Working out in the morning is a great idea: You get a boost of energy and a feeling of accomplishment even before you start your workday, and you don't have to worry about trying to squeeze in exercise after a long day at the office or between evening events and obligations. As a runner, I find it's the perfect way to wake myself up and start my day on the right foot.
But pulling it off can be tricky. If you struggle with finding time for a good sweat session first thing in the a.m., here are a few tips that have helped me—and may help you, too.
1. Set your alarm five minutes later.
Yes, you read that right. This is a trick I stumbled upon by accident, and it has now become one of my best strategies for making sure I make the most out of my time in the mornings. I don’t know about you, but if I give myself too much time when I wake up, I saunter around like I’m still sleeping and as though there’s nothing better to do than spend five minutes pulling my shorts on. There’s nothing like urgency to get us moving. If you give yourself more time, you’ll use it. If you give yourself less time, you’ll figure out how to make it work. Give yourself less time in the mornings to get ready for your run, and see how you magically increase your efficiency.
The other reason this trick works is because the later you get out the door, the faster you will have to run in order to finish with enough time to get ready for the day. On bad days, I’ve found myself having to run a full 30 seconds faster per mile than usual because I didn’t get out of bed fast enough and would be late to work if I didn’t make up the time. You'd better believe that I’ve started getting ready quicker after that grueling workout!
2. Pile up your gear.
Put everything in the same spot, and I don’t just mean keep everything in the same room. I really mean that you should keep everything piled up in one consistent spot. Before I implemented this strategy, I had everything in my bedroom and didn’t think much of it. The problem is that the shorts I want to wear are usually at the bottom of a pile of poorly folded workout clothes, my headphones are tangled up in a box across the room with countless other devices, and I can’t find my white running socks in the sea of white non-running socks that fill my sock drawer. Although I’ve never had to leave my bedroom or walk more than 20 feet, I’ve suddenly wasted over five minutes getting my act together.
Before you go to bed, take the time to pick out your clothes, untangle your headphones, and download that podcast episode you want to listen to during your run. It sounds trivial, but streamlining this process will not only save you time, but it will also save you from having to think too much in the morning. And we all know that thinking can be harder than running first thing in the morning.
3. Track your prep time with music.
It’s easy to lose track of how much time you’ve spent getting ready for your morning run.
While you may have hopped out of bed and out the door a few months ago, once the weather turned sour or your sleep schedule changed, you started moving slower and unknowingly added 20 minutes to your prep routine. Often this is no fault of your own, and you don’t even realize that you’re procrastinating. No matter how much you love to run, there are those mornings when staying in an air-conditioned room in soft pajamas is preferable to fighting the hot, hard pavement. Even if your conscious mind wants to get out there, your subconscious knows better and will try to get you to stall your departure as long as possible.
Show your subconscious who’s boss by timing your morning routine and setting limits. A great way of doing this is by using music. I have an upbeat country music station that I turn on every morning. As each song passes, I can’t deny that time is passing as well and that I'd better hurry if I want to start my run on schedule. Decide how many three- to four-minute songs you can play before needing to be out the door. Not only does this serve as a timer for your prep routine, it’s also a great energy boost and will put you in the right head space for your run—not to mention that a dance party is a great way to stretch and warm up your muscles!
4. Get a watch that does the ONE thing you need it to.
Technology is amazing, but it doesn’t have the best reputation as far as time management is concerned. While it’s great that your watch can monitor your heart rate, detect the elevation of that hill you hate, post your mile time to all of your social media accounts, and tell you more about yourself than your mother could, are all of these features worth the time they are taking out of your morning?
I used to have a watch that needed to connect to my heart rate monitor, locate a GPS signal, link to its own tracking platform, sync with my social media tracking app, and find my Bluetooth headphone signal. By the time all of this happened, I had spent 10 minutes on the sidewalk waiting to get my run started. Plus, something would always go wrong during the run and I would have to stop multiple times to re-sync, reconnect, or throw my phone into the street. All of this technology, while designed to improve my runs, was beginning to hinder them.
I knew this had to stop, so I took some time to think and realized that the thing I care about the most is tracking my time and distance. I got rid of all of my phone apps, began logging my runs on an old-fashioned piece of paper, and bought a watch whose claim to fame was finding a GPS signal quickly and tracking distances accurately. That time I spent before and during runs dealing with technology shrank to less than a minute per run.
Not only was this a huge time saver, it also relieved a lot of stress. Who wants to deal with so many apps, trackers, and monitors first thing in the morning? Even when it hurts, remember that running is supposed to be an enjoyable experience, and if your technology is getting in the way, it’s time to ditch it. Figure out what one piece of technology is the most important to you during a run and try your best to limit yourself to that. You’ll streamline your morning, save time, and feel a lot better once you hit the road.