I’ve never been a morning person, by which I mean I’m a night owl with chronic insomnia and morning time is my enemy. I’ve also never been an exercise person, by which I mean I hate exercise but force myself to do it for health purposes. Add these two ingredients together and you get a breakfast burrito that tastes like my worst nightmare.
I used to spend my entire day dreading the exercise that awaited me at the the end of it, fretting over my energy levels and my protein intake and the last-minute meeting that was just scheduled at 5:30 p.m. and the deadline I hadn’t met yet and the dinner with friends I had to cancel on because it coincided with my SoulCycle class. At a certain point, the mental benefits of a marginal amount of extra sleep were being totally erased by the mental handicap of letting my workouts loom over me like sweaty rain clouds. When it dawned on me that exercise had become more of a chore than a choice, essentially rendering a healthy thing unhealthy, I knew I needed to make a change.
I’m still not a morning person, and I’m still not an exercise person, but in the past six months I trained myself to eat the breakfast burrito nonetheless, three times a week. In other words, I turned myself into a morning exercise person, and I honestly consider it one of the greatest accomplishments of my adult life. Here’s how I did it:
1. I told myself it was just a trial.
“Give it a shot! You can always return to your old ways!” That, my friends, was the exclamatory pep talk I gave myself before my very first day of exercising in the morning before work. Turns out it was just the emotional coddling I needed to get things going.
2. I got serious about fixing my sleep.
If you know me, you know I have insomnia. That’s because I talk about it all the time, which I realize is probably extremely annoying to everyone but myself. Given that my newly minted morning exercise routine necessitated sacrificing at least an hour of sleep every day, it forced me to make a concerted effort to clean up my bad sleep habits. I outlawed TV before bed, point blank, and now read on my iPad instead, dimmed to the lowest brightness, set to the “nighttime” setting. If I’m really struggling, I take a melatonin capsule and listen to a guided meditation on my phone. I still consistently have trouble falling asleep (it takes me at least an hour, no matter how tired I am), but sticking to this routine has helped significantly.
3. I ditched uncomfortable workout clothes.
This is a little weird to confess, but I only recently admitted to myself that I find most workout spandex uncomfortable. It’s just so…tight. It makes my stomach feel like one of those foam balls you’re supposed to squeeze when you get laser hair removal. Except my stomach isn’t made of foam, dammit! There are guts inside there. Ergo, I am now morally opposed to uncomfortable workout attire (working out is uncomfortable enough as is), and I fully reject the oppressive notion that I am somehow expected to look “cute” while in the process of sweating my nips off. Instead I stick to a uniform of soft, baggy T-shirts, spacious gym shorts and the occasional waist-friendly pair of leggings. I look decidedly un-chic, but I don’t care. I’m awake and I’m working out, and that’s enough.
4. I stopped going to workout classes I despised.
After trying and failing to get out of bed for a variety of workouts that sucked my soul with the force of a Dyson vacuum (ahem, running), I realized I could never sustain a morning exercise regimen if the actual exercise component made me want to crawl under my covers and never emerge. I spent some time experimenting with different forms of exercise until I found three that were actually enjoyable (which, coming from a non-exercise person, is a big deal). My go-to morning workouts are “Sculpt” or “Cardio Sculpt” classes at ModelFIT (they’re sort of a barre/aerobics combo platter and the routines change frequently which means I never get bored), yoga at Sky Ting (true story: I never liked yoga until I tried it at Sky Ting) and last but not least, power-walking outside while listening to a podcast.
5. I began fueling myself properly.
When I first started exercising in the mornings, I often found myself feeling slightly nauseous if the workout was on the intense side. I did some research and learned that nausea is a common symptom of mild low blood sugar, which occurs when you don’t eat or hydrate sufficiently before exercising. Ding ding ding! I hadn’t been eating or drinking at all beforehand, mainly because I was too groggy to be remotely hungry but also because I wanted to save time. Dumb! I was amazed at how much of a difference it made once I started having a bite to eat before working out.
Usually I opt for something quick and small — like half an apple or banana or sweet potato — washed down with a glass of water. It’s substantial enough that I have something in my stomach but small enough that I can eat it *right before* working out and still have enough time to semi-digest. I always have a bigger breakfast afterward.
Lo and behold, after implementing these five changes, I can officially call myself an honest-to-goodness morning workout person. As of now it actually feels like something I can sustain for the long run — the figurative kind, that is.
Collage & Illustrations by Emily Zirimis; photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images.