“Do any of you have experience with working out in the morning? To avoid the summer heat in the afternoon I started to do that but my energy levels start to drop rapidly after about 30mins. I expected some negative impact on my workouts but it’s been 2 weeks and there is no sign of improvement. Can you share some tipps&tricks to deal with this problem?”
The above is a quote taken from Dan John’s Q&A Forum at davedraper.com
So, in response I started putting some thoughts down to share with him, but when I got done, well, it was just too long to post. I was going to email the following to him, but others suggested I put this on my blog so others can benefit (I’m a little slow sometimes, haha), so here you go:
Well, first off, I’m guessing you are training outside. Otherwise I can’t see heat being an issue in a typical gym or in an apartment or house.
So, before we get into training in the morning, let’s look at how a person might still train in the afternoon or evening and be able to deal with the heat. However, I do realize that some may want to train in the morning, not just because its cooler, but perhaps changed circumstances have forced them to do so. We’ll get to the morning training in a bit.
Training later in the evening, rather than in the afternoon, may be an option. Training at 8 or 9 at night can work, if you have a later work schedule and thus go to bed later in the evening, like around 10 to 12 at night. Just shorten up your workouts so, rather than hit a 60 minute session, you get it done in 20-30 minutes. However, this probably won’t work very well if you have to get up at 4-6 in the morning.
You can even split a three day per week schedule into a 5 or 6 day schedule to shorten your sessions. Another little trick is to drop a few exercises and just focus on the real big lifts for a few months through the summer. This shortens your training session even more.
If you train in a shed or garage with no cooling, set up a fan or two fans pointed at you. And shorten your workouts. Often times in the summer, in such a situation, it’s better to train outside in the shade where you can get a breeze, than in a shed or garage with no fans. I’ve even set a fan up outside before.
Hey, do whatever works.
Second, if you train outside, the first thing you want to do is set up for whatever exercise you want to do first. Then go back inside and knock out a warm-up if you feel you need it and then head back outside to do the rest of your training. In the summer I often just use the movement itself (with a few sets of lighter weights) as my warm-up, since the temperature has already warmed up my body.
Be sure to train in the shade. Keep the training session short and to the point. Drink water. Use a fan. IF it’s a dryer climate, spritzing yourself with water in between sets and having a fan blow on you can help tremendously in regulating your body heat. Dealing with high humidity is another issue. Fans may help, but when the air is saturated with moisture already, even fans may not help much, so be careful!
You also might want to pay attention to which exercises stoke up your body heat the fastest. With a little forethought you can switch up your training and do them last, so right after your training session you can go back inside to cool down.
For example, bench presses, rows, curls or OH presses probably won’t ramp up your metabolism as much as squats or power cleans. So, do the smaller upper body stuff first and hit the big compound exercise movements last. This way your body-heat doesn’t rise as fast and when you hit the big movements and get real hot, when you finish you can go inside to cool down. If you do the big exercises first, you may get so hot you can’t finish the rest of your session.
At times I have literally gone back inside after each main exercise to cool down for a few minutes and taken a few gulps of cold water before moving on to the next exercise.
Other times I have set a fan up in a window to blow some a/c air out at me and I would go stand there briefly between sets. Hey, when it’s 108°F or higher, you do what ya gotta do!
And sometimes that means skipping a training session.
You might simply pick one or two movements and train them each day to shorten the session even more. Perhaps doing PC’s Monday. Tuesday is squats. Wednesday is bench and Thursday rows.
Or Power Snatch and OH squats on Monday, Tuesday is bench and rows, Wednesday is hang clean and front squat, Thursday is PC and press for example. Ten minutes on each movement is plenty. Ramp up the weights and as soon as you change the plates, do your next set of warm-ups to get to your training weights fast.
A lot of this depends on what movements you are training and with what implement.
Now I have ridden motorcycles for years and riding one in the southwest desert, especially off road doing jumps and berm-shots in the heat can be brutal. You’re wearing all this protective gear: boots, jersey, roost protector, tough pants with knee protection, a helmet, gloves, etc. So how do those that ride like this deal with the heat?
They buy a hydration vest. It is basically a vest you soak with water and then wear under your jacket or jersey. As the air vents through, it evaporates water off the vest and cools your body. Plus, you drink a large glass of water a half hour before you start riding. Then use a hydration back pack with a hose you sip on while riding. IF you’re smart.
So you could put on a couple of T-shirts, wet them down and if the humidity is low and a fan is blowing or there is a good breeze, this can keep you cooler. Experiment.
Also, a small gulp of water every five to ten minutes or so is much better than chugging a large glass right in the middle of your training session. Your body can assimilate the smaller gulps better than the huge glass at one time. Little sips don’t work as well, because it’s too small an amount of water.
Chances are if you drink enough water throughout the day, several gulps of water will easily get you through a 20-30 minute training session.
OK, now on to working out in the morning.
First we’ll look at food.
Some can train on no food first thing in the morning. It’s an individual thing. Sometimes you can train your body to do this, that is, get used to training on an empty stomach with no food for hours beforehand. Other times you can’t. IF you get light headed skipping a meal, chances are you are a person who has a certain amount of hypoglycemia.
Pay attention to how you feel throughout the day especially if you haven’t eaten in a number of hours. Signs of lowered blood glucose can be getting anxious or irritable, feeling shaky, having trouble balancing, light headed, foggy thinking, trouble concentrating, feeling like you’ll fall asleep, etc.
Most “normal people”, if there is even such a thing, can go for 4-6 hours or more while awake without eating. Of course this is dependent on a lot of factors.
If you are a person who deals with a bit of hypoglycemia, you may NOT be able to get used to training without food of some sort. If you crash after or during a workout from lack of energy, well, that could be a case of low blood sugar or it could just be poor food choices in the hours before. Eating a bit more of the good fats in the evening may help some in getting up in the morning with enough energy to train.
With the right quality food and perhaps some herbal supplements, a slightly hypoglycemic individual may be able to swing things to a better blood glucose/insulin profile.
Now, if you are the type that wakes up several times at night at pretty consistent times, simply have a small protein shake ready to go and drink it at one of those nocturnal awakenings. If this isn’t you, I do not recommend setting an alarm to wake up earlier just so you can eat and then go back to sleep for a few hours. If you can sleep through the night without waking, enjoy it.
Some people, however, just need to eat something before the morning training session.
Just because some people can get up and train with no food, or may be able to drink some coffee and knock out a good training session, does not mean if you can’t do that you are any less a man or woman.
For example, for me the so-called warrior-type diets are a joke. I have a bigger machine and it needs fuel. That’s me and I know it, so why fight it and try to force myself into some other person’s conception of eating habits based on evidence of which he was not there to experience firsthand.
Written history is all well and good and we can learn from it, but you know what they say about the written word. And any nation will always write favorably about their history, including battle campaigns.
Any conquering soldiers would have also partaken of the spoils of their victory, even in smaller battles and that includes food.
And yes, sometimes the food may have been poisoned, but really, if you are in battle do you think you are going to say:
“Hey, let’s poison our food just in case we lose.”
And someone else says, “Yea! But, Oh, wait a minute. What if we win? What will we eat??”
The first guy: “well, we’ll eat their food!”
Back to the other guy, “Yea! Oh, but wait. What if they poison their own food?”
And around it goes.
And how does your enemy, in the midst of battle, poison a bunch of chickens, pigs, goats, cattle or whatever other animals they probably have?
So unless we were there or our uncle was there or we can travel back in time, can we really say for certain that soldiers didn’t eat a bit here and there when an opportunity arose?
When under extended duress you will find ways to eat whenever you can. If you knew you were about to go into battle in the morning, do you think you’d wait until evening to eat or try to get through that battle with what you had eaten the night before?
You’d eat what you could earlier in the morning hoping it would carry you through the day until you could eat at night, and even then, if at all possible, you’d eat something else and drink water or whatever when you got a chance. You have to in order to continue to function. You have to do that in order to provide fuel for your body, mind and muscles. Otherwise you’d quickly run out of steam and die.
So, on these fasting type diets lasting all night and for half the day, take that stuff with a grain of salt.
The Romans did.
Just for fun, ask some of these guys that propose these ‘Don’t eat anything except between the hours of noon to eight” to go get up early in the morning and go hump wheel-barrow loads of cement or rocks or bricks for half the day and then dig a well with a pick-axe and shovel and keep working like that until night. Then eat a huge meal and start all over the next day. I guarantee they won’t last long on that job.
I’ve had jobs like that, and by noon you’ve already worked hard for 6 hours. I had one job for 6 years where I moved 25-30 tons of metal by hand every day starting at 5 in the morning. So, by noon I had already worked 7 hours and moved over 20 tons of metal. Try that on a “noon to eight pm” eating schedule. You’d get hurt and your muscle would waste away. I did Olympic lifting at that time and trained in boxing. Hiked and mountain biked and did hill sprints with a log at the same time. Warrior diets my butt!
I ate six egg omelets every morning at 3:30 a.m. with a ton of vegetables thrown in and I’d still get hungry by ten o’clock.
However, this is just me. You MAY be different. This doesn’t mean the warrior-diets are no good. There are some good points in some of these diets. I have done something similar to a warrior diet on a weekend day when I wasn’t doing much of anything and I was OK.
But the overall scheme is just no good for me. So, whatever suggestions you hear, test them out for yourself and you will know what works for YOU.
We are all individuals with different strengths and weaknesses. You’ve got to ‘run what you brung’, so don’t sweat it. Sometimes, with enough sessions under your belt, you can adapt to certain things. Other times a person can’t. There are a lot of factors at play here beneath the surface.
Coffee or coffee with coconut oil or butter and a bit of honey and cream helps some people. For others the coffee makes the heart race or makes them jittery, so then it’s better to drink something else.
Also, it can be a matter of a person’s employment. Let’s face it, if you work a physical job you ARE going to need a higher calorie input.
And then there is the fact of body-mass and height. A bigger person WILL burn more calories while sleeping. Just because somebody weighing 160 at 5’9″ may feel great drinking some concoction of coffee in the morning and fasting until noon at his office job or plunking around training people does not mean it is going to work for some 225-250 pound, 6’3″ dude who works a physical job.
Believe me, I’ve trained people and even though you may demonstrate movements off and on all day it is nowhere near as hard as a tough physical job.
As a farmer once told my complaining co-workers as I loaded up my plate for the third time at the end of a long day pitching hay-bales:
“You can tell how hard a man works by how hard he eats.”
I was up at 4 in the morning milking cows, grind feed, splitting firewood, mending fences, digging post-holes, etc. So I got up at 3:30, ate a big breakfast, worked until 6, ran to the farm house and ate another breakfast and then out to the fields and barns for whatever needed doing. Lunch was often brought to us. Eat and right back to work and then the big meal at night. A person couldn’t do that kind of work for long and hope to also train physically. You could tell the hard working farmers back then. They were lean and muscular and ate like an ox.
Anyway, it’s just something to be aware of. I don’t know your circumstances, your job, your health, your weight and height, but think about those things as you think about adopting some food-fasting type diet. It is a highly individualized thing.
Experiment, log it in a journal and see what works best for you. Believe me it won’t take you long to figure this out. If after a week of no food in the morning following a big meal at night, and you still feel like a bag of mush, then training on an empty stomach in the morning is a no-go for you.
Now as I mentioned, for some people coffee is a no-go, so try herbal teas with a bit of honey, a dash of cinnamon and some real cream.
Or try a glass of chocolate milk. If you are worried about the sugar, a dash or two of cinnamon helps the body deal with that.
IF you need to eat something, grab something that digests easily, perhaps yogurt with some blueberries. Half a cup of cottage cheese might work. Find what sits best in your stomach and just eat a half cup or so. Now the person posting the question at the very start of this article mentioned eating oatmeal and having a protein shake and coffee. That’s a lot of stuff sloshing around.
SO, I would suggest just the oatmeal or just a small protein shake and no coffee.
Usually protein shakes are designed to be digested easily and fairly quickly. Think about it, everything is in powdered form and then when mixed with water, milk, coconut milk or whatever, it’s basically halfway to digested.
Here’s a little trick:
Take a mouthful of the protein shake and before you swallow it, chew it for a bit and get your saliva mixed in with it. Digestion starts in the mouth. I heard it said years ago that a person should chew their food enough so it is almost like “chew your liquids and drink your food”.
That means you chew the food very well. This also helps the body get the most nutrients out of every mouthful of food. And this also can help those with digestive problems. Too many people eat like they are in a food-eating contest. If you have to wash every bite down with a swallow of some liquid, you are not chewing your food well enough.
So, fully enjoy just the oatmeal or the shake, and I bet you will digest it quicker and have more energy.
After a week or two you should be able to determine how much time you need to digest your food before training. If it’s a bit longer than you’d like, adjust your sleep schedule so you have the necessary time.
Also, while you wait for that bit of food to digest a little, you can use that time productively, setting out clothes for work, packing a healthy lunch, mixing some eggs and pre-chopped vegetables to scramble or whatever. Make a list of what you want to accomplish that day. Hopefully you already figured out what and how you want to train for that morning. And if you are going to train a little that evening, you should have that planned out ahead of time and written down. This can all be accomplished in 20 minutes or so. Some of it you could even prepare the night before, thus making your morning go smoothly and calmly.
When your stomach feels ready for it:
Start training. Train smart, smoothly and don’t waste time.
Finish up your training. Shower, throw on some shorts, cook up the pre-mixed food, eat a great breakfast and then if your job calls for it, put on your good clothes. Don’t dress up first before you cook and eat, because if you accidentally get food on your clothes, it might mean figuring out what to put on and this can put a dent in what has started off as a great day.
Grab you preplanned meal for lunch, your list for the day and head out the door.
If you do this, your day will go much more smoothly. You will walk out the door with way more accomplished than 90% of people and have a much clearer path of where you are heading that day. Your mind will be clear and ready to tackle anything. Going to work after training with only some buttered coffee in your gut isn’t all that nice of a start to your morning. Your brain needs fuel to think.
Plus your commute to work will go smoother as you will be more alert rather than thinking about not forgetting this or that. You won’t be distracted by all that mental “noise”. You won’t forget because you made a list. You can sit back, drive and listen to some nice calming music or some audio CD on improving something in your life.
When some idiot cuts you off as you drive down the road you will be way less apt to get mad since you are not rushing off to work in a hurry worried you forgot something and with a cup of coffee gurgling in your stomach and butter ready to squirt out your butt. Coffee is a diuretic, has been used for enemas and adding butter to it, well, lets just say you might not make it to the office without a quick rest stop. THAT will get your day off to a grand start, haha!
Ok, enough of that.
Let’s look at sleep.
If you wake up groggy in the morning, I would suggest experimenting with your sleep. Try waking up a half hour earlier or later. You can also go to bed an hour or half an hour earlier and thus gain the extra time in the morning to wake up a bit earlier so you don’t lose any sleep.
Experimenting in this way may help you find the optimum time to hit the bed and the optimum time to wake up and actually be alert when you do wake up. After every adjustment in your sleeping habits, give it a week or two to really see how it will go for you. Keep track of this in a log book.
The other thing, if you are one of these people that sets the alarm to wake you up a half hour early and then lay there and continue to hit the 9 minute snooze button, you are merely training yourself to have a miserable groggy wake-up morning.
Set your alarm for when you want to get up. And then when the alarm goes off, well, GET UP!
I know this is tough for some people, but a person can train themselves to flip the switch and wake up mentally once their alarm goes off. If you are eating quality food and getting the needed calories for your life, metabolism, etc. then adapting to waking up early fully alert should be doable.
For years now, I haven’t used an alarm. I decide when I want to wake up and most of the time I awaken within a few minutes of that time. It’s something that you might be able to train yourself to do. It’s a nice way to wake up, because there is no sudden noise that jars you awake and makes you heart jump out of your chest. The trick is, start setting your alarm quieter and quieter over a period of time. Then on days you don’t work, try waking up without an alarm.
And when you wake up in the morning without an alarm, don’t confuse your body by rolling over and trying to sleep some more. Simply get up and start doing things. In time you can create a new sleeping pattern and wake up without an alarm. It’s a much calmer way to wake up.
Keep a note pad by your bed and write down any thoughts you are worried about forgetting. And write down your other worries on that paper too, so you can forget about them and get to sleep, knowing they are right there for you to toss out with the garbage in the morning.
One of my friends was always quoting someone, saying something along the lines of:
“I’ve endured a great deal of trail and tribulation in my life. And some of them have actually come true.”
Follow Dan John’s advice about having a dark room, wearing ear muffs or plugs to deaden sound and/or wearing a sleep mask so you SLEEP when you hit the bed.
Avoiding artificial lights like TV, computers and cell phones, etc and hour or so before bed will help you fall asleep quicker and get a better quality of sleep. There have been plenty of articles about this.
Ok, so you slept through the night and now it’s time to get up.
Grab some water; hit the head, splash cold water on the face and head and neck and towel off.
If you need it:
Eat your morning snack and take a nice quick little walk. Even a short five minute walk at a brisk pace helps a great deal. Movement as soon as possible in the morning will soon train you to wake up more alert. Even a few BW squats and pushups before anything else can help waken a person up.
So, warm-up how you want and hit your training session. Keep it short, like 20-30 minutes. Even a well thought out routine lasting 15 minutes performed 5 to 7 days a week in the morning can do wonders.
If training the lower back in anyway concerns you, remove those things like heavy squatting or deadlifts or heavy swings, etc. Do the other more back friendly movements in the morning. This can be an excellent time to do tumbling, BW exercises, bodybuilding work for the upper body, etc.
Then, with that smaller stuff out of the way, you can hit a few sets of squats, deads, PC’s or whatever when you get home from work. You can knock off 5-8 sets in 10 minutes in the evening and the heat will not be an issue. This again depends on what you are training and what you are training with.
So, in essence, split your normal training session for each day into two smaller sessions. Do the lighter, back friendly stuff in the morning and the heavier more back taxing stuff later in the day.
This way you can chop an hour long workout into perhaps a 30minute/30minute morning/evening split. Or perhaps a 40/20 split or even a 45/15 split. Or you can take a 45 minute or 30 minute daily routine and split it into 15/30 or 20/25 or 15/15. You could even go 10/20 or 20/10.
This lets you really hit those short routines harder and much faster. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish this way, and even though these short workouts might seem too short, the beauty lies in what’s called accumulation. Its how rust works and it can bring down the biggest metal structures a little at a time over the long haul. Thirty minutes of training per day, split up into two short segments equals 3 to 3.5 hours of focused training per week. Don’t underestimate such accumulative training.
Something else to think about is:
This might be a good time to switch to something along the lines of Convict Conditioning for a few months during the summer. You can do a lot of BW stuff inside. Or perhaps do some hill sprints in the morning once or twice a week and some Simple and Sinister training on the other mornings and later in the day just do one big movement with a barbell.
BW weight exercises don’t seem to impact many people in the same way as barbell and KB movements. So, you might be able to get away with not eating and just knocking off a few sets of push-ups and horizontal rows one morning. BW squats and tactical lunges the next morning. Pull-ups and handstand push-ups the next morning. Something like that and perhaps swim in the evenings if a pool, pond, or lake is available anywhere.
Anyway, I hope this is of use to you or anyone else that happens to read this. I apologize for the jumbled thoughts as I typed this out pretty fast. And remember, take this with a grain of salt…