Richard Branson, billionaire entrepreneur and creator of the transnational conglomerate Virgin, purportedly said that an hour of exercise in the morning increased his productivity levels by 4 hours. That’s a pretty hefty pay-off, more so considering the many health benefits associated with exercise.
While I’m yet to experience a 4-hour bump in productivity levels, I agree that a morning workout is one of the best ways to start the day. Not only does an early sweat session wake you up to the world, but it starts the day on a healthy footing: as the saying goes ‘start as you mean to go on’.
What I’ve found is that when I scrape myself out of bed and complete my morning workout routine (see below), I maintain healthy habits throughout the day – such as staying active, keeping hydrated, and abstaining from processed foods.
In addition to stoking the fires of self-discipline, I’ve also found that a morning workout is a great way to lift my mood. After completing the low- to moderate-intensity workout below, which is my standard morning routine, I’m typically cheerier and thus embark on the day with a positive outlook.
And finally, I find that exercising first thing is energising. This at first may sound contradictory. After all, training is tiring – right? Actually, in my experience, it’s quite the opposite. A light- to moderate-intensity 45-minute whole-body workout is like a battery boost, leaving me charged for the day.
How it works
On completion of the 10-minute warm-up work through the 5 exercises below. The exercises have been organised into a circular circuit where one full lap typically takes 5-minutes. Most mornings I complete 6 laps which, including the warm-up and cool-down, equates to 45-minutes of training. However, if you don’t have 45-minutes to spare in the morning, or you are just getting into exercise, simply cut the number of laps to suit your lifestyle requirements.
At 5am every morning (except Sunday) I religiously roll out my Yoga mat and gently work through a series of sun salutations. The sun salutation, one of the 12 Basic Asanas of the Yogic Science, is a multifaceted dynamic movement ‘that activates the myotatic stretch reflex’ and, as well as increasing general flexibility, ‘is especially good as a warm-up.’¹
From the sun salutation I also perform press-ups, plank and air squats. To learn how to execute the perfect sun salutation follow the link.
30-minutes cardio and calisthenics
Concluding Yoga, I jog to my local park where I complete a series of cardio and callisthenic circuits for 30-minutes. Because it’s early and I’m still shrugging off the boon of sleep, I progress through the workout at a low- to moderate-intensity. As well as requiring no equipment, the following session is fully customisable. Meaning you change it however you please. But just ensure that you have a cardio element and a series of functional bodyweight exercises.
1) 700-metre Run
Second to sun salutations running is the best morning exercise (in my opinion). A gentle jog helps clear the head as well as kickstarting the heart and opening the lungs. In addition, running is a great fat burner and whole-body fitness developer. During this morning workout I take it nice and easy and maintain a plodding pace for the first couple of laps.
2) 25-reps Hanging Leg Raises
HLRs are more than merely an abdominal toner. They develop core stability and grip strength. Moreover, they are eminently modifiable – meaning you can either settle for easy knee raises or test yourself with toes to bar. And if HLRs ever get too easy, which they never do, there’s always the option of increasing the resistance by gripping a medicine ball between your knees.
3) 25-reps Alternate Leg Squat Thrusts
A highly functional movement, alternate leg squat thrusts train multiple muscle groups. This is because they are an amalgamation of two exercises. While isometrically holding the high plank position (the start of a press-up) you are to pump your legs back and forward like a pair of pistons. As well engaging your cardiovascular system they’ll build stamina and muscle endurance in the arms, chest, abdominals and glutes.
4) 25-reps Press-ups
Press-ups are revered for their fitness-developing and body-sculpting qualities. They are brilliant at building pectoral, anterior deltoid and triceps strength. Furthermore, they work the transverse abdominus, abdominal muscles and hip flexors. Also, the press-ups is eminently modifiable and there are (apparently) over 50 different variations.
5) 25-reps Air Squats
The air squat is a simple yet effective exercise for developing muscle endurance in the quadriceps. They are perfect for a morning workout because they are low impact and, because you’re only squatting two thirds of your total body weight, low intensity. However, once warm-up after a couple of laps of the circuit, I add a plyometric jump onto the squat which quickly intensifies this relatively easy exercise.
Repeat the 6 exercise without rest for 30-minutes.
As a nice treat (and to cool-down) I’ll enjoy a 5-minute walk home where, after a shower, I’ll cook this super healthy breakfast.
Mixed Berry Porridge
1 Cup of porridge oats (120g)
1 Cup of alternative milk (you can use almond, soy or oat milk – or just stick to water)
1 Cup of water
50g Black berries
1ts milled linseed
1ts milled hempseed
50g Assorted nuts (crushed)
2 Medulla dates
Natural honey (optional)
1. Pre-cook preparation: firstly thoroughly rinse the fruit; drain and dry. Hand-mill the linseed and hempseed in a pestle and mortar (or buy a packet or mixed milled seed and save yourself time and an arm ache). Chop and crush the nuts. Slice the dates.
2. Add to a pan one cup of oats and two cups of water. Place on a high heat and continue to stir until the porridge is vigorously bubbling. Stir throughout. (Never microwave your porridge – that is sacrilegious!)
3. Once the porridge has taken on your desired consistency remove from the heat and leave to rest for five minutes. Stir intermittently.
4. To serve: spoon the porridge into bowls. Drizzle over natural honey then add the seeds, nuts, dates and fruit.
As far as breakfast foods go porridge is arguable the healthiest – made even healthier with nuts, seeds and fruit! Because of its high-fibre / low fat content porridge has been shown to contain all manner of health promoting properties. Recently published studies have demonstrated that people who regularly consume porridge are less likely to develop serious conditions such as coronary heart disease and bowel cancer. It is for these reasons and many more besides why I recommend starting every day with a bowl of porridge.
Hopefully this article has convinced you of the many benefits of beginning your day with a morning workout.
Over the years I’ve experimented with multiple different morning regimes and routines. But I’ve found that the one outlined above is the best as it incorporates just the right mix of exercises – Yoga, cardio and callisthenics.
Coupled with a healthy, plant-based breakfast, this morning workout should increase your energy levels, boost your mood and set you up for the day.
Enjoyed this circuit? Has it left you hungry for more? Click on the image below and get your copy of the Hungry4Fitness Book of Circuits Vol. 1.
Circuit training is one of the best forms of physical exercise for maintaining and increasing overall-fitness. A well designed circuit will provide a great cardiovascular workout, strengthening the heart and lungs in the process, whilst also improving muscle endurance and developing functional strength. This unique combination, of fat burning and muscle building, which singular exercises, such as running, cycling, swimming or weights cannot give, will help to sculpt a lean defined physique.
(As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.
¹Coulter, D. (2001) Anatomy of Hatha Yoga. Body and Breath. USA.