Mornings are, to put it bluntly, hell for some of us. The sound of the alarm clock violently ringing in our ears rips us out of rest and puts us instantly in a bad mood. Worst of all, we're completely aware of being in a bad mood, but believe we're powerless to stop it. We have to wait until the mood burns off and hope we don't do anything we'll regret later.
It probably shouldn't be this way. After all, the way you wake up in the morning affects the rest of your day—diet and training included. If you start out on the wrong side of the bed, you're more likely to hit up the fridge and dominate that cheesecake you've been saving up for your re-feed, or post ill-advised rants on Facebook, maybe half-ass your grooming, and end up having to cut your gym time because you're running late. A bad morning becomes a bad day.
Although it might feel like a curse, you're not doomed to be either a "morning person" or a morning troll. There is a way you can wake up better, improve your mood, boost your metabolism, prime your body to build muscle and shred fat, and walk out the door feeling energized. Best of all, it only takes a few minutes. And yes, I do accept cash, thank you very much.
On second thought, I'll teach you how to do for free, in the hopes that the world will be a happier and more awesome place. Or at least to decrease the chances that I might have to bear the brunt of your morning misery in the future.
Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to neural morning primers.
Neutral What-Ing What-Ers?
The concept of a neural morning primer (NMP) is simple. It's a small 5-10 minute circuit-style bodyweight workout that's programmed strategically to wake up your nervous system, get the blood flowing, kick your hormones into overdrive, and introduce a massive amount of oxygen to your body, thereby shooting your brain into productivity mode.
I've been prescribing these for clients for the last five years or so, but I don't claim to have invented them. The concept has many other names and has been used since the dawn of bodybuilding. If you've read Arnold's recent book Total Recall you'll find a couple of pages inside describing his morning routines, along with the other Olympians. John Romaniello has advocated something similar, calling them "neural wakeup calls," and others trainers have used different names. And if you check with the yoga folks, you'll find many who utilize sun salutation routines right after leaving bed.
No matter the name, the benefits are real. Since the NMP is to be performed the second you pull your ass out of bed, you're working out under a fasted state. This, in turn, will spur your human growth hormone secretion and improve your insulin sensitivity.
Also, due to NMP's brevity, intensity, and flexibility demands, they loosen the body and provoke endorphin production (the feel-good chemical in your brain). In other words, you'll walk out the door feeling awesomely awesome, like you're the sexiest piece of meat on the planet.
So how can you build a successful NMP routine? Having tested them on many clients over the years, I've crafted these of guidelines to help you build your perfect routine.
1. It Has To Be Performed Immediately Upon Waking Up
This one has to do more with habit than anything. You create the expectation that your body has to perform the second it wakes up. It may resist at first, but with practice it'll fall in line.
I hear you whining. "But seriously: right when I wake up?" Of course you can go pee and drink a glass of water, but that's it. You'll save yourself some spilled coffee and burnt eggs if you start off your day with a quick workout rather than, say, watching cartoons.
2. It Must Have At Least One Explosive Movement
In order to get your blood pumping like crazy, boost muscle building, and elevate your metabolism for the day to come, you need to include at least one sort of explosive exercise in your routine.
Jump squats and lunges are obvious examples, but you could also try explosive push-ups or tornado jumping jacks, where you spin 90-180 degrees during the jump.
3. It Must Have At Least One Static Stretch Movement
The stereotype is that every meathead is stiff as a board, and probably doubly so after staggering out of bed. But as anyone who ever saw Flex Wheeler do the splits can attest, aesthetic people are even more impressive when they're flexible. Like most other things in life, the best way to get better in this respect is to practice it every freaking day.
Examples of such exercises are spiderman lunges with bottom holds (pushing your hips forward), Bulgarian split squats with bottom holds, Hindu push-ups with 3-second holds on top and at the bottom of the movement, and lateral lunges with a hold at the bottom.
4. It Should Be Short And Sweet
Remember, your morning workout is something you should want to do every day, and that includes your workout days. You don't want to overdo it and be tired for the remainder of the day, or worse, work out so hard that your gym performance suffers. As a general rule, your morning workout should be under 15 minutes and not loaded with reps.
5. It Should Fit Your Aesthetic Goals
If you're a man who wants to target your quads and shoulders, focus your morning routine there. If you're a woman who wants to build your butt and chest, then by all means squat, thrust, and press when you wake up. If you want an impressive set of abs, congratulations—you're human.
If none of those describes you, then fine. Be that way. If that sounds like you, here are the general templates for the routines that my male and female clients have found most effective for their aesthetic goals.