I’ve been a member at Next Level Extreme Fitness for two years now. I’ve learned a few things about how to get my ass to the gym at 5:00am five days a week.
The idea is simple: identify challenges and find solutions to overcome them. I solve my challenges through planning and preparation, having the right tools/gear, and taking steps to make getting out the door on time quick and easy.
It goes without saying that these won’t work for every person or every lifestyle. Pick and choose what might work for you.
Apple iPhone’s “Bedtime” feature
The Bedtime feature is built into the iPhone’s Clock app. You set a bedtime and wake up time, then tell the app which days it applies. When your bedtime is 30 minutes away, your phone gently nudges you: time to get ready for bed!
At your set wakeup time, the alarm begins, starting at a very low volume and building until you turn it off. The sounds available for your alarm in the Bedtime app are not the same ones in the Alarm function—they’re softer and gentler. (My personal favorite is Birdsong.) You can turn off the vibration function, too, if you prefer (the vibrate is loud on my bedside table, and would wake up my husband).
Pro tip: Use the options! First, switch on the “Do Not Disturb During Bedtime” option. It silences notifications from texts, email, and calls so you can get some sleep even if your night-owl friends are still awake. Don’t worry about missing an important call—if you receive a call from the same number back to back, it’ll break through the Do Not Disturb.
Also: turn off the snooze option. Studies show that if you wake up the first time your alarm sounds, you’ll be more awake the entire day. Snooze is also a recipe for absent-mindedly turning off your alarm. No bueno.
I have a weird-ass skull and headbands neverrrrr stay on. When a friend suggested Junk Bands, I thought they were nuts. They had no fancy features to keep them in place.
But then I tried one, and HOLY HELL. I was an immediate convert.
I can’t explain how it works, but it just does. They come in a billion styles and colors on Amazon, and if the price tag scares you off ($15 to $16 each), just check the Junk Brands website for sales. Sign up for Junk Bands emails so you get alerted when things are on clearance.
Gel-cushioned hand wraps for kickboxing days
I started out at the gym with the same Century brand hand wraps everyone else used. My knuckles were howling after a couple of sessions, so I upgraded to the longer Title wraps for some extra cushion. It helped a little, but when I upgraded yet again to the gel-cushion hand wraps, it helped a LOT. My sore knuckle was gone within two weeks once I started using gel wraps.
There are several brands on Amazon. I have the Meister brand. You could also try the RDX, Emrah, Everlast or Title brand.
My lovely friend Anne turned me on to these Meister glove deodorizers. They’re amazing. They smell nice and absorb moisture from sweaty hands, too. Just slip them inside your bag gloves after a workout and leave ’em there until you use the gloves again.
I have the Meister brand in fresh linen. A word of warning: When they first arrive, take them out of the box OUTDOORS (or at least in your garage), and let them air out for 2-3 days. They are PUN-GENT! The smell fades enough that you can be around them after that initial air-out. They work gloriously for a loooooong time.
Weightlifting gloves with wrist support
Image credit: Amazon
I bought my first pair of weightlifting gloves when I started at Next Level, but pretty quickly I realized I needed more wrist support (and sturdier gloves). The C9 brand from Target lasted just a few months before they started to wear out.
I won’t argue that these Rim Sports Weightlifting Gloves are the ultimate in quality, but they do the trick. The wrist wrap has velcro in two places, which helps it stay put.
Plus, if anything breaks on them, you can contact the seller through Amazon and they’ll send you a free replacement. (I’ve found that the Chinese manufacturers of low-cost goods are so eager to avoid a negative Amazon review that they’ll do anything to win you over when their product fails to meet expectations… a common response is to send TWO replacements instead of one. This happens to me CONSTANTLY.)
Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs)
A really good strength workout almost always means sore muscles. I thought I knew what sore was after starting at Next Level. But shortly after my 38th birthday, my muscle soreness reached a whole ‘nother level (ba-dum-PSH!).
A friend suggested I try branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), but I wasn’t keen on the idea. I am not really a “mix powder into a drink and suck it down” kind of girl, because it usually tastes like shit and I can’t stand grainy drinks.
But eventually, my sore muscles got too unbearable. I researched online (“best tasting BCAAs”) and discovered Scivation Xtend BCAAs. The fruit punch flavor tastes exactly like fruit punch Kool-Aid. Yum.
More importantly, it made a YUGE dent in my soreness. I still get sore, but not like I did before. Major improvement!
A handheld drink mixer/milk frother
I didn’t even know I needed one of these drink mixers until I got one as a Christmas gift, and now I can’t imagine living without it. Anytime you’re dissolving powder into liquid, this little battery-powered drink mixer makes quick work of blending it. It’s easy to rinse after use, and is about the size of a whisk so it’s easy to store.
It’s amazing, and best of all: no grittyness in your pre- or post-workout drink. WOOP! Fun fact: It’s actually a milk frother, but it works amazingly well, so I don’t really care what it’s called.
Body Glide Anti-Chafe Balm
On kickboxing days, about halfway through the workout, the skin just below and behind my armpits would start to sting. By the end, I’d have big red splotches of tender, irritated skin. It was especially bad on days we had a lot of body shots. Apparently this is what the kids call “chafing.” Blech.
I was skeptical, but on my husband’s suggestion, I gave Body Glide a try. It was like the heavens opened up and bestowed a gift upon my skin. This is the same stuff serious runners use on their thighs, and I can see why: it works like a charm.
Remote start and a wifi-connected garage door opener
I started at my gym in January of 2017, and that first winter was brutal. I’d start my car and come back inside to eat a snack, hoping it’d be warmed up by the time I needed to dash out the door. It wasn’t, and it sucked.
When winter #2 rolled around, I was ready. That fall, I installed a remote starter on my car and added a wifi-connected system to my garage door opener.
Now, my wake-up routine looks like this: Alarm goes off; I grab my phone and roll out of bed, straight into the en suite bath just a few feet away. My keys are in the bathroom counter (I put them there before bed), so I start my car with my key fob, then open the garage door from my phone (so I don’t flood the house with carbon monoxide).
Seven minutes later, when I’m dressed and ready to go, the car is toasty warm. Boo yah.
For my Iowa City folks: I got my remote start from a local auto accessories installer, Hawkeye Auto Accessories. I price-checked everyone in town and his prices beat them all. I can’t remember what I paid, but it was SO WORTH IT.
Wifi Garage Door Opener
If you don’t have one already, you can purchase a garage door opener with wifi built in. However, if you have an older garage door opener, you can make it “smart” by purchasing a kit that will let you connect it to wifi, allowing you to control it using your smartphone. (This is what I did.)
I bought the Genie Aladdin Connect (because I had a Genie garage door opener, I thought I was limited to that manufacturer). It’s not my favorite; it’s janky and the mobile app looks like an 8th grader designed it. There are better products out there, including Chamberlain MyQ, which seems to be the most highly rated system. Mine was easy to install; I did the whole thing in about 15 minutes, all by myself.
Insulated, vacuum-sealed water bottles
My small house makes it easy for sound to travel from one end of the house to the other. Using the ice dispenser (in the door of my refrigerator) at 4:45am went over like a lead balloon with my light-sleeping husband and equally light-sleeping four-year-old.
Problem is, I am super picky about my workout water—it has to be ice-cold, and nothing less will do.
To tackle this problem, I bought two vacuum-sealed and insulated water bottles. Before bed each night, I fill one water bottle with 8 to 10 ice cubes and water, then stash it in the refrigerator (next to my pre-workout snack, which is usually a hard-boiled egg or a combo of cheese, nuts, and raisins). I grab the bottle when I head out to the gym each morning and voila: ice-cold delicious water.
I take the second bottle to bed each night. Using the insulated bottle means the water is just as cold at 3:00am as it was at 8:00pm, and when I wake up in the middle of the night, I’m always parched.
Any insulated bottle is fine, so long as it can keep things cold for 12 hours or more. But my personal favorite is the Contigo Autospout Ashland (or Sheffield), and I’ll tell you why:
- It keeps water icy cold for 18 hours, and usually longer.
- The built-in straw means I don’t have to tip the bottle up to take a drink. This is super handy on kickboxing days, since I can take a drink without removing my gloves.
- The large ring on the cap means I can pick it up with my thumb (again, without removing my kickboxing gloves) and take a drink easily.
The little things make all the difference
When you’re making it a routine to wake up at 4:35am five days a week, you need to employ strategies to make it all work, or you’ll never stick with it. The entire experience, start to finish, needs to be as easy as possible. Only then will you truly make a lifestyle change.
The equipment and strategies I shared above were key for me the last two years, and hopefully I gave you at least one new idea. I’m sure I’m missing something, though, and I want to know: what works for you? Tell me in the comments!
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