I’m a Night Owl. Here’s What I Learned from Working Out at 6am

During the remaining four weeks at my first job out of college, I embarked on a little experiment otherwise known as “Morning CrossFit”. I had a new gig lined up that I was starting to get excited for, and had already begun counting down the days before I could pack up my cubicle and say “cya” to coworkers who hadn’t quite turned into friends. I figured, what’s a better time to put my routine on its head than in the final weeks before switching jobs and REALLY messing with my routine.

What I was hoping to accomplish was simple. After six months in a new city working my first “real” job, I still hadn’t made any friends interested in lifting heavy stuff. CrossFit felt like as good of a solution as any. But with the long days at my then-job, the 6am class was the only class that fit into my schedule. When I switched to my new gig and my hours changed drastically, I’d be able to attend the 6am, 8am, or even 12:30pm class… but I didn’t want to wait a month.

So, after 4 years of working out in the evening during college and 6 months working out in the evening post-grad, I turned my sweat-schedule on its head and prepared to get my pump on a full 12-14 hours earlier in my day than my body had been accustomed. Here’s how it went:

I Was In A Better Mood When I Went To CrossFit Class in the A.M.

Living in a city dominated by honks, non-stop sirens, and booming music, it can be easy to forget the sound of crickets or the innocent chirp of birds. During my experiment, my 6am class force me to leave my cramped Brooklyn apartment by 5:15am, which meant my day got to start with the glow of the moon, the sounds of “suburbia”, and a walk to the train filled with chirping crows and crickets. By the time I arrived at ICE NYC, the CrossFit gym my little experiment was taking place at, forty minutes later I was already smiling. Not only did I get to hear crickets (in the city!), I also always got a seat on the train, which meant I could read my book in sleepy-peace during my commute.

Add an hour long social sweat-sess to my glorified commute, and by 7:00am I had smiled more, laughed more, and been more social since waking than I had during any full day since my move to the Big Apple back in September. Because I worked in a cubicle at a job that valued Slack-communication over in-person dialogue and worked out in the weight-room of a generic chain-gym, often, the most social interaction I had in a day was ordering my morning java or talking on the phone with friends 2000-3000 miles away.

This new social-element boosted my mood exponentially, and reminded myself that even though I’m an introvert, I still crave human connection.

I Had To Start Eating Breakfast

My breakfast habits have always been less than stellar: a Venti iced Starbucks coffee (with caramel and soy milk) and an apple, and I’d be on the subway on my way to work. When I joined the workforce last June, my habitual breakfast skipping held steady. Wake up early to make an avocado omelette or sleep in an extra forty minutes minutes? Spend time scrolling Pinterest and Tumblr for the perfect overnight oatmeal with chia seeds recipe to prepare for the next morning or mindlessly refresh my IG feed? Put my stomach through the cruel and unusual punishment of two-ingredient pancakes? No thanks. I’ll stick to my coffee and granny smith.

But once I started waking up a full three hours earlier, by 8:00am, I was starved. My new routine: drinkable calories on drinkable calories. After getting off the subway two blocks from my office, I popped into the chic vegan breakfast and lunch to-go shop for an $8.00 green juice with kale, hemp protein, banana, and strawberries and then popped next store to Starbucks with Venti iced coffee. By the time I’d read and replied to the emails waiting for me half an hour later, I was full on protein-smoothie and caffeine and ready to conquer my day. While I didn’t crave a morning meal prior to my am sweat sessions, after a with-the-sun CrossFit WOD, I was ravenous, but after starting my day on such a healthy note, I wanted the gritty taste of hemp protein. I craved the slimy kale mush. While the scones at Starbucks tempted me every morning, I knew the sugar-high and sugar-fall they’d bring me just wasn’t worth it.

I Had To Figure Out My Stomach

Being unfamiliar with with my morning routine also meant that I was unfamiliar with how my stomach operated at that time. This was especially true the first few days of my morning CrossFit adventures, when midway through a WOD with a lot of jumping I was hit with a frantic need to use the restroom… let’s add that to the list of reasons we hate burpee box jumps, shall we? After a few mornings of awkwardly escaping class to deal with my rumbling tummy, I realized I didn’t to switch up my morning routine so that my bowel movements stopped interrupting my sweat-sesh. So, while as much as I loved getting up at 5:10am and getting ready in under 7 minutes before leaving to catch the J-train, I starting waking up at 4:55, chugging a bottle of water, which jump-started my metabolism and helped get my early-morning, ahem, relief out of the way for my WOD.

It Took My Body Two Weeks To Adjust to Early Bedtime

While it took less than five days for my body to automatically wake up at my new “go time”, it took me a full three weeks to get used to going to sleep by 9pm. For the first week I treated my new early bedtime as negotiable: Oh, it’s 9:15? I’ll just finish this steamy episode of Chicago Fire… THEN I’ll go to bed. 8:50pm? This is a perfect time to FaceTime that college friend I haven’t talked to in a whole week! I’ll just keep an eye on the clock…. Ugh, it’s 9:30pm and I can’t fall asleep. Maybe reading a chapter of the amazing and creepy book (aka Girl On The Train) will help… You get the point: I was liniate with my bedtime rules for the first because I prioritized tv-time, phone-time, and friend-time over my Zzzz’s.

But after a week of insufficient sleep, I cracked down.

The second week, I made crawling into bed, lights-out by 9:00pm a rule. After three nights of failing to fall asleep by 10:00pm, despite being in bed by 9:00pm, I needed to switch up my routine. Because a busy-mind kept me from really hitting the hay, I began making a list of things I needed to do the next day before climbing between the sheets. By emptying my mind of tasks and taking away the stress of possibly forgetting one of my many to-do’s, I was able to fall asleep calmly and quickly. (While since this experiment I’ve ditched my early am sweat-session for a lunch-time pump, the routine of making to-do lists prior to sleep has stuck.)

I Still Craved That After Work Relief

While working out before work put me in a better mood for the day ahead, by the time 6:00pm rolled around and I clocked out of work, I still desperately craved an outlet for the work-day stress that had accumulated in my body. On days when work was particularly upsetting, I’d jog a slow 5k on the treadmill in my apartments-buildings tiny gym. On days my back felt cramped from a day of sitting, I googled yoga tutorials on YouTube and stretched before hitting the hay. On days when I got to leave work early (by, say, 4:00pm), I found myself hitting the gym got a quick date with the weight-room.

While I enjoyed how working out before work because it jump-started my day, helped me be more productive in the am hours of work, and lead to me eating healthier snacks throughout the day, I never stopped missing my 4-year strong routine. So, while after 20+ days of am sweats my routine had logistically changed, at the end of the month-long challenge I went back to my old pm ways.  

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.