It's that time of year. Where I rake over the coals of my annual reading,…
Morning routines used to be a “thing,” popularised by Tim Ferriss’ endless probing and quest for granular detail when interviewing top-performers on his ridiculously successful podcast.
It was here we learned that retired military Generals didn’t bother with breakfast or that tech billionaires tend to meditate for 30 minutes upon waking. And that kind of stuff.
We hoovered that sh*t up until every personal trainer & his dog had their lemon-water, upside down praying, journaling, workout, bed-making, high protein / high fat breakfast all wrapped up by 6:45am, leaving them the rest of the day to be…erm…hideously unprofessional.
“Win the morning, win the day,” they all chorused, hypnotizing themselves as they did so.
But God love us. We can’t get enough of a silver bullet, and if a high achiever is doing it we might as well copy them, right?
[Actually, in a lot of cases, yes. It’s not a terrible strategy.]
So, anyway, morning routines kind of fell off and became the subject of parody songs and videos with people taking the p*ss out of kale juicing and reading Seneca before sunrise.
And all the time, I was flaunting convention (and fashion) by still adhering to my regular morning routine. Told you I was a contrarian.
Truth be told, my routine wasn’t that hard to adhere to.
When I was in the fitness biz, it was a 4:45 wake-up and out of the house by 5:30 to teach at 6am. The routine took care of itself – if I didn’t stick to it, I’d get fired.
So, stick to it, I did.
Nowadays, though, it’s a little different.
And, in the interests of sharing the fitness ‘wealth,’ here’s what I’m doing in the morning, and why I credit it largely to me losing a big chunk of visceral fat of my mid-section (the hardest type to budge, in my opinion) and being in some of the best shape of my life (sounds a touch grandiose, but it’s actually true).
Let’s get into it.
1. Lay Off The Turps
I’m now convinced that one of, if not, the most critical KPIs to your daily performance lies in moderating or steering completely clear of the turps (alcohol) of an evening.
A couple of glasses of something is probably okay (although not, I stress, full tumblers of whiskey) but if, like me, you have addictive tendencies, or simply find it somehow wrong to leave any wine in the bottle, then abstinence probably makes the heart last longer (see what I did there? #clever).
You generally sleep better, making it easier to get up in the morning. You have a clearer head and are much sharper. Or maybe that’s just me. I’d guess not, though and that it applies to most of us.
So your morning routine actually starts the night before. Eureka!
2. Drink All The Water
I take a water bottle to bed and polish off whatever is left in the morning which is a) good for you after dehydrating during sleep, and b) tricks you into thinking you’ve achieved an early “win” – remember “win the morning, win the day,” (said no normal person ever.)
So water for the (dubious) win, but we’ll take anything at 4:30am, right?
3. Throw Clothes On The Floor
Before bed I throw my clothes on the floor, which is both un-Godly and not in the spirit of self-hacking tidiness, thus making me a terrible sinner and not a hard-charging high-achiever.
However, I have the last laugh in the morning (technically the first laugh, I suppose) because it means I have my gym clothes (yes, I basically live in active-wear) ready to go right at the foot of my bed.
Who’s the clever, hacking minimalist now, haters?
4. Buy Shoes With No Laces
With gym kit on, teeth scrubbed, eyes in it’s straight to the shoe arena.
This was a happy accident (so not a pure hacking play, per se) but my daily trainers don’t have laces so that’s another painful chore (at 5am) kicked to the kerb.
Another seemingly small but surprisingly satisfying win. Who’d have thought?
#notsofitmutt and I hit the streets for a walk.
My back is generally a grumpy old curmudgeon in the morning so I try to lay off anything too strenuous (weight training & deadlifts would be terrifying at this time of day) and let everything lubricate and fall into place. The technical term is allowing the sinovial fluid to literally oil up the joints like a spray of WD40.
I probably wasn’t always so prudent but I’m better at listening to the creaking bones now.
6. Listen To Something Interesting
In the mornings I’m still about the learning / personal development shizzle – podcasts, Audible non-fiction books. Tim Ferriss, Kevin Rose for business / tech-related stuff. Dave Asprey and Ben Greenfield for bio-hacking & fitness, a few work-related Fintech podcasts for, well, work.
40 minutes of this while walking the hound can feel like fuel for the mind. Some mornings I take a lot of the info in, other days it’s just background noise. I’m happy with both.
7. Forest Bathing
Our morning strut takes us through the ‘Enchanted Forest’ which is really the Fred Hollows Reserve, a rain-forest like gully tucked out of sight near our manor. It really is a thing of beauty.
There must be 50 Shades of Green and the air down there feels cleaner somehow. Whether true or not, the fact remains, I invariably emerge from the forest feeling better than I did when I went in.
8. Don’t Eat Anything until 11am
This is the big one. The morning ‘hack’ to which i attribute the biggest physical change: intermittent fasting.
Intermittent Fasting (IF) has been around for a while and means different things to different people. My best friend lost 12kgs sticking religiously to the 5:2 diet which restricts calories on two days of the week (to 500) and allows for normal eating on the other days.
I’ve been applying it on a daily basis by eating (mostly) in an eight hour window each day, usually between 11am-7pm or 12-8pm. This feels pretty manageable for me.
I do technically break my fast by having milk in a coffee (which I’m sure some purists might frown at) whilst walking the dog. But that’s the realities of my life and what I’m able to do.
The results have been that I’ve noticeably shipped weight from my midsection, my abs and obliques have come out of hiding (at least, temporarily). I also feel lighter, more mobile and generally a little sharper when combining my “fast” with a lack of grog.
Here’s the ‘before’ and ‘after’ snap (who deflated the Michelin Man?):
Interestingly, for the most part, I’m also able to train whilst fasting which seems counter-intuitive.
This Harvard article (linked) presents a balanced AND scientific view.
9. Exercise At The Beach
I realise that I’m extremely lucky in that I live close to the beach, and the beach is an absolutely fantastic place to exercise.
Sand is soft and therefore low-impact, reducing the risk of injury or wear & tear on the joints. At the same time the uneven surface gets to work stablising and strengthening your ankle & knee ligaments & tendons.
Running on the sand is also quite hard work, somewhere in the region of 1.3 -1.5 x harder than running on solid ground (so I once read…which seems plausible, I guess). This means you can get an extremely solid HIIT session done in around 30-40 minutes including warm-up and cool-down.
So you get this triple-whammy of exercising goodness whilst surrounded by the sound of waves hitting the beach and all manner of wildlife.
And then…you get to submerge yourself in the ocean (or sea, if you’re from England), which is supremely refreshing / invigorating at any time (mostly) but truly sublime after a sweat-sesh on the sand.
And that’s a wrap. 7 fairly easy-to-implement tweaks to change up your morning routine and yield potentially positive changes on your health and well-being.
It’s worth pointing out, though, that these are merely things that I’ve tried and tested. They worked well for me, to varying degrees, and so I’m sharing them for informational purposes only. I’ve been playing around with this stuff for a while.
If you’re not used to training at high intensity or have other, underlying health conditions, then throwing yourself into HIIT training or an Intermittent Fasting regime without proper medical guidance isn’t wise, nor is it endorsed.
Tossing your clothes on the floor the night before to save you the hassle of getting them out in the morning before you go for a walk is probably safe from a medical stand-point but may be dangerous if you have a missus knocking around the place. Tread cafefully!