A few months ago I added a new element to my daily routine: a short, bodyweight workout that I perform every morning, immediately upon getting out of bed. The results: I’ve burned off a little bit of fat, but more importantly (to me), I wake up and start the day faster than I used to.
Doing a wake-up workout like this offers four major benefits:
It activates your nervous system- particularly if you incorporate iso-lateral movements- helping your brain to quickly transition from morning grogginess to fully awake. For people like me who have trouble getting up in the morning, this can easily save an hour a day in wasted time.
It burns a little bit of fat, particularly since you’re doing it on an empty stomach. It burns even more fat if you don’t break your fast immediately after, but instead wait at least an hour.
It provides some growth stimulus to your muscles. Since you’re not pushing yourself super hard, it provides your slow-twitch muscle fibers with the volume they need, while leaving fast-twitch fibers to get the recovery they need.
From a scheduling standpoint, it’s very convenient- you can get some exercise done before you start your day and life gets in the way.
So in my opinion, everyone should be doing a short workout upon waking every morning. There are two variations on this strategy. First, you can use this workout mainly as a wake-up, keeping it short while also going to the gym several days a week.
Second, you can skip the gym and make the wake-up workout longer and more intense, using it as an exercise program in and of itself. I prefer option 1, but option 2 is undoubtedly more convenient.
In either case- here are the exact workouts I would start with, for both of these options.
Option 1: Wake-up workout in addition to your main workout
Perform this as soon as you get up in the morning- that means no eating, drinking, checking your phone. Use the bathroom if you have to, but otherwise, this should be the very first thing you do every single morning.
Pistol squats- 6-10 reps each leg
Pike push-up, 8-12 reps
Jump squats, 10-20 reps
Plyometric push-ups 5-10 reps
Side planks, 20-30 seconds each side
Mountain climbers, 15-20 reps each side
Proceed immediately from one exercise to the next with no rest. Do this just once on workout days. On non-workout days, do it twice, with less than a minute of rest between each circuit.
The whole thing takes about three minutes, or seven minutes if you do it twice. It doesn’t seem like much, but since you’re doing it every day, it adds up to about a half hour of extra exercise per week- the equivalent of doing one more workout a week.
Option 2: Wake-up workout as your primary workout
Option 1 is great if you’re hitting the gym but also want to wake up better and sneak in little extra exercise. But what if you want to forgo the gym- and have the convenience of getting all your exercise done within the first 20 minutes after you wake up every day?
In that case, you can add more to this workout. This isn’t as effective of a workout as going to the gym can be. However, if you find yourself skipping gym sessions, this will be easier to do consistently. Remember, consistency is the number one factor that will make you successful at fitness (and many other areas of life).
Again, do this as soon as you get up every single morning. To start with, perform a single circuit of the wake-up workout from option 1. After that, rest 60 seconds and proceed to the second half:
Prisoner squats, 12-20 reps (go deep)
Push-ups, 8-12 reps with 2 second hold at the bottom
Front plank, 30-60 seconds
Walking overhead lunges, 8-12 reps each leg (lunges with arms held over your head- again, go deep)
Jumping jacks, 20-30 reps
Mountain climbers, 20-30 reps each side
Rest 60 seconds, then repeat for a total of 3 circuits. With every exercise, go to just a couple reps shy of muscle failure.
Option 2 takes about 15-20 minutes. That means it adds up to about 2 hours of exercise per week, or 3-4 typical gym workouts per week.
How to progress over time
These workouts give you a starting point. Over time you’ll need to make them tougher. You have several options for doing that:
Add more reps. Note that I’ve given you a rep range to work with for each- but you could go higher.
Shorten the rest periods.
Add an extra repetition of the circuit.
Add another exercise to the circuit.
Pick one or two days a week to push yourself harder- going to muscle failure on some or all of your exercises. This is a good option if you want to add some muscle mass.
What I really love about this is that I get to start every day knowing I already got some exercise that day- I’ve given myself a head start. When you work out first thing in the morning every morning, you’ll burn a little more fat, put on a little more muscle mass, wake up better every morning, and best of all- scheduling never becomes an issue.