As someone who breaks a sweat before work nearly every single day, I'm often asked, 'How do you do it?'
'The key to making it work is to have a strategy, ritual, and reward system,' says Adam Rosante, a trainer who wakes up to work out at 6 a.m. He's right: I stick to my morning workouts because I follow the same routine every morning and reward myself after work by doing fun stuff (instead of going to the gym, since I've already been).
The system works for me, and for fitness professionals who instruct classes or train clients super early in the day. While they get paid to get up and out (and that's a hell of a reward) their rituals could work for you too:
1. They prepare the night before.
'I joke with my friends that I'm like a fireman because I have my clothes, food, gym bag, everything completely laid out the night before so I know I can wake up and literally be out the door in 10 minutes,' says Katia Pryce, CosmoBody trainer and founder of KP DanceBody.
2. They set multiple alarms.
And make them motivational! 'I set three different alarms and give them motivational titles to get me moving,' says Taye Johnson, a New York City-based SoulCycle instructor who teaches 6 a.m. classes. 'The first alarm, set 15 minutes early, is always labeled, 'Yes, I Can.' The next alarm is labeled, 'Yes, I Will,' which always gets me out of bed. The third alarm is, 'Yes, I am Doing So!' which tells me when it's time to hit the road.'
She's not the only one who makes wake-up calls more fun. 'I literally set about five alarms for the morning each night starting at 4 a.m. and then every 10 minutes after that,' says Vanessa Martin, founder of SIN Workouts, a fitness concierge company. She accompanies her clients to 6 a.m. workouts, sometimes leaving at 5 a.m. to bike there, or works out on her own equally early. She sets her alarm to ring with a super obnoxious tone ("Radar") that's impossible to sleep through, and labels her alarms too:
3. They wake up extra (extra) early.
'I know it sounds a bit insane, but I usually wake up around 3:50 a.m. to prepare for my 5:30 a.m. classes,' says certified fitness trainer and Stacy's Bootcamp founder, Stacy Berman. She says it gives her enough time to meditate, eat breakfast, digest, shower ('an easy way to get the system going,' she says), and do all the other things that make her feel badass without feeling rushed, which can really ruin your morning. 'Rushing creates chaos,' Martin says. To avoid it and maintain a sense of calm, she figures out when she has to leave her place in the morning, then works backwards to plan her wakeup time.
4. They drink water first thing.
'You start to dehydrate when you sleep. When else do you go six to eight hours without drinking anything?' says Denese Butler, a New York City-based fitness instructor who teaches a high-intensity ((305) Fitness dance cardio class at 7 a.m.
Butler's in good company: The Biggest Loser trainer Jennifer Widerstrom and celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak chug up to two water bottles of plain water when they wake up too.
5. They also add a few drops of lemon.
Before she goes to bed, CosmoBody trainerAstrid McGuire leaves a glass of lemon water on her nightstand to chug when she wakes up.
Johnson and Pryce also drink lemon water: 'It's a natural detox, and there is nothing like starting your day with clean insides: It makes me feel fresh and energised,' Johnson says.
'It also aids the digestive system, acts as a natural diuretic, and balances your PH since it's an alkaline food,' Pryce adds.
6. They eat a little something, like an apple or banana…
Butler goes for a banana ('It's like a shot of sugar,' she says), while Pryce and Johnson go for apples, a fruit that contains polyphenols, which may help your body turn the fruit sugar into energy, according to some studies. Strawberries are another good option.
7. …Or eat something that feels like a treat.
'Immediately upon popping out of bed, I pop two frozen dark chocolate espresso beans from the freezer,' Martin says. 'I absolutely anticipate them, and the little jolt of caffeine from the espresso beans and chocolate give me a little jumpstart.'
'I wake up hungry, and I love breakfast!' says McGuire, who wakes up between 5 and 6 a.m. so she has time to make and eat special pancakes. The recipe contains two egg whites, a mashed banana, gluten-free oats, and cinnamon.
If you can't see yourself whipping out a skillet at 5 a.m., choose a more convenient breakfast food you love, and only eat it first thing in the morning so you have something to look forward to.
8. They listen to energising music.
'It gets me moving in my seat on the subway as I'm headed to class,' Butler says. Martin has a special playlist that features Lorde, Ellie Goulding, Florence and the Machines, Robyn, Will.i.am, and Janelle Monae. 'Most mornings, this turns into a dance party for one,' Martin says.
And the same goes for McGuire: 'I'm old school, and I love to put on VH1 music videos as I get my gym clothes on. It makes me want to move.' To put yourself in the mood to move, set your alarm to ring with your favourite song, or bust out the tunes before you even brush your teeth instead of waiting until you get to the gym.
9. They drink coffee.
Pasternak, who spent three years researching caffeine and exercise as a nutritional scientist for the military, says he's an afternoon guy who prefers to work out later in the day. But when he has to do a morning workout (duty calls!), he drinks a small cortado, which has two shots of espresso and a little milk, 30 minutes beforehand to get him going. Celebrity trainer Simone De La Rue drinks a flat white coffee every morning. 'It's my little treat to kick-start my morning,' she says. Also: Science says caffeine can rev you up, so you end up working out harder.
10. They eat a second breakfast.
'Post-workout is when the real breakfast happens,' Martin says. She says her special protein shakes motivate her through a.m. workouts: To try it, combine a scoop of vanilla whey protein with water (or coconut water or milk), unsweetened/unsalted almond butter, some frozen strawberries and blueberries, chia seeds, a banana, and ice. Or, try another healthy smoothie that's worth waking up for.
11. They turn in early.
You can't get a solid workout if you sleep through your alarm or get up feeling super sluggish. 'Going to sleep earlier is a huge factor as to why I'm up by 5 a.m. (or earlier) everyday,' Martin says. If you know what time you need to wake up to squeeze in a workout, and you know you feel best with seven hours of sleep, you should be able to set a bedtime that permits sufficient sleep. So stick to it, even if it means missing your favourite TV show. Also: 'Not having wine or alcohol at night really has a significant impact on how I feel when waking up in the morning,' she adds. If you're not ready to go dry, stop drinking a few hours before bedtime.
12. They don't let mornings make them miserable.
'When I first wake up, before I even get out of bed, I think of three things I'm grateful for,' says Rosante. 'It starts my day on an incredibly positive note, and reminds me to look for opportunities throughout the day.' Martin values her first waking moments too: 'The first few breaths you take each morning will dictate how that day will go for you,' Martin says. 'Before jumping immediately out of bed, I take five deep breaths to process the fact that I'm about to transition from a totally calm state to getting up and going. I take a good stretch and wake up slowly.'