Until now, I never knew how to work out in the morning.
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I marveled at the women (and men too, I guess) who breeze into the office at 9 am — looking fit, fabulous, and refreshed — having already gotten in their workout for the day. To me, they are fitness unicorns made of magic and pure, distilled willpower. I imagine their sweat smells like rosewater and they sleep on 1000-thread-count sheets handwoven by nuns in the Swiss Alps.
Even as I began working out regularly over the last few years, morning workouts were not my thing. Making it to the gym around 8 pm a few nights a week was all I could ever manage. For the most part, it worked just fine.
But when I signed on to do a 12-week fitness challenge in 2018, I took a hard look at my busy work schedule and knew I wouldn’t have the bandwidth to fit hour-long workouts into my schedule every weeknight.
If I wanted to get it done, I had to work out in the mornings. I had to become a peppy, happy exercise person. To say I was intimidated and less-than-hopeful was an understatement.
But, what do you know: For the last 12 weeks, I have exercised five days a week between 6:30 and 7:30 am. The latest I’ve walked into my office to start work for the day was 9:07 (and that was with traffic).
I am hooked. Working out before work has completely changed my morning routine.
My days are more productive. I’m coursing with energy when I sit down at my desk, rather than blearily checking email and guzzling coffee like diesel fuel. While sometimes I still go through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) when I wake up to my 5:50 am alarm, I’m doing it. I’m getting up, getting dressed, getting out the door, and getting my workout in before I even have my first sip of coffee.
Since starting this insane endeavor, I picked up a few tips to make getting to the gym in the AM less painful (and more possible).
How to Work Out In the Morning Before Work
Do your prep the night before
Every night before bed, I grab every single item I’ll wear to the gym — sports bra, underwear, tank top, leggings, socks, shoes, hair tie — in a pile in my bathroom. Some people prefer to sleep in their workout clothes, which is also great, but I’m more comfortable at night in pajamas. My bathroom is much warmer than my closet in the early morning, and I can get dressed with the light on without waking up the S.O.
Everything I need to take to the gym — car keys, water bottle, iPhone armband, headphones, basic survival instincts, general positivity — I place on my kitchen counter so I can grab them easily and go without wasting precious time searching for needed items in the dark.
Additionally, if you’re the type who packs food and snacks to bring to work, definitely do so the night before to save time.
Change your alarm ringtone
Fun fact: I now have a Pavlovian reaction to the default ‘radar’ alarm tone. Every time I hear it, I’m immediately filled with a deep sense of anxiety and dread. I also am pretty sure my brain trained itself to hear it and either disregard it as unimportant or ignore it completely. As soon as I changed my alarm to Beyonce (I alternate between “Sorry,” “Hold up,” and “Formation”), I noticed an immediate difference in the time it took to wake up and actually get out of bed.
Listen to music while you get ready
To combat the 20+ minutes of groggy drowsiness I typically feel after just waking up — during which time I used to sort of wander around aimlessly in search of food or the will to live — I pop my wireless headphones on and turn on a workout playlist while I get ready. This helps me wake up, focus, and get in the right state of mind for a killer workout.
Have a shorter, backup workout for the rough days
It’s inevitable: There will be rough days. Times where you slept through the alarm, pressed the snooze button too many times, or just cannot bring yourself to summon the energy. Instead of giving up for the day because you wouldn’t have enough time to do your regular workout, have a backup 10 to 20-minute workout you can do instead. For me, it’s 15 minutes of HIIT sprints on a treadmill, but it could be anything from yoga to jogging to doing burpees and jumping jacks for 10 minutes in your living room. If it gets you moving, it’s better than staying in bed. I do at least one of these “short workouts” a week and I don’t feel guilty about it.
(Psst… We have a great guide with effective workouts you can crush in 30 minutes or less!)
Get your “getting ready” routine down to a science
I live two minutes from my gym, so I’ve found it’s easier just to drive there and back in the morning and get ready for work at home. However, this sentiment also applies if you’re showering and getting ready in a gym locker room. Know exactly how long it takes you to shower, dress, apply makeup, style hair, and rock ‘n’ roll outta there so you can plan accordingly and know exactly when to end your workout each morning.
If you struggle with this, here are five tricks to cut your morning routine in half.
If you can manage, don’t wash your hair on gym mornings
I know some people are going to think this is positively disgusting, but listen. Washing and drying hair can be the longest part of a morning routine. In the interest of streamlining said process, I’ve found ways around washing my hair after hitting the gym in the AM. This involves:
1. Washing my hair at night.
2. A healthy amount of dry shampoo (both before + after the workout). If you struggle with this, these tips will help make dry shampoo more effective.
3. Making cute ponies and the occasional hat part of my ~brand~.
Inevitably, if a workout makes me sweat too much, I end up having to wash my hair in the morning about once a week. On those days, I let my hair air dry while finishing up the rest of my routine, then pull my hair up into a ponytail and call it good.
Don’t get discouraged and stick with it
You can’t form a sustainable habit overnight. Even if you miss a day or several, keep pushing to get up and get going. You’ll feel your morning habits start to form after a few weeks — then getting up won’t be nearly so painful.