Getting up early can be hard by itself, but getting up so that you can go to gym? That requires some strategy.
You can’t get extra time in your day by sleeping less and getting up earlier, but you can be more productive. The difference is that you swap unproductive evening hours for productive early morning hours.
As we are moving further away from summer and into winter, the mornings are getting colder and darker. I’m normally up at 5:45am — 6:00am every weekday and ready to go to gym, but yesterday I slept in. So it’s time for me to get back into a serious sleep-wake habit. With that in mind, let’s look at some strategies that can have you getting up early for gym every morning!
1. Prepare the Night Before
We all have limited resources: time, money, and willpower are three big ones. Your willpower is used to make decisions — the more effort the decision requires, the more you use. Once you run out for the day, you’re likely to be tired, frustrated, and unable to think clearly, and to have a tendency to make easy decisions instead of the right decisions. In the morning, you want to rely on as little willpower as possible because you’re deciding whether to get up in the cold, dark morning for exercise, or to stay in the warm bed to rest.
The solution: prepare as much as possible the night before so that the morning is easy and even enjoyable:
- Have your gym gear ready and waiting for you to get changed and walk out the door
- Have a drink bottle and a snack waiting for you
- The snack should be something nutritious but high in GI1, e.g. a ripe banana. I find that some muesli with dried fruit waiting in a tiny bowl is great because you can microwave it for 60 seconds and enjoy something warm and sweet. The snack does two things: rewards you for getting up; and gives you an energy boost that kicks in by the time you’re at gym
- Make sure an obstacle to your progress isn’t going to unexpectedly appear
- For example, is your car blocked by someone else’s car? The gym is definitely open at the time you’re going to arrive, right?
2. Set an Alarm
Figure out what time you need to be up to fit in your ideal gym session, and set an alarm for that time. The more annoying, the more you will want to wake up and turn it off.
Also, don’t have the alarm in reaching distance. Having your phone (I’m going to assume from here on that your alarm is on your phone) right next to you makes it too easy to reach over, press ‘sleep’ or ‘snooze’ and roll back into bed. Instead, set your phone at the end of the room or even further away such that you need to actually get out of bed to turn it off.
3. Get Enough Sleep
This might be hard for you if you’re not used to going to bed at a particular time, but the more sleep debt you have, the more willpower required to pull yourself out of bed.
Figure out how much sleep you need on average and make sure you get it. I need 8.5 hours on average. This doesn’t mean that I can’t function properly if I only get 7.5 or 8 hours, it just means that as each day goes by I’m less and less likely to be able to get out of bed for gym.
Go to bed at [alarm time] minus [required average sleep + 30 minutes]. For example, if I’m getting up at 6am, I’ll aim to be in bed by 8:30pm. This allows me to catch up on sleep debt by 30 minutes if I’m behind, and it’s a time buffer so that if I’m running 15 minutes late for whatever reason, I’m not missing my sleep requirement.
See what works for you, but consistent struggles to get up might mean you need more sleep.
4. Put Good Routines in Place
Habits can be great because after following them for a couple of weeks, they stick. This can make breaking bad habits difficult, but you can use this to make it easier and easier to perform certain tasks.
- Stay away from screens during at least the last 30 minutes of your awake time, preferably more2
- The blue light coming from the white lights3 of phones, TVs, etc suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone involved in your wake-sleep cycle that tells your body when it’s time to get ready to sleep
- Turn off white lights in the house and any unnecessary lights as the night grows darker
- While light of shorter wave lengths (like blue) have the most effect on suppressing melatonin levels, all light has an effect. Swapping ‘cold’ coloured bedroom globes for ‘warm’ globes helps
- Consider adding an app to your phone such as Twilight which adds a red filter to your screen to increase the length of light waves (red is the longest in the visible spectrum)
- Change from your work clothes into bed clothes
- Prepare your bed for sleep
- Neaten it up if it’s messy, remove decorative pillows if they are there, etc
- Brush your teeth, etc
Do everything at roughly the same time each night in the same order. After a while, your body recognises that these are the actions that typically lead to sleep so it starts preparing itself for rest. This makes falling asleep quicker and easier.
Just like your night routine helps you go to sleep easier, your morning routine should help you wake easier. Again, following the same routine each morning gets your body in gear to wake up faster, and the opposite is true for lights. My routine is as follows:
- After my alarm goes off on the other side of the room, I’m up
- Turn on all of the lights; brighter and whiter is better
- Go to the bathroom, wash my face, and weigh myself on my Fitbit Aria scales
- Get changed into my gym clothes
- Plus extra layers if it’s cold. I can always take them off at gym once I’m warmed up — getting there is the aim
- Eat a ripe banana or some hot muesli
- Walk out the door with my gym gear without having looked at my phone
- Actually go to gym*
*At the beginning of any routine, following it won’t always be easy. If you feel like crap and really don’t want to work out, go anyway. Just walk in the door of your gym, beep yourself through the gates, and touch a machine or some free weights. Then if you want to leave, leave. By making it this far, you’ve built on your habit, and habits stick. So next time you follow your routine, getting all the way to the gym equipment will be a little bit easier. After a week or two, getting to gym will be easy.
5. Make It Harder to NOT Go to Gym
Lastly, put things in place that make it harder to refuse to go to gym. Agree to meet a friend at a certain time at the gym; or attend a class at the gym that starts at a particular time. Set a time with a personal trainer if you have to — every little commitment you make that makes backing out harder makes it easier to choose ‘gym’ over ‘no gym’. Think of something that might work for you.
As a final point, it’s worth changing your gym routine from time to time. Keeping things constant can make gym boring. Throw in a class, try a new workout program, or meet a different friend and follow their routine instead of yours. The more of this strategy you follow, the more likely you will be to get to gym every morning.