Note: This week, I’m hosting a series where I will be publishing one post each day on the theme of 7 Days to Build a Better Body. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since beginning the “fitness lifestyle” over 15 years ago, it’s that you can’t radically transform your body in just one week, or one month for that matter. These things take time. But you can make good progress and set the stage for future, ongoing success in a very short period of time – and still have a life! And that’s what this week is all about – giving you some ideas, tips, and tools for improving your health and fitness not only this week, but for the long haul. If there’s enough interest in this week’s series, I’d love to do a month-long series that goes into much more depth in the future. Let me know if you’re interested by signing up for the waiting list at the bottom of this post.
Ask any successful athlete or fitness-minded person, and they’ll probably tell you that what you do first thing in the morning will often make or break your success.
So, in this first post in the series, I’m going to talk about the power of a morning routine, and share some of the things I do to kick-start my day, including some exercises I often perform first thing in the morning to get me focused and energized for the rest of the day.
The Power of a Consistent Morning Fitness Routine
I don’t care if you’re a morning person or not. A morning routine will do you a lot of good. It doesn’t matter if you spring out of bed before your alarm clock goes off or if you hit the snooze button over and over again. The first few minutes of your day – and to a lesser extent, the first few hours – really sets the tone for the rest of your day.
Now, I’ve had various morning routines and rituals over my life, but over the past year especially, I’ve figured out what works particularly well for me. And my new routine has made a big difference in my training, and my life, in general.
For example, I’ve noticed that if I make bad decisions in the morning, that trend will probably continue throughout the rest of the day (e.g. more bad decisions). Or, if I start my morning on the defensive – always trying to play catch-up – or not having my A-game on, my whole day suffers as a result. But on those days that I get my butt in gear right away, my whole day is much better for it.
So, the main purpose of a morning routine is to:
- wake you up and get you energized for the day
- get you on a regular schedule as soon as you get up
- address some of the most important, but often over-looked, training needs that you have
- get your mind right so that you can dominate the rest of your day
And here’s the thing: if you can win the first battle you face each and every day, which is getting out of bed when you’re supposed to, you’ll be much more likely to win the many other battle’s you face throughout the rest of your day.
But even if you don’t spring out of bed, you always have the opportunity to make a conscious choice to step up your game starting right now.
Okay, time to rock ‘n’ roll.
What Works For Me – John’s Morning Routine
So, here is a basic blueprint that I’ve developed for my morning routine.
1) Drink a tall glass of water.
You have every reason in the world to drink plenty of pure water. And the absolute most critical time to do so is first thing in the morning when you’re usually dehydrated. A tall glass of water will help re-hydrate and energize you, stoke your metabolism, detox your body and improve digestion, and may even help you lose weight, among many other things. So, this should be one of the very first things you do in the morning. And if you don’t like plain old water, try tea instead. Or, add a slice of lemon, which comes with a whole other set of benefits.
And yes, you should definitely drink a tall glass of water before you have any coffee, a smoothie, or protein drink, (etc.) in the morning. Get some pure water in your system before you put anything else in.
2) Start with a quiet time.
I’ve found that if I don’t take time for the important stuff first thing in the morning, I usually don’t get around to it during the rest of the day. So, I try to start each day with a quiet time. I usually pray, listen, and remember the important things in life. For you, it could be something else like meditation or another silence practice, which would be invaluable even without a spiritual element. So, figure out what works for you. Just make sure that you’re making time for what’s important.
3) Do some guided journaling.
I’ve tried journaling a few times in the past, but it never stuck. And I’m still not much of a journaler. So, instead, I just ask myself some questions to get focused on the right things and get my mind prepared for the rest of the day. So, I guess that I think of it more as an opportunity to train myself than to “find myself.”
I ask myself questions like:
- What am I grateful for today?
- What am I looking forward to doing today?
- What is my purpose and do my plans for today connect me to it?
- What are the most important things I have to accomplish today that will help me achieve my goals?
- Who can I serve or thank today?
I go through some other questions, too. And I got the idea from the excellent book The Way of the SEAL, which helped me to systematize my morning routine.
This guided journaling helps me get better focus and clarity on making sure that my plan for the day is in alignment with my underlying goals and intentions. I also often find that I make changes to my plans for the day after checking in with these questions. It’s just another “check and balance” for keeping me on track. For example, if I’m dreading my physical training plan for the day (which is pretty rare for me), I’ll catch that first thing in the morning and deal with it.
4) Get energized with some morning exercise and movement.
Movement is medicine, and one of the best times to get a healthy dose is first thing in the morning. It’ll wake you up, energize you, and improve your performance at practically everything else you do throughout the rest of your day.
For me, a self-proclaimed fitness guy, this is usually the most time-consuming chunk of my morning routine. It can last anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour, depending on what my plan calls for that day. Since I usually do my hard training later in the day, I usually perform my lower intensity exercise in the morning.
Now, almost any physical activity will be good here, but if you’d like my opinion on a darn-near ideal 4-step morning fitness routine, here’s a basic template:
1) Start with some joint mobility exercises, and ideally, a quick full body routine that covers every major joint complex, with special emphasis on the areas that you need to focus on.
Here’s a 5 minute routine I filmed in 2008…
And here’s a free program to get you started: Intu-Flow (Beginner Level).
Note: You can also look into the Recuper8 program, which is another great free program.
2) Perform some movement skill practice (e.g. MovNat, BodyFlow, TACGYM, Original Strength, Animal Flow, etc.).
Here’s a video of me practicing some Bodyflow and TACGYM in my living room…
And here’s a great free program I’ve used before: MovNat Beginner Program.
3) Go for a brisk walk or a run, preferably outside and in nature, if possible. Pretty self-explanatory, but I’ve got loads of posts in the running and barefoot archives, if you’d like to learn more. Oh, and here’s a free program if it’s helpful: John’s Free Walking Program.
4) Finish with some yoga – focusing on the spine, hips, and any other trouble spots (optionally, you can pair yoga with breathing exercises, meditation, and/or visualization). You can see some of the lessons I’ve learned from doing yoga here: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Yoga, which includes a couple of program recommendations. Or, you can just try this free follow-along program, which is a good basic routine for starting your day: Sun Salutation 1.
Note: If you want to do ALL of your training in the morning, then plug your strength and conditioning in between steps 2 and 3.
So, that’s a basic 4-step formula for the physical training. Of course, this may seen like a ton of work if you’re not used to exercising in the morning. So, feel free to pick just one activity and start with 5-10 minutes a day. You can build gradually from there, if you’d like. The key is to just do something that will get you moving each morning.
5) Eat a delicious and nutritious breakfast that you’ll love and will help you achieve your goals.
There are as many ways to eat as there are people. But I still think that for most people, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially if you’re in the business of maximizing your performance in training and life.
Ideally, your first meal will be a balance of protein, carbs, and fats (and that’s especially true if you train in the morning). A few great options that are more of the traditional breakfast foods would be…
a) An omelet with vegetables (click here for one of my favorite recipes)
b) Oatmeal with fruit, nuts or seeds (add protein powder, if you want)
c) Sliced fruit in almond or coconut milk with sliced/crushed nuts on top – my favorite is sliced bananas, blueberries, and shaved almonds mixed together in a bowl of coconut milk
And by this time, I’ve usually had two or three glasses of water. So, keep pushing the fluids all throughout your morning.
6) Review your goals and your plan for the day – making changes, as necessary.
This step is critical. If I miss this one, my whole day is a gamble.
Fortunately, most of the time, I plan my days ahead of time – usually at the end of each work day. So, most of the leg work is done in advance.
But what I need to do here is slow down from the hustle and bustle of the morning and take inventory of my plans for the day – even if it takes me an extra 15 minutes. This step is always worth the time, even when I’m running late.
So, I have a master to-do list on a pad of paper because I’m old school, and on it, I’ll identify the most important things I need to accomplish that day, and prioritize all other tasks accordingly (I use an “A, B, C” system). And I mean everything from work tasks, to meals, to training stuff, to family stuff – it all goes on the list. Then I’ll estimate how long each task will take (or decide how much time I will devote to it), and see if it all fits into one day. And if it doesn’t, I simply cut the least important tasks to make time for the more important ones. Finally, I’ll schedule every activity on my to-do list with a little extra time as a buffer (I usually need it!) – putting the most important tasks into time blocks. I also give myself hard deadlines within that day that I need to stick to (e.g. I must be done with work by 4pm so that I can train).
Oh, and I usually sip some green tea while doing this step. I’m all about that hydration thing. Can you tell?
Once my day is planned, prioritized, and scheduled down to the very last detail (including everything on this list), I’m pretty much ready to start with the “work stuff,” but…
7) Immediately before starting your work day, do some box breathing and visualization work to gear up mentally.
This is the secret sauce. If I’ve done my due diligence with the previous steps – if I’m energized, fueled up, have got good goals and a solid plan to achieve them – and if I’ve got my mind set on the task ahead of me (i.e. having a rockin’ day!), then this is what pushes me into turbo mode.
The box breathing is a very simple breathing exercise that is great stress reduction and relaxation technique, but it also helps to clear your mind and get a “blank slate” if you will. There are a lot of physical benefits, but I use it mostly for getting my mind ready for focused, deliberate action.
Here’s how to do it…
1) Inhale through nose for 4 seconds to fill lungs completely, distending your belly forward like a balloon
2) Hold for 4 seconds without letting any air escape
3) Exhale through mouth for 4 seconds to purge air completely, pulling your belly in to your spine
4) Relax and hold for 4 seconds without letting any air in
And here’s a video where I walk you through the technique…
This can be done standing up, sitting down, or laying down (or tied up like a pretzel if you’d like), but remember that it’s important to maintain good posture throughout the entire drill. And the most important thing you can remember is to breathe deeply into your belly to maximize your lung capacity every single breath.
I’ll usually do it for 5 minutes, sometimes longer if I’m stressed out or have a lot on my mind. Regardless, I go somewhere that I won’t be interrupted, set a timer and mentally set myself up for success for the rest of my day.
Note: you can learn more about the box breathing technique in my tutorial here: How to Box Breathe.
Now, the visualization exercises can be done separately, but I usually combine it with box breathing. So, the visualization is the true mental gear-up. I’ll usually visualize my goals, and see myself achieving them (or having already achieved them). I’ll visualize myself succeeding, both today and in the future. I’ll also imagine myself as my ideal future self. I’ll recommit. I’ll think about any challenges I may face during the day, and decide how I’m going to respond to them. I’ll even rehearse my entire day going through each activity in my mind (this one has made a big difference for me). Basically, I just do the mental work that I need to do to align my mind with my intentions, and the actions usually follow.
This is a extremely general summary, and there’s a lot that goes into this (and I’ve only scratched the surface myself). But needless to say, this is something you’ll have to practice. And you may not see the value in the beginning. You may even be tempted to save the 5 minutes and just get started with your day. Don’t. Work at this a little bit each day, and I’m sure it’ll have a positive impact as you get better at mentally preparing yourself for the day.
For me, it was probably a couple of weeks before I noticed a difference, but I trusted in the process and now I use this stuff daily (and not just during my morning routine), and it has helped tremendously.
So, that might seem like a lot to squeeze into one morning, and it is if you’re not used to doing these things. So, I should note that I gradually made this my morning routine over the last year or so. And of course, there is some variance from day to day. And sometimes, I mix and match activities to save time. Plus, for me, anything goes on Sunday. I don’t hold myself to strict training on Sundays, but I usually do some of my usual routine anyway.
All in all, my morning routine usually takes me between 20-60 minutes, which largely depends on how much time I spend on physical training first-thing in the morning. But it all starts with the decision to get the ball rolling, drink a glass of water, have a quiet time, and start my journaling. I’ve found that if I get that far, the rest of my day will usually be awesome.
One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m often tempted to skip some of my usual morning activities to save time or just get started with the “work stuff.” But that’s usually turned out to be a mistake. I’ve learned that for me, so much hinges on the consistency (that’s a key word for us fitness folks) of following this blueprint as closely as I can each day. It truly sets the stage for a successful day, which is pretty important if you’re seeking extraordinary health and fitness.
So, I’d encourage you to come up with your own morning routine. Use some of my ideas or just use some of your own. What you do is not nearly as important as actually doing something consistently each and every day. It’s the habit that’s important. Those little victories lead to big victories. So, make it happen this week, and start small if you need to. You’ll be glad you did.
7 Days to Build a Better Body
If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends! And please tune in for the rest of the series this week, too. Each day, I’ll be sharing some good stuff on how to build a better body, including some of my top diet tips, how to get un-chair shaped, healthy home hacks, and what to do on your “off days”, among others.
And if you’re interested in a month-long series on building a better body, please let me know by signing up for the newsletter (i.e. waiting list). If I get enough interest, I’ll try to put something together after the New Year.
Health-First Fitness Coach
Photo credit: 1.