Why You Should Consider Early Workouts

National Guardsmen perform "The Murph" workout.
Members of the 678th ADA BDE, South Carolina National Guard, perform "The Murph" workout in honor of Lt. Michael Murphy and those servicemen and women who have given their lives in the line of duty, May 28, 2018. (Capt. William Duvall/U.S. Army photo)


Morning workouts are not for everyone, but as a preferred early riser, I can tell you that the benefits far outweigh the difficulties of creating an early morning habit of training.

Some argue it is a morning person or night owl type of issue, and it is. People who prefer to wake up earlier tend to enjoy the early morning workouts, versus those who have high productive hours after 10 p.m. It can be a struggle at first if you are a night owl, but you can train your body to get used to the early morning PT and run. The military does this to thousands of recruits every year.

Here is a list of reasons why early morning workouts are helpful in many areas of your life, not just fitness:

1. Wake up. Start moving. Start accomplishing things.

You will find that if the first thing you do in the morning, before other family members are awake, is a quick 20- to 30-minute workout, you will be more productive the rest of your morning. "We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day" is not just a phrase in an old Army commercial; it is the truth. Mentally, you also will be in a mood of achievement, compared to missing the workout or just relying on caffeine. Setting the tone for the day first thing in the morning will prove to be an enhancement in all that you do at work, home and school.

2. You will burn more calories physiologically throughout the day. 

If you start your calorie burn first thing in the morning, your body will keep burning calories at a higher rate because of your increased early morning activity (lifting, running, biking, swimming, etc.).

3. They interfere with less in your day.

Not much is going on first thing in the morning. Working out at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. will interfere with fewer activities in your day. If your schedule includes a 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. workout in it, it is a great idea to work off some steam and exercise the mind and body after a long, stressful day.

However, life can get in the way between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. From traffic, commutes, kids sports, school events, after-work events and major projects that force you to work through the evening, all have a way of interrupting the most disciplined and well-intentioned exercisers.

4. They build mental toughness.

Getting comfortable being uncomfortable is the foolproof method to build your mental toughness and discipline. Waking up from a deep sleep takes discipline to hop out of a warm, comfortable bed and start training. But every day you break the bonds of comfort to pursue your fitness and health goals, you also are  creating a never-quit attitude and the mental and physical discipline and dependability that will make life easier.

If your most productive hours are from 10 p.m. until 1-2 a.m., you might be a night owl. The early morning wakeup to train is something you will have to take slowly and eventually push the bedtime back before midnight at least, if you want to get things done from 5-8 a.m. 

Depending upon your schedule, this transition can take as little as a few weeks to a few months if your schedule includes an early morning workout and wakeup period. A few recommendations:

Keep your alarm clock away from your bed so you have to stand up to turn it off.

Wake up with crunches. Even while still in bed, you can do 20 crunches, reverse crunches, and left and right crunches and that will get the blood moving. Add in a few squats and push-ups, and it will be difficult to get back in bed, and you are on your way.

If you are planning a challenging workout full of high-repetitions calisthenics, sprints and weight training, you may not perform as well first thing in the morning when blood-sugar levels are at their lowest. You may need to eat something to boost your energy levels for high-intensity workouts for the mornings. Normally if you do harder or more intense workouts later in the day, you will have a few meals in you and your energy levels will be higher. 

However, if you practice early morning workouts with some smart nutrition ideas for quick energy before, during and after, you can get your body to perform at high levels.  

I have found that you can do about 20-30 minutes of higher intensity workouts first thing in the morning, but you will need to supplement with some type of sports drink or fruit (carbs) to keep going at that pace.  However, simply dropping it a notch and doing some easy-paced cardio activity can have great fat-burning benefits at this time if that is a goal.

Regardless of when you exercise, the goal is to just get it done whenever it fits into your day. Whether you are an early morning person, a night owl or choose to get the workouts done in spurts throughout the day, just get moving. The results and health benefits will follow.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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