Confessions of a Wannabe Morning Exerciser

A morning workout.  The concept holds great appeal to me – wake up early to exercise, go to work, then enjoy a rare quiet evening at home.  There is no good reason why I can’t manage a morning swim, spin, or yoga class.  There are reasons, just not good ones.  About once a week I get the notion that I will wake up early to get in my workout.  About once a week I fail to follow through on these grandiose plans.  It goes something like this: The alarm bells sounds earlier than usual.  I press that magical button that grants me nine extra minutes of sleep.  Repeat.  Repeat.  At some point I become partially roused.  Roused enough to generate a pillowcase full of (lame) excuses.  I’m tired.  The extra sleep will benefit me more than a swim.  If I go after work I won’t watch as much TV tonight.  I’m too stiff in the morning to get much benefit out of my yoga class.  Better to wait until the evening session.  By the time I get to the gym I’ll just have to leave to get to work.  After work I’ll have more time.  I feel a cold coming on.  And the excuse making continues until I run out of time (or fall back asleep). 
I do manage one early morning workout per week(end) – my long run.  I won’t define “early” because I’m sure at least 50% of you will scoff.  Let me just say that I get up earlier for my long run than I do for work.  Attendance at my early morning run is more out of habit than out of any sort of natural inclination towards the am. I run with a group and every Sunday morning I drag myself (make that drive myself, because no way I’m getting up early enough to walk) to run club bleary-eyed and incoherent.  I’m not the only one.  A friend once arrived still in her pyjamas and fuzzy-pink slippers.  True story, except for the slippers part. 
I blame chronobiology.  I am a slave to my biological rhythms.  Your chrono-type is revealed in your sleep patterns.  We all know that there are owls (evening-types) and larks (morning-types) and those birds that can tweet anytime (neutral-types).  Although much of our tendencies are determined by genetics, age and lifestyle are factors as well.  For instance, the young and the old are more likely to be morning types and college students tend toward the evening side of the scale.  Morning and evening types represent about a mere 15-20% of the population; the remainder are swingers.  Where do you place on the lark-owl spectrum?  Unusually, I was an evening-type even as a child (I didn’t – still don’t – wake up spontaneously on Christmas morning) and post-university I’m still an evening type, even though my occupational demands lend themselves more fruitfully towards morning productivity.  I can’t shake my nocturnal tendencies.  Owls, like me, naturally waken about 2 hours later than the majority of the population and don’t feel sleepy until sometime around 12 midnight and 2am.  We like to stay up late and wake up late.
Did you know that your chronobiologic rhythms can effect your running speed, strength, and endurance (not to mention your cognitive state – which in my experience can influence all of the aforementioned variables)?  You may want to time your workouts to your chronobiology.  Or perhaps not. If your race is ill-timed for your rhythms some practice running out-of-sync might be beneficial.  Like me and those early morning races.  I need to train my legs to move two hours before they’d prefer to wake up.  There is research to suggests athletes may perform better in the late afternoon, but for practical reasons (like increasing temperatures) marathons rarely start at 4pm.  The afternoon advantage is reflected in improved strength, anaerobic performance, and aerobic capacity, and decreased risk of injury.  On the flip side, other research shows that morning exercisers are more likely to stick with a routine.   Hard to reap the rewards of an afternoon run if you drop out of training in week three.  Fortunately though, the time-of-day impact is less dramatic during moderate intensity aerobic activities, like in jogging, than it is on other sports requiring more explosive power.  Unfortunately, I do not consider running a marathon to be equivalent to a moderate-intensity jog. 
So what’s a runner to do?  When to run is determined by your personal circadian clock, biological changes across the day that culminate in a 4pm boost, your lifestyle and preferences, and considerations like the race start.  Timing may be everything, but I’m of the mindset that any time is better than no time.


2 responses to “Confessions of a Wannabe Morning Exerciser

  1. determined to be a morning exerciser, i used to sleep in the clothes i planned to work out in the next morning. it worked for a while, but old habits die hard.

    • Now that is determination!

      I keep my gear right beside my bed for those long runs so I can roll out of bed and into my clothes, otherwise I fear what I would end up wearing.

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