I am not a morning person. Which is why what I'm about to say should count for something: If you're going to work out, work out in the morning.
My mother taught me that every day is a gift, but when I first wake up, it feels more like a prison sentence. My initial conscious thought is typically, "Are you kidding me?!"—as in, "I have to wait 17 hours until I can go back to sleep...are you kidding me?!"
I'm cold. I'm tired. And I don't want any part of anything that takes place on the north side of my comforter. Especially exercise.
Yet for the last two years, five days a week, that's exactly what I've done: work out at home, so within minutes of my final REM cycle, my blood is pumping, my hip flexors are flexing, and my sweat is staining the hardwood floor.
Building this habit has been a painful process, full of 9 p.m. pass-outs and devil-on-the-shoulder tauntings about why it's OK to skip today. But ultimately it's been a positive one.
Truthfully, any exercise at any time is great, so if you've got a schedule that works, more power to you. But if you're struggling to get started—or struggling to stick with it—below are reasons why your first course of action should be working out first thing in the morning.
1. You get it done before the day even starts.
I know exercise is good for me, but I don't necessarily enjoy it. I get that it's not supposed to be a day at Six Flags—I just wish I could reap its benefits without suffering its burn. Which is why I like to be done with it as early as possible.
I used to exercise in the evening, and while I was more alert, I was also more stressed, not just from the day's challenges but from knowing I had this painful task I still had to complete. The idea of it hung over me like a looming root canal.
That's not a concern anymore. I still feel that same dread, but now I feel it during a much shorter window. By the time the sun comes up, the toughest part of my day is already over.
2. It helps develop the habit.
The only way to benefit from exercise is to exercise consistently. Do it only when the stars align, when your calendar is clear and your spirit is inspired, and you're not going to get results. Half the battle is showing up.
In the past, when I worked out at night, it was hard to achieve the necessary consistency. My schedule, and discipline, were too malleable.
I'd commit to exercising on specific days, but life invariably got in the way. I'd meet a friend for dinner, go on a date, or get sidetracked in general.
And the more times I skipped, the easier it got to skip. Now, outside of the occasional late night or early flight, I'm out of excuses. I've got nothing going on at 5:30 a.m. It's untapped time. A case could be made over the value of that available hour of sleep I'm sacrificing, and it's a case I tried every morning after first making the switch.
But that's in the past. Getting up and working out is now a habit. It's part of my morning routine. I don't question it any more than I'd question brushing my teeth or experiencing road rage on my commute.
And on those days when I really don't want to do it, I know the guilt I'd feel from staying in bed outweighs the discomfort that comes from
getting out of it.
3. Morning exercise reduces wasted time and increases sleep.
Jerry Seinfeld has a great bit about the two personalities living within us: Day Guy and Night Guy. Day Guy gets up and tends to life's obligations. Night Guy, meanwhile, is the night owl, the life of the party who has no regard for responsibility.
And why would he? He can do whatever he wants, because come morning, it's Day Guy who absorbs the brunt of his after-dark debauchery. This dynamic used to describe me perfectly (although I was never the life of the party). I've always loved staying up late. I love that time of night when the house is still, and there's no one to question my clicking on that Rocky marathon on AMC.
That's not an option anymore. I can't do it. If I'm not involuntarily comatose before 10 p.m., I'm making sure I'm asleep by 11. I have to be. I have to wake up with a purpose, meaning I have to utilize my time wisely. Sleep trumps Balboa.
4. It toughens you both mentally and physically.
Think about what causes your body to benefit from exercise: By stressing it, it strengthens. When this is done consistently, its capacity for what it can tolerate and accomplish expands.
This is also how your mind works. To achieve emotional and spiritual growth, you have to take on tasks that are challenging, that you don't want to do, that you don't think you can do. Because whether it's your career or relationship or any other aspect of life, nothing guarantees the status quo like practicing the status quo.
Getting up earlier than you want to is an unpleasant, trying experience. So is working out. Which means when you combine the two, you're testing yourself in 3-D—mind, body, and spirit.