When it comes to working out in the morning, people tend to fall into one of two categories: love or hate. For morning people, getting up early to hit the gym is a cinch, but for those who prefer to sleep a little later, getting to a class before heading to work can feel like absolute torture. Still, getting your heart rate up before you get on with the rest of your day has incredible benefits, especially if you can get yourself used to rising early. From feeling calm, cool, and collected all before 8 a.m. to revving your metabolism for the day to come, working out in the morning can set the stage for a productive day. So which workout should you choose? Well, that all depends on your goals.
Keep scrolling for the key benefits of five different morning workouts. Pick your goal, and set the alarm.
Best for Improving Focus
According to Jacqueline Hinton, a Los Angeles–based Pilates instructor and CEO of Good Citizen, an a.m. Pilates class is pretty much like a cup of coffee. "After a Pilates session first thing in the morning, you will feel energized, awake, and ready to take on the day. By focusing on concentration, breathing, and precision, Pilates is known for stretching and strengthening the entire body," she explains. All that stretching and strength work increases blood flow, which in turn optimizes muscle function. "And because Pilates is a low-intensity workout, you won't feel wiped out after your session," she adds.
Best for Non-Morning People
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) might seem like an ambitious choice for those who don't love getting up early, but hear us out. "HIIT is a fantastic way to burn a huge amount of calories in a short period of time," notes David Baillie, CEO and founder of Front-Line Fitness. "15 minutes of hard work in the morning can burn the same amount of calories as an hour on the treadmill," he says. That means that instead of waking up super early to squeeze your workout in, you can sleep a little later and still check your sweat session off your to-do list.
Best for Weight Loss
Truthfully, the best workout for weight loss is whichever one you stick to and encourages you to eat healthily, but if you're looking for a little extra edge in your weight-loss plan, fasted cardio could be a good fit for you. "I am a believer in morning fasting and never eat before working out in the morning," says Victor Self, a master instructor at Flywheel Sports. "However, the decision to eat or not to eat before a workout should be based on personal preference and physical needs." In other words, if you are hungry right when you wake up in the morning, fasted cardio might not be for you. On the flip side, if you don't get hungry for breakfast until after you work out, try a moderate-intensity cardio workout (like spinning) on an empty stomach. Some research suggests that this may be an efficient way to burn fat during your workout, as long as you don't push the pace too hard. Again, if this sounds like a total nightmare to you, have a snack beforehand.
Best for Stress Relief
It's no surprise that yoga is a great way to let go of a little tension, but you might not know that the early morning is the ideal time to practice yoga. "During an early morning practice, you don't fight the mind as much," says Laurel Erilane, a yoga instructor for Yoga Wake Up. "Therefore, it's much easier to remain in a calm meditative state and find mental clarity at the start of your day. For this reason, sunrise is considered one of the most auspicious times to practice." What's more is that all that mindful breathing has incredible physical benefits. "Exercise that focuses on your breath allows you to tap into your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your fight or flight response," Erilane explains. "This can help reduce your stress levels so you can have a more successful and productive day without feeling burned out."
Best for an Energy Boost
Do you always hit that afternoon slump after lunch? As it turns out, a morning workout can fix that. "When we talk about energy, we're really talking about metabolism," says Greg Ux, CSCS and trainer at Barry's Bootcamp. "Loosely, metabolism is all the processes that go on in the body to turn food or stored fat into usable energy, much like how a furnace turns fuel into heat. To rev up our internal furnace, we need to rev up the energy we expend," he explains. In other words, there's something to that saying, "a body in motion stays in motion." "A workout involving constant motion and energy expenditure like circuit training keep us running high," he adds.
For more workout advice, head to our wellness vertical, THE/THIRTY.