It's a sign of dedication, a badge that signifies a full and busy -- yet well-managed -- life. When you see someone striding purposefully to the office in the morning with a gym bag slung over his or her shoulder, you know exactly what they've been up to.
They got in an early morning workout. And they're already one step ahead in terms of owning the day.
While this might be the right time to exercise in terms of spare time afforded by the daily grind, what does an early-morning workout do for, or to, your body? Is this really the best time to exercise? Or should you wait until later in the day to lift, grunt and sweat?
Talk to renowned sleep expert, and Power Off Advisor, Dr. James Maas, and he maintains that early-morning workouts are completely fine and effective, and ultimately worth the effort of setting your alarm an hour or two early.
Although there is one caveat: You have to get the proper amount of rest the night before.
In fact, according to Dr. Maas, if you skimp on your sleep, your gains are going to be depleted.
"The problem is that [people that exercise in the morning] don't adjust their sleep schedule so they get their eight hours of sleep," says Dr. Maas. "They're sacrificing sleep time and they don't realize that by sacrificing sleep time the investment that they're making in the workout doesn't pay off."
Assuming one does get enough sleep, however, the benefits of the early-morning workout are impressive. Dr. Cedric Bryant, Chief Science Officer of the American Council of Exercise, asserts that working out early can lift your mood for the rest of the day. "Morning workouts result in better energy levels throughout the day and give you more mental alertness and sharpness," says Dr. Bryant.
In order to wring everything from early-hour exercise, however, another step has to be taken: You have to allow for ample time to properly warm up. Otherwise, you run the risk of depleted performance and possibly injury.
"You have to stretch, maybe a lot longer when you get up earlier," says Dr. Maas. "If you get right out of bed, put on your jogging shoes and go for a run, number one, you're still groggy. Number two, if you haven't warmed up enough, you are highly prone to accidents like tripping on a curb. You're foggy and your body is not limber."
On the flip-side, there is certainly such a thing as working out too late. In fact, Dr. Maas offers a pretty clear rule when it comes to late-night activity.
"No high aerobic activity within an hour of bedtime," says Dr. Maas. "You can't, say, go for a really long run right before bedtime and expect that it won't have a deleterious effect on your sleep."
The reason for this rule is that your body needs some time to slow down before being ready to fall asleep. At least an hour, to be precise.
"I don't know how many people have called me and said, 'You know, some days during the week I'm up until two in the morning.' And I ask them what nights those are," says Dr. Maas. "It turns out that those are nights that they're in, say, a pickup hockey league and don't hit the ice until 10 p.m., playing until 11 p.m. And I tell them that they're either going to have to get in a different league, or they're going to have to change their rising time."
If you do choose to exercise at night -- again, not within an hour of bedtime -- then there are some methods of getting to sleep more quickly afterwards. The one Dr. Maas stands by actually involves raising one's body temperature even further.
"We usually tell people a jacuzzi, or a hot tub or a really hot shower, or a warm bath just before you go to bed," says Dr. Maas. "The idea behind that is you want to raise your body temperature, so that when you get into bed, it'll plummet, and it's that plummet that'll bring you into deep sleep quicker."
There is one aerobic activity that Dr. Maas approves of within an hour of bedtime, however.
"The only exception to the rule would be sex."
We're going to assume that mornings are fine for that too. Whether you stretch or not.