Exercise physiologists and trainers often say the best time of day to work out is the time you’ll actually stick to — if you prefer a post-work sweat session, for example, and actually put it in your schedule, then keep on rocking. But for many people, that exercise block can get bumped by additional work and social or family commitments. Or you might not have as much energy toward the end of the day to put in the effort you’d like.
That’s why experts note morning routines tend to be easiest to maintain, especially because studies have noted additional benefits to pre-breakfast exercise, such as greater fat loss. That said, it’s not always easy to set your alarm for an hour earlier and hit the ground running, literally. But, with some simple strategies and night-before planning, you can make it easier to set a morning exercise habit.
PREP YOUR OUTFIT AND GEAR
Assemble everything you’ll need for your morning workout, whether it’s a sunrise run or a HIIT session in your living room. That means figuring out what you’ll be wearing, but also putting together every item you need, like headphones, a water bottle, shoes and jacket. You may even have to pack your office clothes and laptop if you’re going straight to work.
If you use a pre-workout drink or snack, put that together as well, or at least have your shaker bottle and pre-workout mix on the kitchen counter. If you’re more of a snack person, gather those items. For example, for peanut butter toast, put the toaster out, along with bread, jar of peanut butter and even the butter knife you’ll use. The point is to have as little delay as possible and fewer decisions.
GO TO BED ON TIME AND A LITTLE HUNGRY
Once you have everything prepped and ready, you may be tempted to stay up a little later since you’re “saving time” in the morning. But opt for more sleep instead, says Dr. Nate Watson, an advisory board member at SleepScore Labs. People need between 7–9 hours of sleep per night, and focusing on enough sleep helps you wake up more refreshed and ready to exercise in the morning.
As part of sleeping better, skip the night snacks, Dr. Watson says. You don’t need to have a grumbling stomach, but you should stop eating and drinking within two hours of bed, to minimize the possibility of sleep disruption, he notes.
WRITE DOWN YOUR GOAL
Simply noting that you want to start running in the morning, or doing an at-home workout, isn’t as effective as being specific in your goal setting, says Dr. David Greuner, head physician at NYC Surgical Associates. He notes that habits are easier to set, and discipline is more quickly generated, by knowing what your morning will bring.
“Your brain likes to know what’s ahead, it actually craves routine,” he says. “As you get into a habit, your brain can anticipate what’s ahead, and that makes it easier to stay on track.” That means you should write down your goal in the evening for the next day, so you wake up ready to reach that daily win.
HAVE A BACKUP PLAN
You have everything you need for the workout tomorrow already set out, but consider putting together a “just in case” bag as well. That might include an extra bottle of water, sunscreen a backup pair of shoes, another shirt and different socks, as well as protein-rich snacks like nuts.
This can be especially handy if your morning workout includes taking a class, like yoga or bootcamp. Sometimes, studio schedules change or instructors get sick, so having enough gear ready for a plan B is helpful.
Take at least a few minutes to sit quietly, close your eyes, and imagine the best morning workout possible, suggests performance coach Barbara Cox, PhD. She notes that this technique helps you “feel” a sense of accomplishment and can be a huge motivational push.
“Many of my clients have improved their sports performance considerably through guided visualization,” says Cox. “If you can get into a relaxed brainwave state, called an alpha state, and create a vision of what you want to accomplish, you can ‘feel’ what it’s like to have it occur.”
SPICE UP YOUR ALARM
Getting ready to work out can happen from the second you wake up, suggests Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, an ER physician and director of clinical strategy at digital health company Sharecare.
“Set your alarm to play music you love,” she advises. “Wake up to tunes that are energizing and continue that with a great playlist to listen to while you work out. Research has shown that playing upbeat music not only increases your performance during the workout, but makes it seem more enjoyable.”
BE YOUR OWN CHEERLEADER
Words like “habit” and “discipline” can make morning workouts feel like one more chore you need to push through in order to feel happy about them being done. But take some time to change your perspective and your self-talk, suggests Taylor Jacobson, founder and CEO of Focusmate, a developer of productivity and anti-procrastination software.
“When you say, ‘I’m a procrastinator,’ you strengthen that neural pathway, and make it easier at relating to yourself in that way,” he says. “Instead, tell yourself a different story, and embrace the benefits of routine. That mindset will serve you well, not just with exercising in the morning, but throughout the rest of your day.”