A few years ago, when I was racing triathlons professionally, my coach and I decided that I needed to swim six days a week at 6 a.m. to reach my goals for the upcoming season. At that point, I was mentally struggling with my love for swimming. It was the middle of winter, and did I mention the 6 a.m. start time?
To say it was a challenge to get to the pool at all was a massive understatement. To put it bluntly, I dreaded that cold morning plunge. And as a result, the only thing consistent about my attendance those first few weeks of December swim training was the inconsistency of it.
Then, I developed a mental routine that began as soon as the alarm went off, got me to the pool on time—and without dreading it—and ultimately shaved several much-needed minutes off my Ironman swim. This routine didn't focus on the importance of each 5,000-yard workout or the swimming improvements I hoped to make during offseason or even my dreams of an Ironman podium.
It focused on just one goal: getting to the sink to brush my teeth.
Yup, lofty. I know.
But this very myopic focus helped me get out of bed. And, simple as it sounds, just being out of bed for a few minutes shifted my mindset entirely, making it much easier to take those crucial next steps.
The biggest mistake most people make when waking up for an early workout is thinking too far ahead. I mean, we can all agree that brushing our teeth in the morning is most definitely going to happen, right? A hard swim workout? Or a spin class, intense yoga session, or interval run? Whoa. That sounds daunting. Pulling the covers back over your head certainly sounds like the simpler option.
But having an established morning routine—and one easy-to-accomplish action that triggers a series of other small actions—can be monumentally useful in getting to the start line of a workout, regardless of whether it's a swim, yoga class, a run, or any other type of exercise.
In my case, after I nailed part one of my morning routine (brushing my teeth), I shifted focus onto the next segment of my morning routine—the nice hot mug of tea I was going to make for myself. The radio station that I love (total NPR nerd over here!), which I'd listen to in the car. The hot sauna I was going to stand in while changing into my swimsuit. Saying "hi" to my friends on the pool deck. Before I knew it, there was nothing left to do but dive in—literally—and before I knew it, the hour and 15 minutes of hard swimming was done and I was left to bask in the glow of another completed workout.
My routine doesn't have to be your routine. In fact, it won't be. The key is making the first steps so easy to complete that your subconscious wants to say yes. By breaking your pre-workout routine into very small steps, each one in and of itself easy to complete, you reduce the mental energy it requires to actually begin.
Here are three other strategies to help you throw the covers back and get your morning sweat on:
1. Sleep in your workout clothes.
Yes, I'm serious. This comes back to that idea of reducing the activation energy. While your sports bra and shorts might not be as cute as other items in your bedtime wardrobe, I can promise you that there's nothing sexier than feeling healthy and toned from regular workouts.
2. Get a friend on board.
It's infinitely easier to hit snooze if the only person keeping you accountable is you. Setting up a workout date with a friend or signing up for a group exercise class (ideally one you've prepaid for) is probably the No. 1 strategy for saying "no" to the snooze button. Oh, and it makes your workout fly by, too!
3. Have a clear plan.
Be clear about the workout plan you have for yourself before you lie down on your pillow at night. Visualizing yourself completing an exercise goal has been shown to increase stamina, endurance, and likelihood that you finish what you start.
For example, if you're going to the gym to lift weights, write out the set you intend to do. Not only will you be more likely to get there in the morning, but your workout will be more efficient. If you're going for a run, plan out the route as well as any intervals you plan to do. Don't leave it to chance because the snooze button is always the simpler choice.
With a little preplanning and a few small tweaks, you can triumph over the snooze button.
Katya Meyers is a pro triathlete turned ultra runner, new mom, and health coach living in sunny San Diego. She loves long trail runs, spicy food, and helping both newbie and experienced athletes achieve their fitness dreams. With a Human Biology degree from Stanford University, Masters in Public Health, and ACSM Health & Fitness Specialist certification, she loves geeking out on the science and psychology that help her clients achieve phenomenal results--from 90 lb weight loss to top Ironman finishes. You can follow along with her latest endurance and family adventures on Instagram or learn more about her online coaching services here.