Lessons Learned from a Newly Minted 6 a.m. Gym Rat

WakeUPI recently decided to mix up my exercise routine (or lack of routine) and commit to making the mornings my new time to work out. With an erratic work schedule, I had a hard time squeezing in workouts in the afternoons or evenings. I always found myself needing to work.

But at 6 a.m. no one else is awake -- meaning no one’s expecting a response to an email or wants to schedule a last-minute meeting.

I’m here to report back about how it’s going. For the most part, I’ve been hitting my morning workouts without a problem. I’ve tried out new classes with new teachers and am starting to recognize familiar faces of other members who are early risers.

As I’ve gone through this transition into becoming a morning worker outer, I’ve learned a few things. I thought I’d share in case you’re also considering switching up your workouts to the mornings.

1. Deciding to get out of bed is the hardest part

To get up or to stay in bed? That one little decision is really the only thing that often stands in the way between the gym and me. I have a list of excuses I run through pretty much every morning before I finally toss the covers back and get my ass out of bed. Some of them include:

  • I could skip this and just work out at lunch (even though I have a lunch meeting)
  • I could skip this and just go after work (even though I have plans after work)
  • I could take the dog on a really long walk and that can count as my workout for today (even though that wouldn’t really count)
  • I worked out yesterday and I will probably work out tomorrow so I should probably just make today a rest day (even though a low-intensity yoga class in on my schedule for that exact reason)
  • I won’t be able to make it to class on time so I should probably just skip it (even though if I just got up now, I wouldn’t be late)

I know those are all excuses. The chances that I’ll work out later are slim. Morning is the only surefire time to get my workout in. And I know even if I’m a few minutes late for class, it’s better than skipping the whole thing. So after running through the list, I’m usually out of bed and tying my gym shoes by 5:45.

2. Morning is the best time to beat decision fatigue before it beats you

Ever wonder why it’s so hard to resist a kinda crusty gross-looking donut that’s been sitting out all day in the office kitchen? It because we make big and small decisions all day long, and it wears us down. So when it comes time to decide whether we should hit up the gym after work, we may already feel overwhelmed and decide to skip it.

“Making decisions isn’t the only daily activity that can wear you down,” said Jane C. Hu in a piece for Slate about decision fatigue. “It’s what you aren’t doing that can exhaust you, too. Maintaining self-control takes subconscious thought and effort—the box of donuts in the break room you’re resisting is a low-level distraction throughout your day.”

Decision fatigue also comes from having too many options. That’s why it’s so hard to find a movie to watch on Netflix. Because there are a gazillion movies to choose from one.

This is why I like going to the gym in the morning. As I mentioned above, I really only have one decision to make this early: whether to get up or not. Later in the day, the decision to go to the gym has some competition: making dinner, playing with my adorable puppy or simply sitting on the couch doing nothing. But this early, I don’t have so many options.

3. Your early is someone else’s late

I usually walk into the gym 6:30 a.m., coffee in hand, yawning. As I groggily throw my stuff into a locker, I notice people all around me are blowing drying their hair, applying makeup, or packing up their stuff to leave.

So if they’re already showered and off to work, what time did they have to get here to start their workout? I actually asked someone one morning. She said she got there at 5 a.m. FIVE A.M. people. That’s insane. That means she probably woke up at 4:30.

So if you think I’m crazy for waking up at 5:30 to work out, you’re dead wrong. There are way crazier people than me -- and way more committed, because I’m not sure I could get up that early to exercise.

4. Take your pick of free parking spots

Metered parking doesn’t start until 8 a.m., and there are usually tons of spots open right in front of the gym. I usually bike to the gym, and there’s plenty of rack space available this early.

5. If you really need to, skip the gym this morning

Yes, working out is important. But so is sleep. And spending time with friends. So if I can’t make it to bed early enough because happy hour last night went a little later than expected, that’s OK. I’m refuse to hit the gym on just a few hours of sleep. It’s more important for me to get that sleep so I have the energy to tackle the rest of my day.

In these cases, I DO try to make it later in the day. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn’t. But I know I’ll be back to my normal schedule tomorrow.

Do you have any tips or advice for fellow morning workout warriors?

betsy picBetsy Mikel is a freelance copywriter whose passion is telling the stories of entrepreneurs, brands and businesses that challenge the status quo. When she’s not biking or running all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria, you can find Betsy on Twitter at @betsym | betsymikel.com