Growing our highly effective morning routine
Starting the day with a deliberate exercise routine that you repeat every day can be life changing as it creates the leverage and strength to become a more focused and disciplined person in all other areas of daily life. Compare that to the troubling statistic from IDC Research that 80 percent of Americans wake up using their cell phones as the first act. Numerous studies confirm that once you activate the shallow, reactionary brain function in the frontal cortex with a smartphone engagement, it is difficult to move into high-level strategic problem-solving mode – especially the first thing in the morning when you fix habit patterns. Julie Morgenstern, renowned productivity consultant and author of Never Check Email In The Morning, explains that if you pick up your phone first, you'll never relax. These inquiries and these interruptions and these unexpected surprises and these memories and problems are endless … there is very little that cannot wait at least 59 minutes. "
The dope on dopamine
The reason you will never recover is because your morning foray into hyperconnectivity creates a dopamine addiction. When the day's work becomes either challenging or boring, wire a reliable method of escape into the realm of instant gratification and relief from cognitive peak performance. As in the excellent book by the anti-sugar crusader Dr. Described by Robert Lustig with the title "Hacking the American Mind", we're chasing the dopamine high today like never before. We do this in a number of ways, which are heavily driven by the marketing forces behind internet feed (social media, pornography, click-bait, and even email and text messages), prescription drugs, street drugs, alcohol, processed sugar products, and overly stressful exercise patterns, consumerism and other sources of escape and instant gratification.
As a healthy living lover reading this blog, you can recognize the great sense of complacency and peace of mind that comes from implementing self-discipline and enduring challenges and setbacks to achieve meaningful goals. These behaviors stimulate the serotonin and oxytocin pathways in the brain and trigger feelings of contentment, connection, and love. Best selling author Mark Manson claims that self-discipline is a key to a happy and fulfilling life. Unfortunately, if you hijack the dopamine pathways too often with the folly above, you will downregulate the serotonin pathways in your brain leaving you wired for quick pleasure at the expense of long-term happiness.
The magic of the morning movement
Getting rid of this mess starts first thing in the morning! Since most of us have a lot of sedentary influences during the daytime (commuting, office work, evening screen entertainment), I will suggest a mindful routine of exercises, poses, and dynamic stretches that build flexibility, mobility, core, and muscle strength. Your morning routine will help you wake up and recharge naturally (especially if you can do this outdoors), improve the fitness base from which to start formal workouts, prevent injuries, and increase your daily rate of exercise, especially when it gets hectic and you don't. I don't have time for formal training.
I'm not and never have been a great routine or persistence type. Therefore, creating a template routine every day for four years is more of a revelation to me than it is to large creatures of habit. If you are already good at self-discipline and consistency, it pays to apply your skills to a morning exercise routine. You will likely increase your level of sophistication and difficulty over time. If you're a person who goes with the flow, the morning routine serves as a much-needed anchor for a focused, disciplined day – especially against the formidable enemies of distraction and instant gratification.
The initial impetus for creating a short morning exercise routine was my frustration with recurring and persistent pain and stiffness after every sprint workout. I realized that I hadn't got my body used to doing all-out blasts once a week because nothing else I was doing was roughly equivalent to what had happened on sprint day. Perhaps many weekend warriors can relate to this: if you never get close to your most difficult workouts or consistently do preparatory exercises and exercises, your great exertions will beat you up and require a longer recovery time. I wondered if I could increase the baseline from which I started these tough workouts with better core strength, hamstring mobility and hip flexors, etc. – the workouts would be easier to recover. I immediately noticed these benefits and excitedly filmed a video of my original routine in 2017. Then I learned that the sequences were actually 12 minutes instead of five! I also made a lot of movements in bed (to make sure I do them right away) until later I discovered that core stimulation is much more intense on the floor than on a soft mattress.
As I collected an impressive streak every day, I realized some amazing physical and mental benefits. My first steps out of bed in the morning (i.e. before starting the routine) were easy and graceful – no more limping, creaking, and cracking on the way to the bathroom. My post-workout pain pretty much went away – something I struggled with after every sprint workout for over a decade. Since I usually combine my morning routine with subsequent exposure to the cold in the freezer, the one-two combination gave me a sense of stability, focus and self-discipline that was lacking as I was not part of rituals like commuting during rush hour or an 8 to 5 office day.
My routine has evolved quite a bit over the past four years. Relying on the confidence that I can cut the time it takes to do it on a daily basis, I add more custom movements to my template, increasing both the duration and the difficulty. The session currently lasts at least 32 minutes. Often I go straight to real strength training because I'm so warmed up and fit. This video shows the exercises and repetitions of my current routine with an explanation for each.
Yes, it is time consuming and some of these steps – especially the grand final of the Bulgarian Split Squats – are not easy! It's important to note that four years ago, I grew naturally and gradually from a humble starting point. When you are ready to take action, here are the important parameters to consider:
Design a routine that is simple and doable every day. Don't make it too strenuous or too long. You need to strive for consistency, comfort, and low stress. If you only have five minutes left, start doing this. Over time, when the routine has become part of the habit, you can increase the duration and level of difficulty in a way that feels natural and fun.
If you wake up every day no matter what, it is important to get your routine done as quickly as possible. The goal is to establish a strip that becomes as natural as the current strip of daily brushing. If you usually have to visit the bathroom, make coffee, look after kids or pets, or check the stock ticker while trading when you first wake up, insert the exercise routine into a recurring slot in your morning pattern: bathroom, coffee, hit you on the deck sounds good! If an especially hectic morning is preventing you from performing your routine, have a makeup session later in the day to appreciate your dedication to the project.
Perform the same exact sequence of movements and repetitions every time. You don't want to spend creative energy or waste valuable cognitive resources deciding which exercises to do or how many repetitions to do. Repeating the same sequence will make it easier for you to make your routine a habit. Over time, you can always change your template by adding or removing exercises. However, there is always a working template. Don't listen to the folklore about confusing your muscles with constantly changing exercises. In 20 years time, let's look again at how confused your body is when you go through a great routine every day.
Doing the same thing every day adds a meditative aspect to the experience. My focus is entirely on going through the number of repetitions for each exercise that is in sync with my breathing for many movements. I've made the mistake of listening to a podcast or answering a call a few times during my routine and this always results in me losing count during one of the sequences. At that moment, I was sentenced for having to start the repetitions of this particular exercise over when my mind wandered. That will focus you! Now my morning routine is a time to enjoy the views of the trees, the sound of birds, and the mind-body connection created by successive movements – like you might enjoy in a guided yoga class.
Outdoors (sunlight, fresh air, and maybe even cold!)
Research has shown that exposure of your eyeballs to direct sunlight as soon as you wake up can have a profound effect on your circadian rhythm. Sunlight hits your retina and travels via the optic nerve to the important suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus. The SCN is the master clock of your daily rhythm and controls all kinds of light-controlled hormonal processes. Direct sunlight in the morning (no sunglasses, no window barriers) triggers an increase in energizing and mood-enhancing hormones such as serotonin, cortisol and adenosine. The start of these sunlight-driven hormonal processes is actually the first step towards a good night's sleep, as you optimize the timing of the evening conversion of serotonin to melatonin to ease the transition to sleep. In the winter months, my routine is twice as cold as I only wear shorts in freezing temperatures or below.
Design exercises that support your fitness goals, eliminate muscle weaknesses or imbalances, and counteract sedentary lifestyle habits such as bent over cars and computers. My leg swings and hamstring extensions are being considered for sprinting and jumping high because these muscles experience a lot of impact trauma while sprinting. The difficult yoga bike pose can be applied directly to bending over the high jump bar!
There are all kinds of expert recommended exercises that I have tried and discarded because I haven't enjoyed them or they don't work for me. I've been doing the familiar "pigeon" stretch from yoga for a while, but I think it left me with a knee injury, so it's over. I have a couple of other cool exercises that aren't shown in the video, like monster walks and shuffles with mini bands. I'm tempted to officially add them to the routine, but I prefer to keep them as optional add-ons. With my current routine of 32 minutes, I occasionally have a bit of time stress to get this done when I have a busy morning planned. I don't want this feeling to appear more than occasionally so I hesitate to add anything at this point.
First of all, it is very helpful to write down each of the exercises and the number of repetitions as you strive to create an ideal template. In particular, you want to discover a number of repetitions that are challenging but not too strenuous to annoy and sweat you over. As I mention in the video, on the first integration of the challenging Bulgarian squats, I got each leg to a point of light muscle burn that occurred at 20 reps. Today I have the same slight stinging after 45 repetitions. So the level of difficulty and the mental load have not changed, but I confirm my fitness progress over time. All of your progress, as the number of repetitions increases and the overall duration and difficulty of your routine increases, should be gradual and natural. Today is a good day to start your streak. So try to put some of your favorite moves together and read the books! Good luck and let us know some great suggestions in the comment section.
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