Ways to Unwind: One young pro's morning routine

It's 5 a.m., and a barbell is waiting - how one young pro found more energy and peace through a morning workout routine.

This blog post is a contributor post as part of the YNPN Cleveland Ways to Unwind Self Care series. Interested in contributing? Email ErinMZaranec@gmail.com about how you unwind and practice self care!

The first time my alarm sounded at 5 a.m. to wake me up for my fitness class, my thoughts were as brutal as I expected.

This is crazy. You are too tired. This bed is comfy. You should sleep a little more. You’ll perform better at work if you rest an extra 15 minutes. You don’t need to get up this early.

I never considered myself a morning person. What was I thinking, waking myself up hours earlier just to exercise?

Anyone who begins their day with a crack-of-dawn workout will tell you it is never easy to get out of bed, especially in the beginning. To make matters worse, I was attempting Crossfit, a high-intensity group fitness routine with a lot of weightlifting. My upper body was so weak; I couldn’t even lift an empty barbell over my head.

Still, I managed to crawl out from under the sheets. I kept thinking about all of those articles I’d read on Forbes.com. The ones that tell you about the secrets of success for leaders such as President Barack Obama, Arianna Huffington, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffet. All of them, apparently, have morning exercise routines.

Does it really make a difference? According to what I’d been reading, it sets the tone for the rest of the day. Finishing a workout is already achieving something before 6:30 a.m., so you get yourself in gear to accomplish even more with the remainder of the day ahead of you. It gets the blood flowing early on, preparing the body for productivity.

All of these benefits were convincing enough for me to at least give it a try. If all of these celebrities swear by it, well, there must be something to it, I reasoned.

One week into my new morning routine, and a side effect emerged -- one that I wasn’t expecting. My energy level skyrocketed. Gone were the afternoon slumps that usually sent me racing to the cafe for that last black coffee to get me through the day. This didn’t make sense to me. I was forcing myself out of bed earlier and yet, felt less tired overall? Strange.

I decided to try one more experiment. I spent one week getting up early to run - instead of attending my Crossfit class. I noticed that I had more energy after a morning run, rather than waiting until the evening. But I still experienced an afternoon tired spell. There was something about the high-intensive weightlifting component to Crossfit that energized me for the rest of the day. I never expected it.

Now I’m four years into this routine, and there’s no going back. During the work week, I’m up at 5 a.m. most days. Not all days, but most. On the weekends, I don’t set my alarm, but my body has adjusted, and I’ll naturally wake up at around 6:30 or 7 a.m. I’m a morning person -- a description for myself that I didn’t think I’d ever use. And if I can do it, so can you.

Gone too are the days when I was so weak I couldn’t lift anything. I’ve built up my total body strength -- and my self-confidence. I can easily lift 100 pounds over my head, and, here’s the real kicker, I actually look forward to it.

The new morning routine taught me that the mind is very trainable. If we are going to do anything as nonprofit leaders, we have to start there first. When someone discovers that I get up at 5 a.m. to lift weights, a common response I receive is, “You are crazy! I could never do that.” To which I say, “I thought the same thing, until I pictured myself doing it.”

If we think we can’t do something, we won’t. There is no alternative outcome. We must envision ourselves achieving our goals before we do them. This is as true for exercise as it is in our professional lives. And if someone other than ourselves -- a colleague or supervisor or old friend -- tells us we can’t achieve something either, and we listen to this advice, we simply won’t achieve it.

What I learned from my morning exercise extends well beyond self-care. It changed who I am, reminded me of what I’m capable of, and showed me there is no one standing in my way. My 5 a.m. thoughts today are filled with purpose, not dread.

You can do this. Remember everything you achieved yesterday and how good you felt after the workout? Let’s do it.

Dena Cipriano (MNO, ‘19) is the Marketing and Communications Director of Case Western Reserve University School of Law, and a consultant in nonprofit management.   

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  • Charlotte Lewis
    commented 2018-10-24 10:31:11 -0400
    I love this, during the summer I was rowing and had to be at practice at 5:45 to be on the water at 6am—I really did feel more energized and I felt a sense of accomplishment right out the gate. Thanks for sharing, I needed to be reminded of this!
  • Annette Fetter
    commented 2018-10-24 09:24:54 -0400
    AGREED! I started working out at 5:30AM every morning and it has transformed my days and my outlook on them! Love the connection to professional life and the power of setting your mind to something.