One of my clients is training for her first fitness competition and my first order of business as her coach was to have her do her cardio first thing in the morning.
Just 30 minutes of light to moderate activity can be highly effective for fat loss. I used this method to prepare for all three of my competitions last year and it worked. I was able to fairly quickly drop body fat I had struggled to lose for years.
Besides the fact that it works for fat loss, there are many benefits to starting your day with a little sweat. Not only can it boost your mood and set the tone for your entire day but it also jump starts your body’s energy metabolism. That means right away you are turning your body into a fat-burning machine that will keep churning for hours.
Also, if you wait until later in the day or after work to exercise, life is more likely to get in the way. There could be a late meeting, you forgot your workout clothes at home, or you find yourself just too tired from your busy day to muster up the energy to exercise. If you get it over with and out of the way first thing in the morning, that’s one less thing you have to worry about getting done.
There are several things to keep in mind with morning workouts, especially if your goal is fat loss. Firstly, you want to do it on an empty stomach (you will hear this referred to as “fasted”). Why? Basically you want your body to pull energy from your fat stores, not from food you’ve just eaten. If there is something in your stomach your body will metabolize (burn) that first.
That being said, the intensity level is very important here. Because the goal is fat loss, you want to keep your intensity in the low to moderate range. This could be described as a 4 to 6 on the intensity scale (10 being the highest) where you are lightly sweating and your breathing rate has increased, but you could still hold a conversation or speak somewhat comfortably. Any intensity higher than this will require glucose as fuel, which your body will only have a small amount of since you haven’t eaten. This means if you go too hard you will likely get dizzy, light headed or feel sick, or your body will be forced to start to break down its own muscle tissue for fuel. Keep the intensity on the lower end and don’t exercise for more than 30 to 40 minutes. (A scoop of protein powder with water or BCAAs is all you need to keep your body from breaking down your muscle tissue.)
If you are planning to do a higher intensity workout such as, for example, a group Spin class or heavy weight lifting, you will want to eat something more substantial like some fruit or oats at least an hour before. Your body will need the fuel to sustain you through the higher intensity work.
Now the hard part. Are you (like my client) not much of a morning person by nature? Does the idea of getting up an hour earlier to hop on the treadmill sound like torture? Then read on because you can transform yourself into an early morning fat-burning machine in just a few simple steps.
1. Sleep in your workout clothes. No, seriously! Put the tennis shoes by the bed so all you have to do when the alarm goes off is jump up and slide your shoes on. Leave anything else you may need, such as your headphones, water bottle and car keys out on the counter as well. The less time you have to think about what you’re doing, the less likely you are to talk yourself out of it.
2. Make a deal with yourself. So getting out of bed an hour earlier to push through a workout sucks, let’s make it worth our while. Do you have a goal you’ve been trying to reach or maybe a purchase you’ve been wanting to make? Allow yourself to have whatever it is you’ve been wanting as long as you get your morning workouts in for whatever period of time you specify. For example, tell yourself “if I successfully complete four morning workouts this week I can buy that pair of shoes I’ve had my eye on for weeks.” The extra motivation will be just enough to push you out from under the covers.
3. Plan for it and keep it like an appointment. On Sunday night, sit down and decide which days of the upcoming week you are going to workout. Then, put it in your calendar like you would any appointment. Be sure to include where you are going to workout, how long and what the activity will be. Keeping things as specific as possible forces you to view it as something that will happen, versus something that might happen.
4. Get tough on yourself. This one might be the hardest of all. You have to be your own coach. No hitting snooze, no making excuses. Get you butt up out of bed and get moving.
5. Find a buddy. Recruit a spouse, friend, or even a pet to do the workout with you. You are much more likely to keep the appointment if you know someone else dragged their butt out of bed to meet you. Also the workout will be more enjoyable if there is someone to talk to. It will make the time fly by.
Finally, the best advice for getting through any workout is to think about how you will feel when you’re done. The only workouts you regret are the ones you don’t do. So skip that snooze button, slip on your sneakers and let’s go!