Say you exercise in the morning. When is the best time for it?
First, what’s the point of morning exercises?
Fitness? Yes, you can’t leave fitness out, and if you don’t impose on yourself a healthy daily challenging activity, you might expect the point of the specific activity to be the main goal. It’s not—not in the long term.
The goals of daily morning exercise include in the long term developing discipline self-awareness, and calm, learning your priorities, learning to prioritize, sleeping better, creating purpose and meaning, honing decisiveness and focus, and more; and in the short-term waking up, focusing your attention, saving time, saving money, giving yourself direction, whetting your appetite for breakfast, cleaning your space, preventing procrastination, creating a flow state, and more.
There’s no end to the value of morning exercise, be it yoga, lifting, calisthenics, meditation, dance, singing, playing an instrument, walking, running, or anything that gets the heart and mind pumping. Morning exercise can’t guarantee success, but a whole lot of outlier successes swear by their morning routine.
Do you just let happen what happens, let a pattern settle over time, or deliberately craft and refine yours to meet your limitations, values, resources, and priorities?
First things first. Even before the bathroom or even turning off your alarm, make your bed. With practice you can make your bed and cross the room to turn off your alarm while it still reads the minute you set it for—that is, within 60 seconds. If a partner sleeps later, you need only make your half.
Open the shades. Let the sun shine in, or street light in winter before the sun has risen.
Many people swear by starting the day with a tall glass of water. Many can’t believe anyone could or would start any other way. Even people who start the day with coffee have to make the coffee so might start with water first.
But if your morning exercises involve jumping vigorously, like, say, 3 sets of 9 burpees, water can slosh around inside you. Also if you follow the burpees with more exercises that get your heart beating and breath panting, a first glass of water refreshes that much more after.
Besides, before consuming, a general rule in life: when deciding among multiple next courses of action, if one of them is pooping, you’ll never go wrong pooping first. If you also eat a diet high in fiber, your body will tell you or effectively force you to start there anyway. The emptiness it brings clarifies your mind and relaxes your body, facilitating burpees.
Recapping, after you turn off your alarm, go to the bathroom. Then wash your hands, splash some water on your face, and put on your workout clothes. Fold your pajamas and put them on the bed for tomorrow evening. Blow your nose if necessary. A runny or clogged nose takes the fun out of exercise.
Now comes the challenging part. The next step is the morning exercises. If they are vigorous, and few things are more vigorous than a couple dozen burpees, your mind and body will tempt you not to, or more likely to lollygag, fidget, procrastinate, or otherwise delay what you know you will be glad you did. You’ll want to dust, touch up the bed you just made, stand around, read, or just about anything.
When you’re about to do burpees, almost anything feels preferable. Absent the experience of doing them daily for years, or other practice that develops the discipline no one is born with, you can easily stand around for ten minutes thinking, “Okay, now start. [stay standing] Darn, okay, well now start. [stay standing] This time I’ll do it. Start,” and so on.
With practice, you can start as soon as you reach your room’s workout spot. Walk over and as soon as your feet are in place, start. Before starting it may feel like the hardest thing in the world. Once you start, you’ll finish.
Start your morning exercise.
Note the absence of screen time. The first hour of the day is no time for email, texts, or anything on the phone, computer, or television. Ideally you’ll get into a flow state doing something first.
From the top:
- Wake up
- Make bed
- Cross the room and turn off the alarm less than 60 seconds from when it started ringing
- Go to the bathroom, wash hands, splash water on face, and, if necessary, blow your nose
- Put on your workout clothes
- Walk to where you exercise
- Start the moment you reach your position
On finishing your exercises, you’ve achieved two time-bound activities with a measure of quality—making the bed and exercising. Nothing could happen the rest of the day and you’ll sleep well, knowing your day surpassed a minimum threshold of meaning and purpose. Moreover, they’ll motivate you to more meaningful and purposeful activities.
You can’t do much better than following the exercises with a morning shower and grooming, and the shower and grooming with breakfast.
Turning on a computer over breakfast wouldn’t be the worst thing.
EDIT: My post the next day is related so I’ll copy it here to save a click.
When, specifically, is the best time for evening exercises?
Yesterday’s post answered the best time to exercise in the morning. What if you exercise in the evening too or instead?
The beginning of that post—why exercise, listing the benefits, and so on—apply here. No need to repeat everything up to “First things first.”
Alternative 1: Just before bed
The latest option is to exercise last before going to bed. Many ask if getting your heart rate up might keep you up at night. They probably haven’t exercised late, or they would have learned that, however paradoxical it sounds, exercise gives you energy in general and helps you sleep at night.
Vigorous summer exercise will make you sweat, assuming you don’t over-air-condition yourself. You rarely need more than a fan. Exercise challenges you. Knowing and working with the seasons connects you with nature, which always improves your life. Too much comfort undermines the character-building part of your effort. Following sweating with a quick shower aids sleep.
The challenges of exercising last are that you’re fatigued, which can help build character, and that you may have to exercise on a full stomach, which can build character, but more likely distracts.
If you meant to exercise earlier, you can always fall back on just before bed.
Alternative 2: Just before dinner
Just before dinner builds the appetite. You won’t have to exercise on a full stomach. Exercise on an empty stomach feels lighter. If you sweat you can shower just before or just after dinner.
This option has a lot going for it. To choose to exercise when you want to eat challenges you since your mind wants easier options and eating looks favorable to exercise. Choosing exercise is harder, but teaches you decisiveness.
Not having your back against the wall like in alternative 1 forces you to choose and act. Your choices define you.
Dinner after exercising becomes more enjoyable without the weight of later exercise on a full stomach haunting you. On the contrary, you can reward your effort by enjoying dinner freely more than you could worrying about later exercises.
Alternative 3: On returning home
Do you wear street clothes at home or do you change into looser, more comfortable, cleaner clothes around the house, maybe pajamas? If the latter, exercising as soon as you get home may work best.
Why best? Mainly because you’re often fatigued on coming home. It’s been a long day. It may be your first chance to relax. Doing burpees doesn’t sound relaxing. It’s the opposite, but makes post-exercise relaxation more relaxing than you could have achieved knowing you had to work later.
You save time changing clothes one less time by going from street clothes to workout clothes without changing into home clothes for relaxing or dinner.
Most of all, you do what you said you would under challenging circumstances—when most of you wants just to rest. Delaying that gratification amplifies it. Exercising when exhausted also builds and refines your skill to do what you said you would, as does exercise when you could postpone.
Each alternative exercises the body equally. It’s hard not to conclude this optimum structure for evening exercises, though you’ll always have to adjust based on life:
- Arrive home
- Change to workout clothes
- Shower if necessary
- Eat dinner
- Relax more until time to sleep
Exercising on arriving home exercises your discipline most, rewarding you with deeper relaxation the rest of the evening. You’ll enjoy your rest and dinner more.
If circumstances force it, you can fall back on the later alternatives. Sometimes you eat out or come home late and you exercise when you can. Late nights when you come home full, maybe drunk, maybe with a date, maybe to someone else’s home—each option challenges you in different ways, which can reward you most.
Late night mindset
Exercising when you’re rested with plenty of time is like piloting a ship in calm weather. It develops your body and mind but may not test your mettle.
Vigorous exercise when you’re tired, exhausted, full, late, needing to wake up early, away from home—the regular times just train you for these times. In these times you meet yourself, public artifice peeled away, vulnerable. The easier you can pass and the more you want to the more you develop yourself. Exercise when the water turns white, the waves too tall for you to see past, the gusts strong and irregular teaches you to become a captain in any weather, a person people rely on when they have to. A leader.
You won’t like the feeling in the moment, but look forward to the most challenging times. The times that try your soul develop it. Whether you know it or not, if you exercise, you want those challenges.
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