I'm Proof That Morning Workouts Can Change Your Life

POPSUGAR Photography | Ericka McConnell
POPSUGAR Photography | Ericka McConnell

I wasn't always a morning person.

I vividly remember my elementary-school struggle to get out of bed at the ungodly hour of 7:30 a.m. In middle school, I discovered the joys of staying up past midnight and sleeping well into the morning on weekends, Summer weather be damned.

In high school, I joined the crew team, and it quickly became my life. Though most of our practices took place in the afternoon, we occasionally practiced at 6 a.m., and I took to those morning workouts with a near-fanatical devotion. Watching the sun rising majestically over the Philadelphia skyline from the Schuylkill River, I first experienced the inward thrill of feeling like the world belonged to me while everyone else was still asleep.

In college, practice took place exclusively at 6 a.m., six days a week, often followed by an hour in the weight room. The majesty of morning quickly wore off with the grueling schedule and over time became routine. Even on days off, no matter how hard I'd tried to exhaust myself the night before, I'd wake naturally by 7 a.m., staring irritably at the ceiling.

After graduation, I reverted back to afternoon workouts, simply because I could. There were no more races to win, no more depth charts to climb, no more school colors to wave. I sweated through evening yoga classes and went for runs on weekend mornings, long after the sun had risen. And then one day, my roommate joined a gym and started taking an early morning strength and conditioning class. She invited me to try it with her. I resisted and then relented.

I never looked back.

I immediately got hooked on the most obvious advantage of early morning workouts: getting it over with. I loved not having to plan out everything I ate during the day to ensure that I would be neither too full nor too lightheaded to work out in the evening. I loved having my evenings free to spend with friends. I never felt exhausted after a workout; on the contrary, I was more awake upon arriving to work than I'd ever been. Before long, if I didn't work out in the morning, I wouldn't do it at all.

When I became a Spin instructor several years later, it felt only natural to volunteer to teach the early morning classes. There is a dedicated crowd who attends regularly, and their energy and drive are what gets me out of bed in the morning. Still, nothing makes me happier than seeing a member who regularly attends evening and weekend classes deciding to give the 6 a.m. a try. Satisfaction at getting a workout out of the way is a common refrain, but over time, I hope that they start to see that it's more than that.

I hope they feel a secret triumph when they see the sun rising after their workout and know that they were up first. I hope they find that they really can take time for themselves without compromising on all that they give to other people all day long. I hope they fall in love with the feeling of walking into the studio barely awake and leaving ready to take on the world.

Of course, all of this is only possible if one can overcome the most obvious hurdle: getting out of bed. For that, I offer my two favorite pieces of advice:

1. Lay out EVERYTHING the night before.

The last thing you need when staggering half-asleep out of the house before sunrise is to feel like you forgot something, especially something like proper clothing or a water bottle that's going to make a huge difference in your comfort level in class or at the gym. Don't make it harder for yourself. Before you go to bed, when your brain is functioning fully, lay out everything you're going to need in a spot where it'll be easy to grab: clothes (right down to the socks), footwear, a water bottle, a towel, and anything else that you need to be comfortable and get the most out of your workout. This could include anything from a Fitbit to an energy bar to something you might need if you're planning to go straight to work from the gym or studio.

2. Stand up.

When your alarm goes off, hit stop (not snooze!) and stand up. Once you're up, you're likely to move, and if you move, you'll make it out the door and to your workout. I always tell my classes that if you just get yourself to the studio at that hour, you're going to workout — that's the easy part. But none of it is possible without standing up, so just start there and let that be your focus. The rest will come naturally.