Here’s What Happened When… I Only Took Morning Classes For a Month

Waking up early has never been a strength of mine. From scheduling only afternoon classes in college to convincing my boss to give me a later start time, I’ve always found ways to avoid that horrible pounding of the head, get-me-out-of-here syndrome I experience if the alarm blares before 8 a.m.

But that lifestyle no longer serves my career and fitness goals, and this summer, I found myself longing to join the tribe of early birds who seem to dance out of the covers at dawn with ease. For 30 days, I moved all my workouts to the morning, using fun classes, fitness progress and the avoidance of late fees as motivators to get out of bed early and learn to love life before 7 a.m.:

What I Researched
I’ll admit it—I was scared to take on this challenge. Not only do my mind and body feel dreadful if stimulated too early in the day, I was convinced I would fail. I had flashbacks of sleeping through the alarm throughout high school and running late to early-morning flights on trips I was otherwise psyched about. I imagined endless $20 no-show charges on my credit card for missing classes.

It wasn’t pretty.

So, I started reading up on strategies from early risers and consulted my Facebook friends for tips, who suggested everything from REM cycle apps and sleeping in my gym clothes to eating a hearty breakfast and sticking to a schedule. I determined the ticket to success would be organization: setting out gym clothes and sneakers, pre-packing my clothes and makeup, and making sure my granola bar and water bottle were ready to go the night before. The key was to limit my only a.m. responsibility to getting to class on time. No brain power necessary.

How It Went
I’ll cut to the chase: I’m not saying waking up early has gotten easy for me, but this month of scheduling early classes proved that even a morning-hater like myself can do it.

Surprisingly, the first week of early classes was my best. My excitement for the challenge propelled me out of bed most days without hitting snooze too many times. While this initial phase was easiest in some ways, it also came with the highest intensity of adverse physical symptoms: groggy, foggy mind, tight muscles, lethargic body and basically no energy.

I found it interesting, though, that these negative feelings started to slip away as I continued the early morning routine in the following weeks. Some days, it was extremely difficult to get out of bed. My inner voice would be screaming at my body, “C’mon, get up! Get out of bed now!” until the last possible minute, where a potential no-show fee was not worth extra sleep. But I found that no matter how lousy I felt at home, I was pumped by the time I got to the studio.

The hardest part was always getting out of bed.

The second most difficult part was scheduling—finding worthwhile classes in studios with shower facilities that would still allow me to get to the office on time. Some days, I couldn’t find a good class at the right time, so I would skip my workout altogether. I also found that some studios claim to have showers, but a quick Yelp search reveals they only have one and charge to rent towels, and I didn’t have time wait behind a dozen other women during rush hour. By the end of the experiment, I found myself longing to ditch my increasingly heavy gym bag and add some night classes back to my routine.

What I Learned
This dynamic month taught me a lot about myself and balancing fitness goals with a busy schedule. I thought this challenge would just show me whether or not I could be a morning person, but I learned a lot more.

I learned the value of a stocked locker room with ample showers and an abundance of towels. As a magazine editor, I need to look sharp every day—not showering after a morning classes is not an option. During my 30-day challenge, I found myself scheduling classes based on more than just the type of workout, but the facilities as well. In order to make it to the office on time after class, I simplified my makeup routine, occasionally favoring a glowy, natural look over my signature, time-consuming cat eye.

This challenge also gave me the opportunity to break away from the studios that filled my evening workout routines. I learned that some classes I enjoy in the evenings, such as restorative yoga, seem near-tortuous in the mornings, when I rely on high-energy and motivational instructors to kick me into gear.

This challenge forced me to sign up for classes, like strength-building and HIIT, that I never would have tried simply because the studio had a shower and was close to my office—and I fell in love with some of them. But, I also missed certain studios and teachers that were not available early in the day. Going forward, I’m excited to create a new schedule that combines my favorite a.m. classes with evening workouts that complete my day.

I don’t know why I spent so many years thinking that waking up early was more difficult than any other challenge. While I’m pleased that I can now wake up early much better than before, I am more proud of the determination and self-discipline that I built over the past month. These qualities play a major role in reaching any goal, no matter the type or size.

The final conclusion: Morning classes eliminated this caffeine lover’s cravings for a.m. iced coffee. Your move, Starbucks.

Writer Joni Sweet is always in search of adventure, whether looking for a hidden speakeasy on New York’s Lower East Side or jetting off to Southeast Asia for a multi-month jaunt. When she’s not on deadline editing Where and IN New York magazines, you can find her at the barre, on the trapeze or in tree pose.