How do I, as a habitual snooze-button-hitter, become a morning exercise person?
February 21, 2011 1:31 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to get back into a regular exercise habit, but I seem to always have things that I have to do right after work. How do I, as a habitual snooze-button-hitter, become a morning exercise person?

In the fall of 2009, I did the Couch to 5K program. It was great! I got a lot fitter, lost some flab, and started to enjoy running. For someone who once claimed "I don't do sweat," this was no small change. I ran right after work and on the weekends. I stopped running last year, but now I want to get back into it. These days, with grad school and other commitments right after work, it's become increasingly difficult to work out on my old schedule. I want to get up early to go running or do some other exercise, as it's the only way to fit it in consistently.

The big problem is that I am a slave to my snooze alarm, and it is so, so easy to blow off doing anything in the morning. I think part of this is because during the week, I get up at different times due to my work schedule. Some days it's 7:00, other days it's 6:30. If I could make myself get up at 6:00 every day, it might not be so hard to wake up. I talk myself out of waking up early when there's no reason to--and I still have the problem if the only reason I am telling myself to get up is to go running! The idea of exercise in the morning gives me chills, but I know it's important to stay healthy. It's just really, really hard. I have willpower enough for anything when I'm awake, but how do I fight this tendency when I'm asleep? I'm a very sound sleeper. What are some ways you've trained yourself to jump out of bed to do something that sounds unappealing, but that you know you need to do?
posted by zoetrope to Health & Fitness (41 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Just tell yourself, last thing before you fall asleep, "when the alarm rings, i'm gonna get up and go running." You'll do it.
posted by facetious at 1:34 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Put the alarm clock in the bathroom attached to the bedroom. When you turn it off, turn on the shower.
posted by rr at 1:36 PM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Get a Tocky or a Clocky. These alarm clocks jump off of your nightstand so you have to run after them to shut them off. It won't make you go out running, but maybe it's a step toward not hitting snooze.
posted by dayintoday at 1:36 PM on February 21, 2011

You could look for a different form of exercise that doesn't sound unappealing to you. You don't have to run to be healthy.

Failing that, you have to think about why you want to do this and what you want to get out of it. If you don't really enjoy it, and you don't have a goal you really want to achieve, you're not likely to stick with it.

If you have a specific goal in mind, you can try to find a way remind yourself about it when you get up in the morning. For instance, if your goal is to look better, get a full length mirror and look at yourself first thing when you get up. Maybe you could put up a picture of a "fitness role model" on the mirror. That could help motivate you to get going.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 1:37 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe try to find a running club or a partner that you meet to run. It always makes me get out of bed if I think someone else will notice if I am not there.
posted by mjcon at 1:38 PM on February 21, 2011 [6 favorites]

This may or may not work for you, but I solved this problem by making appointments with a personal trainer. I have to be at the gym at a specific time to meet her. The combination of paying for it and having someone else expecting to see me is enough motivation to get me there. A cheaper solution is finding a workout partner. Is there someone else you could make plans with, at least a few times a week?
posted by gingerbeer at 1:38 PM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Put your alarm clock across the room so you have to get up and walk several steps to turn it off.

This, along with putting on my workout clothes immediately after turning off the alarm is how I do it. I have some water poured out into a bottle ready to go in the fridge, and I grab that and am halfway to the gym before I've woken up enough to talk myself out of going.
posted by amarynth at 1:39 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding going to bed earlier. Your current wake-up may be hitting in the middle of an REM cycle, and crawling out of that is like swimming out of quicksand.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:42 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go to bed earlier. Yes, it is possible to get eight hours of sleep and wake up at 5 a.m. You just go to bed at 9 p.m.

I've found that when I tell people to go to bed earlier, they think I'm telling them to transform themselves into grandma. As if going to bed earlier = being culturally out of touch, because cool stuff only happens at night.

What cool stuff, exactly? Television? Go to bed.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:45 PM on February 21, 2011 [27 favorites]

I find that I'm more likely to exercise in the morning if I lay out my workout clothes all together before I go to bed.
posted by ColdChef at 1:46 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you have a dog? Dogs don't have snooze buttons and they like to run too!

[I know it's not for everyone, just an idea]
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 1:58 PM on February 21, 2011

Best answer: It takes 21 days to develop a daily habit (supposedly). Saying that you're going to get up early for life may feel/seem too difficult. You may achieve better results if you say to yourself, I'm just going to get up early for 21 days (or round up to 25 just to make sure the neural pathways are fully in place). Make a banner on your wall and scratch off the numbers every morning you do it.

By the time you hit the 25th day, it will be natural to you. (Hopefully) Good luck!
posted by Kronur at 2:04 PM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

This isn't quite answering your question, but have you thought about following a totally opposite approach? If you really can't get up so early in the AM, would it be possible to work out shortly before you go to bed? I know many people recommend against this, but when I had a schedule that dictated I show up to work at 7:00 AM at the latest (and thus would have to go to the gym at some crazy time like 4:00), I would often just work out at night an hour before I would go to bed. Some people say that might give you insomnia, but I actually slept really well during that time. Just an idea.
posted by vivid postcard at 2:10 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Try sleeping in your workout clothes and put your shoes and socks in front of your clock with a note that says "GET UP NOW! or DON'T THINK! JUST GO!" whatever you think might motivate you. If you're already dressed for it you might as well just get out the door and run. Psychologically you are half way there.
posted by BoscosMom at 2:10 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Put your alarm clock across the room so you have to get up and walk several steps to turn it off.

This doesn't work for me. I just snooze it and get back in bed, sometimes unconsciously. I used to snooze my alarm repeatedly for an hour or more some mornings.

The only thing that has worked for me was to buy and use a wake-up light. It's a bright halogen bedside lamp in conjunction with an alarm clock. The light turns on (dimly) 30 minutes before the alarm set time and gradually gets brighter until the alarm itself (radio, in my case) goes off. By the time the alarm goes off, my body has already been partially awoken by the bright light, so it's less jarring. This has helped me to wake up more gradually every morning, rather than being startled awake suddenly in a dark room.

Also, going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning, even on weekends, has been tremendously beneficial. In my case, that's 11 PM to 7 AM.
posted by Nothlit at 2:11 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Exactly as others have said:

* Go to bed earlier. Most people have a 3.5hr REM cycle, so plan your sleep for ~7hrs and you'll wake naturally minutes before your alarm. Though it does feel like being cheated to be up 10min early. I go to bed at 11pm to wake at 6am for the gym.

(also, sleep is a very important part of fitness, don't skimp on it! you can be doing everything else right but if you're cheating your sleep then progress will be slow and difficult)

* Have everything sorted/laid out/ready to go. The idea is to be up and moving before you have a chance to talk yourself out of it. I make a game out of it - how fast can I go from bed to car? My record is 3min so far, I'd be faster if I didn't wear contacts.

Also, get a friend to support you. Do they workout in the morning also? Call each other. If they don't, make a point to check in with them later. Some peer pressure can help a lot.
posted by jpeacock at 2:21 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I struggle with this too. I've tried the "just do it" approach and found it about as helpful as you might imagine (I'm guessing you wouldn't be posting if the answer to this question were really "try harder"). I've also tried most of the technological solutions (far alarm placement, etc) to absolutely no avail: my semi-conscious morning self is devious enough to get around any obstacle if the reward is getting to sleep more.

I suspect that part of the reason it's so hard for me is that I am usually trying to get away with less sleep than I really need, so the urge to hold on to those last 15-30 minutes is really strong. Accordingly, one thing that does help me, when I take the time to do it, is to make sure that I am actually, honestly getting enough sleep. I sometimes use a Benadryl after dinner, and then sleep until I'm not tired, or else as long as possible. After a few days of heavy sleeping, I do wake up more easily in general and am much better at sacrificing those extra 30 minutes in the morning.

As far as maintaining the schedule, yeah, I think your instincts are right about getting up the same time every day. You can't mess around too much with your circadian rhythm and then expect it to help you. On the rare occasions I manage to get a string of early risings going, they do become much easier.

The social aspects can both help and hurt you. If you have friends who are only ever available between 11pm and 3 am, that's really tough. I haven't found a good solution to that. But I've also been helped by scheduling breakfast dates (pick reliable friends who are unlikely to flake out on you, so that you will feel a little social pressure to be there and to be more or less on time). As a peripheral benefit, eating breakfast out is also a nice reward for dragging my ass out of bed. Maybe you could also try making a date for running that's followed by coffee or breakfast, so you have the pull as well as the push.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:23 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's not just friends, though. I am trying to stick to a good morning routine, including running, as well. But when you have a job where sometimes you have to be at work for 6am and sometimes you don't get finished at work until 1am, it can be really, really hard to have a good routine. The best advice for me has been finding a workout buddy. Someone who will expect you to be there. It really does help, because you can't let that person down!
posted by Night_owl at 2:31 PM on February 21, 2011

Energetic music on the alarm clock, or right next to the alarm so you can turn it on as you shut off the alarm clock? This is coloring my whole day.

So far our Chumby has contributed to greater wakefulness and even cheerfulness in the morning. This weekend--when we got up at the same time, as we do not on weekdays--my husband was even *singing along* to me. Yes, we are both snooze fiends who hate to wake up in the morning, and then are generally grouchy.

I'm sure this can be accomplished with ipods or smartphone apps, too.

posted by galadriel at 2:33 PM on February 21, 2011

Don't try to get up earlier on exercise days. Just pick a time you're always going to get out of bed, every day. Focus on that number ($TIME). Set your alarm some multiple of snooze alarms before that (I like 18 minutes, 2 "snoozes"). Say to yourself, every time you think about getting up, going to bed, whatever, "I get up at $TIME." When $TIME comes, get the F up.

At first it doesn't really make it easier - it's the habitual-ness of it that works. That's why you can't sleep in on non-exercise days. Also, if you start calculating "well, I can skip the shower until after..." blah blah in your half-sleep when the alarm goes off, you will always talk yourself into another snooze alarm. Take the decision away. $TIME. Not optional.

After a while of this, it will be difficult to sleep past $TIME even with no alarm on holidays, which is it's own curse. But there you go.
posted by ctmf at 2:35 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you increase the "perks" of morning exercise? I am a die hard afternoon exerciser but when my schedule demanded it for a while last year I was in the habit of hitting the gym in the mornng for a few months.

I followed most of the tips in this thread (lay out everything the night before, get a solid eight hours, do exercise you enjoy), but something that unexpectedly really helped were the fringe benefits that I happened to get out of morning exercise: the showers at my gym were really nice compared to the spotty hot water in my apartment, and the commute from my gym to my office passed by my favorite coffee spot. Thinking about these little rewards made popping out of bed in the morning a lot easier to take.

I bet you could engineer something along those lines for yourself! Just don't make your "I exercised" reward a jelly doughnut.
posted by telegraph at 2:38 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know if your schedule will allow for this type of flexibility, but I'm trying to do the same thing you are and here's what is working for me (thus far, anyway - I'm only a month in but I've been exercising more than before, which hasn't been hard to do considering the previous amount was zero...)

First, I tweaked my schedule. I'm not one to get up at 6am either and I realized that if I wanted to prioritize exercise in my life I needed to design the schedule I can actually do. I'm in grad school (two night classes/week), teach in second grade two mornings a week, and work in an office (copywriting, editing, PMing), three afternoons a week plus all day Friday. I decided that in order to fit in time for all my work plus exercise, I needed the following:

- I made a commitment to myself that was realistic: I can commit to going to the gym 3x week. I'm not going to become an Olympian at that rate but, as noted above, it's better than the previous state.
- Monday is completely free of commitments. So I get up, go to the gym, come home and work on my thesis all day.
- Tuesday is teach in the morning, work in the afternoon, write at night.
- I quit teaching on Wednesday mornings so I could get up when I wanted, go to the gym, go to work, then go to evening class.
- Thursday is teach in the morning, work in the afternoon, go to class at night.
- I made a deal with my boss that I could come in late on Fridays so I can get up and go to the gym first. I usually roll out of bed around 8, and make it into work by 10:30 or 11. I don't mind staying later or taking work home if necessary, and my boss knows I'll get my shit done whether I'm in the office or at home so she is completely okay with it.
- On the weekends I don't "require" myself to go to the gym, but so far I've been going at least one of the two days. Having the mental freedom to know that it's something I *want* to do vs. something I "require" myself to do has been helpful.

- Instead of going for a run in the park two blocks from my apartment, I joined a gym three blocks from my apartment. The fact that there are other people at the gym that I'm starting to recognize and know is somehow motivating for me. I guess it's positive reinforcement/accountability every time I walk in and the guy at the desk says, "Hey! How are you?" I don't get the same feedback from running in the park.
- I met with the personal trainer at the gym and had them design a routine for me that's exactly the amount of time I want to spend and hits all the areas I want to hit. The combo of paying for it plus not having to think about anything (i.e., elliptical or stairmaster? these weights or those?) except putting on my clothes and walking out the door makes it so I tend not to overthink (and find reasons not to) exercise. I'm on autopilot.
- I load up my iPod with podcasts on the weekend so that I can grab it and go in the mornings. No procrastinating fiddling around deciding what I want to listen to.
- I bought a TON of workout clothes I like so I never have the excuse of, "Oh, the pants I like are dirty...looks like I can't go work out!"

TLDR: Hopefully some of the above is helpful to you. The most critical thing for me was realizing that there was no way in hell I was ever going to be a 5am BootCamp person (I tried last year and dreaded every morning. Sorry, but the only time I like getting up and mobile early is when I'm deep in the mountains somewhere!) and that I needed to be able to roll out of bed at a natural time for me, and have enough time to go work out without feeling rushed and stressed.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 2:39 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Plus, stop thinking of your day as starting when the first thing (work, exercise) is. You don't "get up for X," You just get up because that's what time you get up. The first scheduled thing just happens to be the first thing, and just happens to be early in your day. Schedule your going to bed time such that you get enough sleep, and avoid changing get-up and go-to-bed times for random things.
posted by ctmf at 2:41 PM on February 21, 2011

It's not just friends, though. I am trying to stick to a good morning routine, including running, as well. But when you have a job where sometimes you have to be at work for 6am and sometimes you don't get finished at work until 1am, it can be really, really hard to have a good routine.

Yeah definitely, I didn't mean to imply that it was. Those factors can also interact: if you have this type of schedule and so do most of your friends, that's going to be especially tough.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:03 PM on February 21, 2011

It's also okay to switch up-by that I mean that some days are swell for exercising first thing, others, you might be able to do after work. Just as long as you know that Monday you do one thing and Tuesday you do the other thing, etc you will be fine. And honestly if you can plan for four or five workout sessions a week you will do well. Rest days are good too! Pick up a couple dumbbells or stretch bands or something for those days and give your muscles a bit of a tuneup.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:08 PM on February 21, 2011

I tired doing the same thing but gave up - too many excuses not to exercise in the a.m.. Now I run in the evening instead of watching tv (at least 2hrs before going to bed).

I'm also coming back to C25K, on a treadmill, and time flies by watching a tv show on my ipad while doing it - i just turn the alert up but also can hear it vibrate.
posted by doorsfan at 3:10 PM on February 21, 2011

If your work situation allows it I would heartily recommend combining your commute and your workout, so that the process of going to work involves getting some exercise. I started doing this when I lived within biking distance of my job, but now that I live in one small town and work in another one 30 miles away I accomplish it by biking to catch a commuter bus that takes me (and my bike) to work, then sometimes catching the bus back and sometimes biking the whole way home, something I wouldn't even have dreamed of attempting when I first started out.
posted by contraption at 3:32 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I hear ya.

The problem for me has always boiled down to this: Night me always sabotages morning me. "Night me" sees nothing wrong with another glass of wine, you know, one more episode of Seinfeld. "Morning me" just hates that, and will easily resign to the snooze button--all lofty ambitions to wake up early completely shattered.

Anyways, I've found that the only time it has been possible to muster the fortitude to crawl out of bed is when most of my morning processes have been automated. Like others have said, lay out your workout clothes. Set the timer for your coffee. Have a cold beverage waiting for you in the fridge.

Also, most people have this weird sort of mental fog that sticks around for about 10 minutes after waking up. By the time they hit the door and feel the fresh air on their face, however, it's lifted. Remind yourself of that, when the urge to smack the snooze button and roll back over is hard to bear.
posted by shiggins at 4:07 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you a night owl? Sounds like it to me. If you are, this early rising thing may just not work if you are super tired in the morning. I would say to try late nights instead when you are awake and have energy.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:42 PM on February 21, 2011

My motivation is that the gym isn't as crowded in the morning. I hate having to deal with the workout mobs.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:01 PM on February 21, 2011

Best answer: Here are two things that have made all the difference for me when I need to get up in the morning:

1. Going to bed at a consistent time every night. It doesn't even necessarily need to be super early (though if you want to get up at 6, I'd suggest no later than midnight, and even that is pushing it).
2. Keeping my alarm clock set for the same time every single day, including holidays, weekends and days when I could reasonably sleep in. Even if all I did was turn it off and go back to bed, or turn it off and have another one set for the time I actually needed to be up. By being woken up at 6AM every morning, it won't kick your ass nearly as hard on the mornings when you actually have to get up at 6AM.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:15 PM on February 21, 2011

Lay your running clothes out before you go to bed, and also consider starting another kind of training program that involves not only a schedule, but also different kinds of exercise to do each day (endurance running, intervals, weights, etc) to prevent boredom. Hal Higdon's are pretty popular around here.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:47 PM on February 21, 2011

"... What are some ways you've trained yourself to jump out of bed to do something that sounds unappealing, but that you know you need to do?"
Decent paraphenalia, and $10.50 worth of addictive drug (House Espresso Blend) a week.

Do you have a dog? Dogs don't have snooze buttons and they like to run too!

[I know it's not for everyone, just an idea]

posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 4:58 PM on February 21

Doubleplusgood idea, yeahyeahyeahwhoo! Tripleplusgood if the dog has a small bladder and view of the dawn through a sliding glass patio door...

If a fresh pulled double shot and a nearly desperate dog don't get you out the door in the morning for PT 365 days a year, you'll just have to join the Army...
posted by paulsc at 9:09 PM on February 21, 2011

I am just like you and I now go to the gym in the evening (because my schedule allows it now) but I had a fantastic streak of about 6 months where I was a morning gym person. Seriously, I don't know who that person is, looking back. Anyway, what worked for me:

- Get your gym clothes ready the night before. Lay them out right by your bed, not even folded but literally laid out.
- As soon as you hear the alarm, get out of bed and change. The trick is don't lie in bed trying to "wake up", it's perfectly fine to still be half asleep while changing your clothes. You've probably done it a lot when going TO bed, changing from normal clothes to pajamas, this is just the reverse.
- This next part really depends on your own hygiene but I don't even bother washing my face or a shower. Not only am I gonna do that stuff anyway after the gym but it's just too harsh of a wake up for me. The only thing I did was brush my teeth. This was enough to get me alert enough to get out the door and by the time I'm in the car I'm totally ready to go.
- Blast the music on your commute, but not something fast or upbeat, but something that has a gradual buildup. A favorite of mine was "Natural Anthem" by The Postal Service.
posted by like_neon at 1:58 AM on February 22, 2011

1. Put your regular alarm next to your bed, then set another alarm for five minutes later with a song that's either annoying or awkward to hear as soon as you wake up.

2. Think about something you want to do as soon as you get up or leave your house. For me, whether my goal was exercising or not, what I'd be looking forward to would be Starbucks.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 8:58 AM on February 22, 2011

Do you live 2-8 miles from your work? Do you have a shower there? If so, then cycle to work. I never do any other exercise apart from the daily commute and I've never been fitter. It's so much easier making exercise part of your normal routine, than giving yourself the option of the gym, which is easy to ignore.

If you live closer than 2 miles, try running to work.
posted by greytape at 2:13 PM on February 22, 2011

Response by poster: I've decided that I'm going to try getting up at 6AM for a month to see if I can make a habit of it, even on the weekends (groan). I'll have my workout stuff ready to go in the morning, and coffee brewing while I'm outside. If I can work up the nerve to try city biking, I might try biking to work, too (it's a 3 mile commute).

Also, the wake-up light/alarm clock sounds intriguing. It would probably be easier to wake up if the room wasn't pitch-black. Thanks for all the good ideas, guys!
posted by zoetrope at 8:34 AM on February 23, 2011

This may or may not be in your budget, but get yourself some brand new running shoes, workout gear, or iPod full of tunes. You'll look forward to breaking in your new stuff!
posted by kidsleepy at 1:51 PM on February 28, 2011

Go to bed at the same time everyday; 10 PM supports a 6 AM wakeup pretty damn well.
posted by talldean at 1:20 PM on March 2, 2011

Response by poster: So, I've discovered a solution to this problem that works for me, and I thought I'd update the thread.

I could not get up at 6am every day, even with all the excellent suggestions in this thread. However, I did get a dog, and I've found myself getting up much earlier (a dog in my face as soon as the alarm goes off wakes me up more than an alarm clock ever did. Blech, doggy morning breath!). I have to walk/run the dog in the morning to tire him out so he doesn't keep my downstairs neighbor up all day with barking, whining, and bored-dog noises, as my neighbor works nights and sleeps during the day. I'm also getting sleepy earlier, as I'm physically tired, so I go to bed earlier as well.

It's probably not a solution for everyone, but paulsc and yeahyeahyeahwhoo were right! Dogs with tiny bladders will get ya up and moving in the morning, even when you don't necessarily want to get up.
posted by zoetrope at 9:18 AM on July 12, 2011

Glad to hear about your new pal, zoetrope, and his interest in your long term health and welfare. What he doesn't know, and can't, is that you'll outlive him, probably by decades, despite his best efforts to keep the two of you going.

Honor his contributions to your health with love, and keep putting one foot in front of the other, come hell, high water, or doggy breath in old doggy age...
posted by paulsc at 4:42 PM on July 12, 2011

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