So many of us dream of living up to that aspirational goal of keeping to a morning workout routine. Wouldn’t it be nice to to be up with the sun, riding our luxury stationary bikes (in front of a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the ocean, of course)? Or running blissfully through the park before grabbing a cup of coffee and preparing for the rest of the day?
The reality is that (perhaps aside from the lack of panoramic, unobstructed views from our in-home supergym) we’re sometimes just too tired. Whether you’re not really a morning person, or you missed a few hours of shuteye, a morning workout can feel dreadful when you’re short on energy at the crack of dawn.
And while “there are many benefits to starting your morning with a workout, it’s essential to consider your natural biological clock when planning your training schedule,” said Amina Barnes, a certified personal trainer based in Kansas City. Although you may be awake, your mental sharpness isn’t quite at its peak, Barnes said. That can make it difficult to perform a task like exercise.
If you’re feeling especially groggy, listen to your body and take it easy — you’ll be protecting yourself from getting hurt, added Liz Letchford, a personal trainer and injury rehabilitation specialist in Los Angeles. “Fatigue, whether physical or mental, is a risk factor for injury.”
But what if you want to move your body a bit? Or what if the morning is the only time you have to yourself? When you’re so sleepy you can’t fathom a workout, but still want to get in some exercise, here’s what experts suggest.
Gentle stretching allows your mind and body to wake up by giving you gentle stimuli, according to Letchford.
Try doing an open-book stretch or a figure-four stretch when you first wake up. Even stretching your arms above your head can help you first thing in the morning, Kelly Roberts Lane, owner of Fix It Physical Therapy in Minnesota, previously told HuffPost.
“Reach your arms all the way over your head and look up. Then, roll your spine down one vertebra at a time until you are touching your toes or are as close to them as you can get,” Roberts Lane said. “Let your head hang. Straighten one knee and then the other to get a deeper hamstring stretch.”
After stretching, you can progress to a warm up (more on that in a second) or other moves.
A warmup can be as simple as some steadily-paced, low-impact bodyweight exercises (think: squats).
“Squats — on controlled tempo — warm up your hips, glutes and core, and [help you to] connect to your foundation first thing in the morning,” said Anthony Crouchelli, a New York-based trainer and founder of the .1 Method.
You can leave it there, or move into something more involved if you’re feeling more awake.
“Prior to intense movement, especially if it involves heavy lifting ... I always recommend a warmup that addresses the brain-body connection,” Letchford said, noting that your reaction time also slows when you’re tired (and sore). “My favorite way to prime the nervous system for an intense workout is to move quickly — fast feet or quick hops. Both improve reaction time.”
You should do this whenever you exercise early, even if you got good sleep. “After a long night of sleep, it is best to start slow and ease into movement,” she said.
“I’d recommend doing simple mobility exercises to warm up your body ... easy movements, like hip-openers, glute bridges or lateral lunges can help you improve your flexibility and function,” Crouchelli said.
Additionally, Crouchelli recommended practicing some mobility patterns known as CARs: controlled articular rotations. These help expand your range of motion in your joints ― there are moves for your wrists, shoulders, hips and more. In addition to helping prevent injuries, CARs could lead to progress in your other workouts. Here’s a great instructional example on how to perform them:
Yoga is a universal trainer favorite for so many reasons — it’s low impact, can be adapted to different levels, helps you focus on your breath, and in this case, can help you wake up.
Letchford is a fan of yoga for both herself and her clients, and Crouchelli said yoga is one of his top two morning workouts (the other being the aforementioned CARs).
“Simple downward dog to updog movements” are excellent for groggy mornings, Crouchelli explained. “Yoga has been a great balance in my programming as it has filled a great weekly low-impact workout to allow myself to connect my mental and physical wellness in one flow.”
Barnes recommended doing cardio exercises in the morning to burn off some of the stress that you might naturally wake up with. Walking, jogging, biking (whether stationary or on the road) and swimming are all great options.
Exercises You Might Want To Avoid
Anything explosive, high impact, or high intensity should be off the table first thing in the morning, unless you’re really awake, committed and focused.
“When you first get up, [avoid] any explosive movements such as burpees, stag jumps, etc. as they are going to put excessive volume on the joints without a proper warmup, leading to a high risk of injury,” Crouchell said.
“Doing quick, coordinated workouts in the early morning may put you at risk for injury if your mind is not fully alert,” Barnes added.
Barnes also emphasized the importance of following your body’s natural rhythm, and respecting when you’re too tired — even if it doesn’t fit the “dream vision” of your perfect morning routine. This is especially true when it comes to lifting weights or anything you want to improve upon. Putting it off until later in the day ― when you’re more alert and your body is properly prepped ― could lead you to way better results.