workouts too.
  • Have a plan. Know what you will do at the gym ahead of time. This way you don’t have to think about it when it’s so early and your brain isn’t awake yet. Be specific. If it’s leg day, what lower body exercises are you going to do? If you are looking for someone to take the thinking out of it for you, let me help!
  • Set your clothes out the night before. Digging through dresser drawers in the dark? No thanks.
  • Pack your bags the night before. This includes your lunch, your change of clothes for work if you get ready at the gym, and/or anything you might be bringing with you that morning. This will prevent the need to run around in the morning.
  •  Move your alarm clock. If you are guilty of hitting snooze or just shutting off your alarm, I recommend physically moving your clock across the room. This will force you to get up and out of bed to turn the alarm off, and sometimes that is all it takes. I find that this tip is especially helpful for those cold and dark winter mornings you don’t feel like getting up!
  • Find a morning workout buddy. I think the buddy up concept really can apply to any time of day! You are more likely to be accountable to someone else than you are to yourself. Make a date, and show up. Bonus: grab breakfast or a smoothie together afterwards!
  • Pump yourself up. Keep your favorite songs handy in the car. Blast them as you drive to the gym to get psyched for your workout. Make sure you have a good playlist ready to go too!
  • Be flexible with yourself. There are going to be nights you don’t sleep well or mornings where staying in bed is the right choice for you. Be adaptable, and don’t beat yourself up about it. Don’t forget that you need to be well rested in order to get a good workout in.

Puma Ignite XT

Of course, there is no golden rule that says working out in the morning is any better or more effective than working out at night. There are pros and cons to both. I find my body takes longer to warm up in the morning, but I ultimately have more energy for my workouts than when I leave them for the end of the day. However, there were many days in my corporate 9-5 job where I would anticipate a stressful day ahead at work and leave my workout until later so I’d have a healthy way to blow off some steam.

I think your best bet is to decide what is easier for you to stick with long term. Just remember that as always, what is right for one person isn’t necessarily optimal for someone else.

Oh yeah, and one more thing. Just because someone works out in the morning doesn’t mean they are a morning person… because coffee and because don’t talk to me and because I still need to ease into the rest of my day. 🙂

Hope these tips help!