Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Morning Exercise? That's crazy!

Do you set your alarm for five minutes before you have to be at work? Oh, you don't. How much time do you give yourself? An hour? Two? Do you happen to set your alarm for an extra half hour just in case? I suspect a lot of people do.

And what do most folks do when the alarm rings? No, they don't jump into the air full of vigor and excitement for the coming day.

They hit the snooze button.

I know I've done it. Many times. And I know some of my friends do it. Sometimes I would lie in bed. I'd close my eyes for a few minutes because it felt good. But then I'd open them, because I didn't want to accidentally fall asleep. Basically I just lay in bed until I had to get up. I'd rush through my morning routine, brushing my teeth while pouring way too much food into my cat's bowl (she's gotten really fat).

I imagine many folks go through a similar process every morning.

Several years ago I lived only 5 minutes from work. And I would still get there late. I was lazy and overweight at the time. I didn't exercise regularly. I stayed up late snacking and drinking every night, and would wake up feeling lethargic. I'd be sleepy all day at work, dozing off in meetings. I had trouble focusing.

This Monday morning I got up at 5:45am. I was outside by 6am with a cup of coffee, waiting for my friend, David to arrive. Then the two of us lifted weights for 45 minutes. We did five sets of squats, and an equal amount of benchpress. Tuesday at 6am we did crunches, pull-ups, and some other exercises. Then we ran 3 miles in the cool morning air. Today was curls, reverse fly, and more running. I was at work early every day.
Making good friends with the weights.

I'm not a morning person. The "real" me is the person above who'd prefer to lie in bed until 5 minutes before I have to be at work. The "real" me is also the person who wants to stay up late drinking. I'm not that person anymore. I don't snack. I don't drink. After I get done with running after work, I watch some Netflix. By 9:30pm, I get bored. And with no booze or other worthless distraction to tie me up, I go to sleep.

The sun wakes me up before my alarm does. I don't languish in bed. I get up immediately. I did this for a few months for my 80 day deadlift challenge. I dropped that routine for a little while. I could throw a bunch of reasons and excuses at you for why, but they don't matter (although Daylight Savings Time really did screw me until I got used to it). The fact is I had forgotten my lesson.

Not too harp on it too much, but drinking was a big reason I'd stay up late and have trouble getting up at a decent time. So, you know, take that how you will.

Anyways. You may be thinking that getting up early sucks. You're right. If you're not used to it. But I can tell you from personal experience that on days when I stayed in bed late and then rushed to work, I was exhausted and scatterbrained all day. And on days when I get up early and work out, I feel really good. All those chemicals that get dumped into my bloodstream in the morning do wonders for me for the rest of the day.

Most people - possibly everyone - complains that they don't have enough time in the day. I'm not immune to this. I still manage to work out before and after work. Of course, I also don't have kids. So I understand that it's more difficult for some people. I have a friend with two kids who gets up at 4am every day to exercise. My friend Meghan has two kids and is currently training for a triathlon; she works out twice every single day (and still works a full time job). I have friends who run ultra marathons who do their long runs before the sun comes up.

Some do an ultra marathon of pollen collecting.

Even if you have kids, a full time job, and other commitments, you can find the time to exercise. The great thing about exercising in the morning is that you can get up as early as you need to. And if you have kids, I doubt they stay up partying till midnight every night. Go to bed when they do. And then once you work out, you'll feel rejuvenated for the rest of the day.

We get addicted to our little habits. For those of us who work, and then have to run errands or be with our families after work, it can be hard to go to bed early. We want to unwind with TV or a book and cup of tea or a glass of wine. You need that you time. But you know what else makes for great you time? Exercising. When you're running, you're entirely by yourself. You can think, breathe, prepare for the day, enjoy your solitude, and just feel free. And you can enjoy every moment of that freedom. I know when I watch TV, that episode goes by in a blink.

It's hard to change a habit. When you first start out, it's going to feel like you're replacing relaxation with work. And yes, exercise is physical work. But it's physical work that makes you stronger and better capable to handle whatever the day throws at you. But more importantly, it empties and relaxes your brain. Watching a movie may feel relaxing, but your mind is still working, processing pretty colors and loud noises.

Exercise lets you process this pretty color.

Once you've formed the habit of regularly exercising, you will feel more relaxed. You may feel sore sometimes, sure. But you won't feel like you're going to collapse in your office chair from the weight of your own body (I've definitely experienced that). And you'll be able to focus.

Best of all, that time when you're pumping iron or smashing the pavement is entirely solo time. Even if you live with other people, people who typically demand your time and attention, they're all going to be asleep. That's not the case if you're staying up late reading a book. Kids wake up asking for snacks. Spouses stomp all over your personal time asking what you did with their socks.

Socks, man. The bane of every relationship.

But get up with the birds and the rising sun, and you'll feel like the only person in the world. There's no traffic, no other humans. Maybe just a nurse on her smoke break at the retirement home down the street. But even if the other 23 hours of the day feel like turmoil, for that one hour you feel powerful and in control. You do what you want. You make yourself healthier and stronger. You rejoice in your humanity.

Nothing else compares.


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