For a long time, I was an avid consumer of daily routine articles. I compared the wake-up times and exercise protocols of the people I admired looking for a theme (or really, the secret to success). Something I found in common — which you'll also find recommended in plenty of self-help literature — is that many top performers exercise before work.
However, rather than recommending that everyone drops their current daily agenda to chase after yet another new routine, you'll want to ask yourself these key questions first, to see if it's a habit that makes sense for you.
1. How do I feel when I wake up early?
Are you one of those people who can't function in the first hour they're up? You're definitely not alone, plenty of us stumble around in a stupor until a cup of coffee and an hour or so to get situated — and that's fine — but important to note. Or, maybe you're the type who likes to hit snooze a dozen times before getting out of bed.
Thinking about your current life and how you spend the first part of your day — before you try to make changes — is a crucial step before trying to adopt a new behavior. This is an important one to gauge because if you're not someone who enjoys waking up in the first place, you'll have a rough time making morning workouts a successful habit (unless you really enjoy working out).
On the other hand, if you feel energized and happy in at the crack of dawn — you identify as a total morning person — exercising early will be an easier habit to fit into your lifestyle.
2. Do I successfully complete workouts at other times in the day?
This question aims to find if you're already in the habit of working out. If the answer is yes, you're a regular at the gym after work, but want to shift when you go so you have time to socialize after office hours, that's a good thing to know.
However, if you aren't in the habit of regular exercise, and also aren't a morning person, you may find it near impossible to adapt the before work exercise model. Instead of beating yourself up, why not try fitting in a few workouts in the evening and then, possibly, adding morning workout on weekends to see how it feels.
3. Why do I want to exercise before work?
I'm going to borrow from personal growth and coaching vernacular here: to make lasting change in your life, you have to connect with your "why." Is the morning the only time you have to yourself and you want to work on your health? Maybe you've decided to take care of yourself this year and that means going to bed early and waking up and moving your body (and the early mornings help force you to go to bed at a reasonable hour). Whatever your reason, connect to it often; you might even create a vision board or use a mantra to keep yourself motivated.
4. How often do I plan on adopting this schedule?
Will you try for every weekday, or, is this something that you'd be happy with knocking out three times a week? Maybe a lower target number will motivate you because it's within reach. If working out and waking up early are new to you, you may want to ease yourself in with one workout per week and upping it from there.
5. What time will I need to wake up in order to exercise, shower and get ready for work?
When I was in the military, we called this backwards planning. You look at the "hit" time, and then schedule everything leading to that time so you know exactly where you need to be and when. Planning out your schedule also is a habit-adherence method. Once you have deadlines and a timeline in place, you're more likely to complete the action because you started the first step.
6. How can I make this easy?
Borrowed from Tim Ferriss, this question helps force you to consider any needless complexity. For example, let's say you intend to train for your 10K with a walk-to-run program in the morning, but the track you really want to run on is a 30-minute drive from your house; if you miss your alarm, you miss the workout because you're on a tight timeline to get to work. To make it easier, you might compromise by running around your neighborhood (or on your basement treadmill) during the week when you need the extra time to get ready for work, but on the weekends, you head to the track.
Another trick often touted by productivity and habit experts is keeping your exercise clothes in eyesight of your bed; that way, when you wake up you see exactly the next step to get you out the door.
Or, making it easy could mean nixing the gym or outdoor activity in favor of using YouTube or other online training programs so all you have to do is walk to your TV or computer and get started in your PJs. Maybe your A.M. sweat session is simply walking up and down your cellar stairs carrying two water jugs (fun fact: one gallon of water weighs eight pounds).
7. How can I make this fun?
Sometimes we get mired in tedium trying to do the things that sound like they'll make our life better (eating healthy, waking up early, exercising) and forget they also can be fun.
Maybe you hate exercising but love dancing. Why not make your morning workout a dance cardio class? Or, let's say you're a total people person, and can't find the motivation to stick with your running routine. How about finding (or creating) a neighborhood running club?
For me, I realized how much I enjoy fitness classes. I'm a bit competitive, and while working out via YouTube was cheaper, I ultimately stick with my fitness goals when I'm surrounded by other people working out. I head to spin class and body sculpt because I find it fun to try to keep up with the super fit people surrounding me. Friends have told me they've taken up things like hula hooping or jump roping, because of the joy (and cardio fitness) they get out of the activities. It's not frivolous to consider how to add joy to your habits, it'll ultimately help you stick with the lifestyle you want to live.
Resources that'll help you with your fitness pursuits:
- Doyogawithme (free online yoga classes)
- The Fitness Marshall (fun dance routines)
- Your local library (exercise books!)
- Gretchen Rubin (habit expert)
Tell us in the comments below, what time do you workout? Have any tips for newbies? Resources? Comment and let us know!