Some people are ready to hit the gym as soon as the sun rises while others are a little less enthusiastic about exercise in the morning.
If you balk at the idea of breaking a sweat before breakfast, hear us out. Focusing on your fitness goals at first light offers a bunch of benefits that might change your mind.
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"One of the biggest is that morning exercise is helpful for avoiding excuses and scheduling conflicts that arise throughout the day," says Life Time personal trainer and dietitian Samantha McKinney, RD, CPT. "Nobody is scheduling impromptu work happy hours at 6 a.m."
Another benefit to morning exercise is that it helps regulate your circadian rhythm, according to McKinney.
"The heart rate spike and cortisol surge that happen in a good workout is one way to send a message to the body that it's daytime and time to fully wake up. This, in turn, helps balance the daily pattern of cortisol — meaning it can potentially help support a more restful night's sleep later that evening," she says.
That's why exercising in the a.m. may also be an ideal option for those who experience sleep problems.
"Some people with excess stress might find it's even harder to wind down at night if they have the stimulation of evening exercise in the mix," McKinney says.
And last but certainly not least, a morning workout sets a healthy tone for the day, according to McKinney.
"If you exercise, you'll feel better and will likely make better nutrition choices as well," she says.
We rounded up our best morning workouts to help you get all these body benefits and more. There's something for everyone on this list, even if you're not an early bird.
When you're struggling to pass your morning poop, an ab-based workout might be the answer to your toilet troubles.
It's true: "Movement in general supports bowel regularity, particularly first thing in the morning and after meals," McKinney says.
And core exercises are particularly beneficial when you're feeling backed up. That's because your abdominal muscles play a pivotal part in moving poop into your rectum. So activating your abs will help stimulate your stool's journey down your digestive tract.
This quick core routine also includes deep belly breathing, which can help get things flowing by relaxing your anal sphincter.
The best part? You don't even need to leave your bed to get your bowels unblocked. Yep, you can perform this entire workout from the comfort of your plush comforter.
Not only convenient, doing these movements on your mattress — which is an unstable surface — may make your workout even harder as you must engage more core and smaller stabilizing muscles.
If you like to build up a solid sweat during a brisk stroll, this 20-minute walking workout is for you. With the addition of intense intervals — including body-weight movements like squats, planks and windmills — you can light up all your muscles before the morning rush.
And once again, if you hit the street with a swift stride before breakfast, you can boost fat loss and improve your blood glucose levels, according to a March 2017 study published in Sports Medicine.
"Exercise at any time of day can promote healthy blood sugar," McKinney says. But it can be particularly impactful in the a.m. "Because a lot of us have high fasting glucose upon waking up (and one in three U.S. adults is prediabetic), getting in some movement first thing in the morning can help lower it," she says.
Movements that involve large muscle group contractions — such as the squats in this workout — are particularly effective in this regard, she adds.
Not to mention getting a little time outside is optimal for starting the morning in a positive mood. For example, a December 2018 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health concluded that walking outdoors in nature is linked to a decrease in depression, anxiety, tension and anger.
Still, if the weather isn't cooperating, you can totally adapt this walking workout to a treadmill.
Sometimes, we greet the morning with tight, achy muscles. On days like these, this 20-minute mobility sequence is the solution to loosen those stiff joints without breaking a sweat.
After being sedentary all night, it's a good idea to get your blood flowing and joints flexing and extending to help increase your range of motion, McKinney says.
Not only will mobility training help you, well, move better, but it's benefits extend to many areas of your life, fitness and beyond. Here are just a few, per the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA):
- It improves exercise and sports performance
- It lowers your risk of injury
- It can offset the effects of sitting too much
- It makes daily activities and functional movements easier
And the low-impact movements in this mobility series will help you reap all these powerful perks. The relaxing routine even features a move called "World's Greatest Stretch" for the upper back. Really, how could you go wrong?
You don't have to put in exhaustive hours of exercise each day to see big results. So when you don't have a ton of time to train in the morning, try this 4-minute Tabata workout.
This quick and dirty high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout will have your heart hammering in your chest as you alternate between 20 seconds of maximum effort and 10-second rest periods with rigorous movements like high knees, speed skaters and lunge jumps.
Like other forms of HIIT, Tabata will rev up your metabolism by increasing your excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). That means you torch calories during and after your Tabata routine (for up to 24 hours post-workout). Talk about a win-win.
But before you jump in, just make sure to do a quick warm-up to prep your body. While it's short, this sweaty sequence is extremely strenuous.
Woke up on the wrong side of the bed? Yeah, we've all been there. Sometimes the best medicine for a bad mood is a feel-good yoga flow. This 10-minute yoga sequence will Iift your spirits and set you up for a brighter day.
"Morning exercise can give your brain a boost," McKinney says. "The benefits of exercise on mental health are well-established in studies, with some suggesting that it can be as effective as medication is some unique cases." (But always check with your doctor first!)
And yoga can be especially soothing. Research has shown a link between practicing yoga and a decrease in anxiety and depression, according to Harvard Health Publishing. In part it accomplishes this by promoting the production of a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
"By getting the endorphin boost to start you day, it's likely to make a difference in mood and overall focus and cognition," McKinney says.
Want all the benefits of HIIT without all the boisterous bouncing before breakfast? This 20-minute, low-impact HIIT routine doesn't require a single jump but still delivers a killer cardio workout.
While it's gentler on your joints (think: less stressful on the knees), it's definitely not easy. By incorporating compound movements, this bodyweight HIIT session works multiple muscle groups at once for an efficient and effective workout. Multi-joint exercises like bear crawls, sumo squats and lunges will light up every part of your body without any leaping through the air.
No jumping also nixes the noise factor, so you won't wake up your downstairs neighbors.
For many people, a high-octane workout after just rolling out of bed sounds too intense. Sound familiar? If you're more partial to a leisurely pace, try this gentle stretching sequence to help you ease into the day.
"Exercise first thing after waking can help clear your mind and help you feel ready to take on whatever the day brings," McKinney says. "There's [even] evidence that morning workouts can shift your circadian rhythm, so your body is more naturally alert in the morning."
And this dynamic stretching routine is the perfect example. It'll get your circulation going, slowly sending energizing oxygen to your muscles to offer that little oomph we can all use in the morning, especially if we're having a sluggish start to the day.
A Final Word on Morning Workouts
While working out in the morning comes with a plethora of pluses, "the best time to exercise is what's going to work best for you, your body and schedule," McKinney says. "There's no sense in trying to force a morning exercise routine if you're naturally a night owl — some people enjoy the stress relief and feeling of a lunch or evening workout."
Listen to your body and assess what routine you're most likely to stick with, she adds. At the end of the day, consistency is key when it comes to establishing a long-lasting fitness practice.
- International Journal of Obesity: “The effects of exercise session timing on weight loss and components of energy balance: Midwest exercise trial 2”
- Sports Medicine: “Impact of Endurance Exercise Training in the Fasted State on Muscle Biochemistry and Metabolism in Healthy Subjects: Can These Effects be of Particular Clinical Benefit to Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and Insulin-Resistant Patients?”
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: “Psychological Benefits of Walking through Forest Areas”
- International Sports Sciences Association: “Mobility Training – Why You Need it and How to Do It”
- National Academy of Sports Medicine: “The Benefits Of Tabata Workouts: Exercises To Get You Moving”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Yoga for better mental health”