Self care isn’t always face masks and wine (although I love both of those things). Sometimes, it means doing something you don’t want to do in the name of self care. To kick off our Self-care in Grad School series, I’m writing about my experiences as I try to wake up to exercise before work.
I love to work out and I try to make time for it in my schedule, but it’s the last thing I want to do after a long day in the lab. I get home after 6 or 7 most nights, just as my boyfriend (who has to be up at 5am for his work) is winding down for the night. I could go straight to the gym after work, but then I’d miss the hour or two we have to spend with each other. We cook and enjoy dinner together as often as possible, and I hate missing out on that. I could always go after dinner, but I also dislike exercising on a full stomach; it makes me queasy. And then there is homework, studying, chores, time with my cat.There are always a million excuses I can come up with at night! In high school and undergrad, I regularly found time to exercise, but grad school has made me busier than ever and time is precious. My workout schedule has become incredibly inconsistent, and I mostly get in gym time on the weekends.
I realized my best bet to schedule consistent exercise is to work out in the mornings. My only excuse in the morning consists of “sleepy… bed is so warm…”. For some fortunate people, waking up early is not a problem. That ain’t me. I am a night owl, but keeping up with the early bird-centric world has made me into a bone-weary dodo who’s sleep schedule is a bust. Some days I’ll be up at 5am, some days I’ll have not slept at all, and other days I sleep in. This sleep schedule (or lack thereof) is not sustainable, so I thought increasing my number of workouts and having a set schedule would help. Waking up early is a drag, but I love the way exercise makes me feel, so I decided to try out waking up early for a month. Here are my results.
I eased into early morning exercise this week. I started by making a plan. I would wake up by 5am, exercise by 5:15am, and work out for an hour to an hour and a half. This would give me plenty of time to get ready for school and be out the door by 8am. So on Monday, I woke up at 5am, and proceeded to immediately fall back asleep. The night before I had barely slept, and waking up is hard to do, regardless. The next day, I was determined. I actually got up! Although I didn’t get out the door until 6:30am, I did eventually exercise. Victory! I managed to wake up early for the rest of the work week, although I didn’t exercise one of those days because I needed to work on a project. The important thing for this beginner’s week was that I wake up early, at minimum. I found that having the option to work on a project was incredibly freeing.
This week went smoother. After working out heavily over the weekend, I took active rest days. Instead of my usual workout, I did some deep stretching. I still woke up early to do it! By Wednesday morning, I felt good enough to exercise. I figured out some tricks to help me get up and get going.
The previous week, I had felt so drained during my workouts, and much of that was due to dehydration. So I started drinking roughly 400mL of H2O as soon as my alarm blared. I also kept a second drink on my nightstand-- a caffeinated one. I had a cup of water mixed with Mio energy to perk me up a bit. The third thing that has helped is waking up BEFORE 5am. Starting Wednesday, I would wake up at 4:30am just so I could have 30 minutes to lay in bed, mess with my phone, drink some water, and let the caffeine work its magic. I no longer felt rushed, and by time 5am rolled around, I was ready to go.
I fell asleep much easier this week. Part of that was pure exhaustion, but in the best way possible. One of my biggest concerns was that my workout would leave me tired, but it had the opposite effect. I was more alert throughout the day. I started looking forward to workouts! This time before my work day is solely dedicated to me and my well-being. I loved having the option to go all out during a workout or listen to my body and stretch for an hour instead. I also felt more productive. Having this ticked off of my to-do list for the day gave me a boost to get more things done. While not the fun kind of self-care, I could tell that I was reaping the benefits.
After some heavy exercise over the weekend, I woke up early Monday morning and did some deep stretching. Because I’ve been exercising so much, I have seen a recurrence of old athlete issues from my dance and track days. I could feel the beginnings of shin splints on one leg and plantar fasciitis in one foot when I first woke up. I decided to address these issues by stretching often, massaging my muscles, strengthening the muscles that cause these problems, and by switching up my cardio throughout the week to include HIIT rather than only running. I also wove in some ballet exercises and remembered how much I miss dancing.
Week 4 up until 1 week ago:
I have been consistently waking up early to exercise, and I want this to be a regular part of my day. Some mornings I go for a run, other mornings I do strength training, and on Fridays I do ballet with a friend over zoom. This has been so great for my mental and physical well-being. I have more time in the morning and feel more balanced. Although I still struggle with the occasional sleepless night, I am falling asleep much more consistently. I may be becoming… *gasp* a morning person!
With the wildfire smoke making Seattle air quite unhealthy, I haven’t been exercising as much. I can’t go for runs and I've been getting consistent headaches from all the smoke, so I’ve opted to avoid exercise until the air quality index is level: good.