For a long time, I was what a friend calls a “yoyo exerciser.” I would commit to a specific program, see it through, then stop exercising (at least regularly) once the program was done. I could knock out a 30-day exercise program pretty easily but come Day 31 I was just not going to do it. A few years ago, I joined an amazing boutique gym in the summer. Initially I told myself I would go regularly during the summer, but I just wasn’t sure how to make it work with my teaching schedule once the school year started back up. During the first week, though, I was HOOKED. I knew I had to figure out a way to make this work with my busy work schedule, and the only thing that would work was going to classes at 5 in the morning. For the first few weeks it was a struggle, but there were three things that shifted that really helped me commit to becoming a “5AMer.” Believe me, I understand if you can’t or don’t want to become an early morning gym-goer, but maybe these tricks can help you figure out something that will work for your own busy schedule.
1. Lay out my clothes the night before. A quick Google search tells me it was Benjamin Franklin who said, essentially, that failing to prepare is preparing to fail. One of the reasons I have become committed to working out in the very early morning is that I know there are very few things that can pop up unexpectedly that would prevent me from working out. There are some days when I am getting ready in the morning that just about any excuse would prevent me from actually going to the gym. Having to comb through my drawers to find the right clothes is definitely one of those things that could easily become an excuse when one more hour of sleep sounds so enticing. So, in my efforts to prepare and avoid “failure,” I remove the searching for clothes as an excuse. I lay out my gym clothes and shoes in the bathroom before I go to bed so I have one less reason to skip my workout. At 4am, anything helps!
2. Get out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off. I will admit this was a tough one, but it’s also really important. When you are setting your alarm for the morning, try creating a “when-then” statement for yourself. Something as simple as “when my alarm goes off in the morning, I will get up right away” will do the trick. It may even help to choose an alarm tone that is different than any other alarm tones you already use. Why does this help? It’s pretty simple, actually. These statements are called implementation intentions. Implementation intentions help us turn our motivation (which you already have at least a little of or you wouldn’t be reading this) into specific action. Researchers have shown time and again that having a specific plan will greatly increase the chances that you will actually do the planned behavior. Making a small change from “I will wake up early to exercise” to “I will wake up as soon as my alarm goes off” means your exercise is much more likely to happen. But what if I’m not really ready to start an exercise program yet? That’s fine, too! It doesn’t hurt to start the habit of waking up at the time when you will exercise before you actually start exercising. In fact, it will make it that much easier for you when you ARE ready.
3. Use my social connections to build in some accountability. When I first started working out at 5am I knew one woman (vaguely) from work. After a month or so, I knew most of the people who came in at 5am. When my family and I moved two years later? I cried on my last day the gym because it felt like I was leaving my family behind. These connections took time to develop, so don’t expect to show up on the first day and already have a social network (although that’s awesome if you do!), but take steps to get to know the people who are there. There were so many days when I would wake up and think to myself “maybe I’ll skip today.” This thought was almost always followed by something like “but if I don’t go, I’ll miss Cindy’s birthday” or “I won’t see Ashley for another few weeks if I’m not there today.” Whether they knew it or not, my social connections were often my last line of defense on days when I just didn’t want to go to the gym. Having a social support system that encourages exercise has been found to increase exercise behavior in adults, regardless of race, sex, or work status. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable introducing yourself to everyone on your first day at the gym, but maybe decide to say hello to one person who has been there almost every time you’ve been after a week or so. Even if these relationships don’t develop into close friendships, you’ll be surprised at how helpful they are at getting you to the gym on the days you don’t want to go.
If you’ve made it this far, you might be thinking to yourself “this is fine, but there is no way I will ever be a morning exerciser,” and that’s okay! I think these tips still apply. Prefer to exercise after work? Or maybe during your lunch break? Pack your bag the night before and set an alarm on your phone that signals to you that your workday is done (at least for the time being) and it’s time to get to the gym. More importantly than any of these tips, though, is to find something you enjoy doing. Nobody is going to stick to an exercise program when they don’t like the exercise. Hate running? Awesome – don’t run! Find a pickup basketball game or schedule some time on the pickleball court if that’s more your style. Go for a brisk walk on your lunch break or sign up for a yoga class. Find something that you enjoy then use these tips to get it done! If you think you might still need some help getting started or sticking with an exercise routine, please don’t hesitate to schedule your free 15-minute consultation. Let’s see if we are a good fit!