You could call me the opposite of a morning person: I hit snooze a minimum of four times (to wake up at the very last minute possible and then rush to get ready), can’t function until I have my almond milk latte, and am a total grump until my system’s up and running. So the idea of a pre-work fitness routine never felt feasible.
But, in the name of interesting journalism, I volunteered myself (surrendered my body, rather) to work out in the a.m. for an entire week. That’s not to say my decision was made purely in the name of torture—there are reputedly serious benefits that come with exercising first thing.
“Exercising in the morning burns more fat than later in the day.”
For starters, “if you exercise in the morning after fasting all night, you’re going to burn the carbohydrates and sugars stored in your muscles and liver,” says George Welch, MD, a cardiologist with Manhattan Cardiology. “Once you’re done burning that up, you burn fat—that’s why exercising in the morning burns more fat than later in the day.”
Studies have also shown that the a.m. sweat sesh can boost your metabolism—which is always a welcome bonus. Once I understood the science, the only questions that remained were: Could I actually fit in my preferred grueling fitness classes before office hours? And—most importantly—would it give me more energy throughout the day? I decided to find out.
Keep reading to see what happened during my week of a.m. workouts—and what I learned by the time it was over.
Getting into the groove
My week starts with a bang: Barry’s Bootcamp, Monday, 7:10 a.m. (Can’t question my commitment, right?)
Of course, since my eyes almost never open before 8 o’clock in the morning (except to hit the snooze button), it feels like a Sisyphean task to get up—let alone do sprints on an incline and a ton of weight work—at this ungodly hour. One thing that helps? Having a friend meet me there.
I make it to the treadmill—albeit in a sleepy daze—and feel as if my legs won’t be able to endure the crazy intervals that are about to be asked of me. But after the warm-up, I quickly make my way into the first sprint—8 mph, mind you—and I’m fully awake (er, my body is, at least).
It definitely feels harder to move my legs than usual.
Compared to my typical workout time, it definitely feels harder to move my legs than usual. And I find out from Dr. Welch that my sluggish start isn’t uncommon. Morning workouts might be great for your metabolism, but they aren’t peak performance time for other parts of your body: “You’re least likely to injure yourself later in the day since your muscles are more acclimated,” he tells me. “Your body’s at its most efficient between 3 and 6 p.m., as your temperature rises [and] your muscles warm up.” Makes sense, considering my gams resembled cement.
They get me through the class though, and I actually feel like a million bucks for the rest of the day. When I get home, I leisurely walk my dogs through the park, which is a nice change: Usually, I’m rushing to the gym and can’t spend as much quality time with my pups or my S.O. (so major perks there).
The next morning, I decide to run in Central Park on my own—which means there’s no paid-for class or workout buddy holding me accountable. When my alarm goes off, I really want to skip exercising in favor of more sleep—but I get up for the sake of this story. (I guess I had something counting on me—hi, editor!)
I knock out about 3 miles and feel half-asleep the entire time. I also notice that my speed is pretty slow (at least, compared to what it was on the treadmill yesterday). But I’m glad I get it over with. Having a studio class booked is much more motivating in terms of waking up, so even though the workout is harder, I feel like Barry’s is more effective in actually getting me out of bed.
The struggle is real
On Wednesday, I mix it up with a 7:30 a.m. HIIT workout: The Fhitting Room, which is notoriously one of NYC’s toughest workouts (alongside Barry’s). I’m tired and don’t really want to get up early again for a serious sweat sesh, but the risk of losing $38 draws my body to the studio despite my grogginess. And, much to my utmost horror, the workout starts with high knees. I’m awake in no time.
It always bewilders me to leave a grueling fitness class at the time I’m usually rolling out of my cozy slumber, but it also makes me feel like an absolute superwoman. I mean, I just did a ton of burpees and jump squats when, initially, my body was telling me to keep sleeping—it’s a miracle. Or is it just my hormones?
Even though I’m waking up earlier than usual, I’m not sleepy after working out.
“It gets thrown around a lot that your endorphins are higher earlier in the morning,” says Veronica Jaw, an MD at One Medical. Though there hasn’t been much research to back this up, I can attest that my post-sweat high is pretty solid. I’m also surprised about my energy levels so far throughout the week—even though I’m waking up earlier than usual, I’m not sleepy after working out, and the afternoon slump doesn’t hit me as hard. I even stay up a little later—normally I’m asleep by 11 p.m.
But just when I thought my conversion was a foregone conclusion, the struggle set in. Thursday comes around; I fully intend on doing something more chill—AKA yoga—but once my alarm goes off, I literally can’t get up. My legs are killing me, I’m so tired, and I feel physically incapable of another workout. I sit this one out and get an extra hour of sleep instead. There’s some guilt in my mind, but I have to listen to my body (happily).
Throughout the day, I realize that skipping exercise is a brilliant decision—I definitely need the recovery time. (It’s essential, after all.) I book a hot yoga class for the following day. It’s at 7 a.m., which is extra early, IMO, but I know I can use the ultra-sweaty stretching that comes with vinyasa flow. In a wobbly state, I make it to Y7 on Friday—manage to even knock out a crow pose—and feel great afterwards. Oh, and doubly so since the week is over.
Am I now a morning workout person?
Real talk: This past week was one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my entire life. I turned my whole schedule upside down in the name of fitness—and my body feels amazing, I’m incredibly proud, and was able to actually relax and have more of a social life after work.
Is this going to be my life now? Has a week of a.m. workouts turned me into an up-and-at-em exercise gal? Well, here’s the thing: I book Barry’s Bootcamp for the following Monday at 7:10 in the morning. My alarm goes off at 6:45—and my body tells me “no thanks.” I cancel instead, knowing that I can totally sleep for another hour. The intention was there! But does this mean my rise-and-grind days are over?
“Do what feels good to you.”
TBD. For now, Dr. Jaw says, “It makes sense to do what feels good to you—some people really cannot get out of bed, and I don’t think they should change their habits to get in some sort of benefits. What you’re going to stick with and what works with your schedule—whatever turns it into a habit—works best.” Think I’ll follow doctor’s orders on this one.
And what feels good to me is moving my body after sitting at my desk all day. So, while it’s nice to get my sweat sesh over with in the morning, sleeping in is also so fun. I’ll probably just mix it up more often—and never under-appreciate weekends, when I’m in charge of my own schedule.
Originally published on September 4, 2017; updated on July 29, 2018.
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