If you've ever tried to break a habit, you know just how powerful they can be. Even the smallest actions and decisions can set the tone for your entire day. They can color your interactions with friends and family, affect your focus and motivation and even fuel (or deflate) a workout.
To get a sense of what habits can help support your fitness goals, we went to the people whose very livelihood depends on their seemingly boundless energy: personal trainers. We surveyed them on their morning habits and routines and got their takes on everything from coffee rituals to pump-up playlists to hitting that controversial snooze button. Here's what they had to say.
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1. Start the Night Before
For Todd Buckingham, PhD, exercise physiologist, triathlete and coach, his workout is his morning ritual.
"I usually just get out of bed, get dressed and get going on my workout, whether that's a swim, bike or run. I don't really do anything special right off the bat when I wake up. I don't drink coffee. I don't listen to music. I just get up and go," he tells LIVESTRONG.com.
However, Buckingham's morning routine actually starts hours before his alarm goes off.
"I make sure that I'm in bed early enough to get at least seven hours of sleep — most of the time — so that I'm ready to tackle the day tomorrow. I also set out all the clothes and equipment I'll need for my workout in the morning so I don't have to worry about it when I first wake up and I'm tired. I'm a triathlete, so there can be a lot of equipment," he says.
Thoughtful planning and preparation allows Buckingham to bring his A-game to his own training and the subsequent events of the day.
"I find that if I don't get my workouts done, or have to rush through them, I have far less energy and am far less motivated to do other things throughout the day," he says. "I can be irritable and cranky because I know I have them looming over me to do later in the day when I might not be as motivated to get them done. That's why I like to take care of them — and myself! — first thing in the morning."
If you're someone who sets four alarms, oversleeps and is always running five minutes late, Chicago-based personal trainer Wesley Showalter, CSCS, has some advice for you: Stop snoozing.
"When I have an alarm set, I never hit snooze. Once I'm up, that's it," he tells LIVESTRONG.com. "The reality is that that extra five or ten minutes isn't going to do anything. You're not going to enter REM sleep. You're not going to enter deep sleep. But you will likely feel stressed as you rush to make up for lost time, and that can set the wrong tone for the rest of your morning, as well as your workout. I don't want to start the day that way."
By getting up right away, Showalter ensures he has time for a minimum of three minutes of breath work and his gratitude journaling practice, during which he writes down three things he's grateful for, three ways he's going to make the day great and one affirmation.
"It sounds corny, but it's a great way to start the day," he says. "And on top of that, not immediately checking your email and your Instagram when you wake up is good because a lot of times that stuff can put you into a sort of fight or flight state and get you all anxious about the day."
Showalter explains good sleep hygiene makes snooze-free mornings a little easier. He goes to bed around the same time every night (usually between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. so he can be up by 5:00 a.m.) and doesn't sleep in on weekends. He also makes sure to drink his last caffeinated beverage eight hours before he turns in.
3. Make Your Bed
"The first thing I do after I shut my alarm off is make my bed," he tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Accomplishing this simple task is the first task of the day and sets you up to take on and accomplish many more that day."
From that point on, every moment of his morning is purposeful. He showers, dresses and then sits at his kitchen table with a cup of coffee.
"I sit in the early morning silence for about 15 minutes and set my intentions for the day," he says.
He eventually eats a light breakfast as he checks his emails, then he grabs his backpack, which he packs the night before, and heads out for the day.
"I believe that my morning routine helps with my energy because not only am I fueling my body with proper foods that help me feel good yet give me the energy to begin my day, but getting my mind right and setting the tone always hypes me up for what I am about to endure," Forzaglia says. "Negative thoughts will hold you back and stop you from going out and getting what you truly want. I look forward to my own workout. I can finally shut off and not worry about anything else other than pushing myself."
4. Let in the Light
"The first thing I do upon rising — generally around 6:45 a.m. — is to open the curtains to snag some sunlight," Mary Beth Rockwell, CPT, founding trainer of The Next Fitness Thing app, tells LIVESTRONG.
If it's foggy or overcast, which it often is in San Francisco, where Rockwell resides, she opts for the next best thing to natural sunshine.
"I have my breakfast and coffee seated in front of a lightbox. It helps ward off my seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and shake off the gloomies," she says.
Once she lets the light in, she gets (and stays) moving.
"As they say, inertia breeds inertia. So if I allow my body to rest, it tends to stay at rest. If I'm not mindful, that can lead me into an unproductive morning," she says.
"The simple step of rolling out my yoga mat clarifies in my mind what I need to do, which sets me off on the right course for my day," she says.
5. Make Time for Meditation
"My big thing with my morning routine is that I'm not going to be hard on myself if I don't follow it to a T or if I just don't have time for something," Jen Kates, CPT, founder of Shift Human Performance, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "I think that is where a lot of folks can go wrong," she says.
People set high, unrealistic expectations for their mornings and feel defeated when they can't sustain them. Instead, Kates does her best to stick to the morning rituals that help her feel calm and focused throughout the day and during her workouts.
At the top of her list is meditation. She retreats to a designated space in her home, complete with a cushion and altar, sets a timer (she prefers the InsightTimer app) and spends a few quiet moments focused on her breath.
"Meditation increases my focus exponentially during my workout," Kates says. "When I'm tired, sometimes I find that I lose a lot of focus during my workout because I'm thinking about being so tired. Or I'm thinking about not getting enough sleep the night before. Or I'm thinking about an issue that someone is having that I'm working with, and I'm trying to problem-solve it. And when I meditate, I feel like I'm able to just focus more on myself and that time that I'm there."
6. Visualize the Day Ahead
Before moving into a leadership role, Pete McCall, CSCS, master trainer and host of the All About Fitness podcast, worked one-on-one with clients of all fitness levels and backgrounds. During that time, he purposefully began his day by reviewing his schedule and thinking about how he'd make each session a success.
"A professional personal trainer recognizes that they're responsible for bringing positive energy to their clients," he tells LIVESTRONG.com, and every client's personality and needs are different.
Today, he continues to use this visualization technique — usually over a quiet cup of coffee — to mentally prepare for the day and ensure he's bringing his best self to every appointment, meeting and task on his to-do list, including his workouts.
And if he doesn't take a moment in the morning to collect his thoughts, he notices.
"If I skip my morning routine, I get stuck at every red light. The person in front of me at Starbucks has never been there before and asks the barista 30 questions," he jokes. "I have one of those days where everything is off."
7. Crank Your Workout Playlist
Between the time she wakes up and her first workout of the day, Lauren George, CPT, fitness instructor, educator and founder of Lauren George Fitness, enjoys a peaceful, 30-minute buffer during which she sips her coffee and enjoys the quiet. But once she's ready to get to work, it's all about the pump-up playlist.
"I listen to whatever my workout playlist is for that day, whether I'm working out myself or teaching a class," she tells LIVESTRONG.com. "I'll start listening to that 15 to 20 minutes before I'm either teaching or working out."
She claims that cranking high-energy songs helps her get in the zone to teach or crush a challenging workout. And if she's having a slow morning or feels like she's dragging, she'll turn on her music and commit to just 10 minutes of low-intensity movement.
"Often, if I just get up and get into my workout space and get moving while playing that playlist, by three songs in, I'm usually ready to hit it hard," she says.
George's go-to mix, which includes tracks by Cardi B, Jennifer Lopez and Flo Rida, hasn't changed all that much over the years, which she believes actually works in her favor.
"I've come to associate those particular songs with getting ready for the workout," she says. "That song association gets me in the right head space."