It’s 6:00AM sharp on a Thursday. The students are called to line up. Half-asleep, we bow in, and begin to warm up. Some of us are wide awake, some us feel like zombies, but by the end of class we will all share the energy of a job well done. That’s one of the best things about morning classes: by the end of it, you feel amazing, and ready to take on the day. Early-morning BJJ is good for your body and mind, and you will benefit from these positive athletic and social interactions at the start of your day. You’ll be taking that post-training buzz with you throughout your morning.
You know the benefits, but how do you commit to such a routine? It’s not that hard! The following are some suggestions that may help you begin your own early morning BJJ workout routine.
1. Mentally prepare yourself.
First of all, figure out if your gym offers early morning classes. They are becoming increasingly popular, and if your gym does not offer them, tell the coach or owner that you’re interested. You might have the opportunity to take a private lesson with one of your coaches if there are not any classes on the schedule, for example. If you have some color on your belt, you might be interested in starting up your own group for a class or open mat. At Ivan Salaverry MMA here in Seattle, we offer morning classes 7 days a week.
Second, know yourself, and give yourself realistic expectations and challenges. If you’re completely new to working out first thing in the morning, start with committing to one or two days a week. You can build it up as you get used to it, but don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to hit it hard five days a week right away and wear yourself out. Pick a few days a week that work for you and write it down on your calendar. Seeing it written down can help you keep your commitment.
2. Set your alarm and go to bed early.
This one is pretty obvious, but it might be a challenging adjustment if you usually stay up late. I recommend not looking at any screens (TV/phone) at least an hour before bed, and doing something that relaxes you and gets your heart rate down like reading a book or magazine. You might take a bath, take your dog out for a walk or enjoy some tea with your significant other. Setting up a routine before bed might be helpful. You may find supplements like melatonin or cbd helpful as well.
3. Don’t eat/drink garbage before bed.
Also obvious, I hope, but if you must consume garbage, don’t do it the night before a morning class. If you’re an athlete, you shouldn’t be eating or drinking much garbage anyway, but we all enjoy our cheat meals. You might be the kind of person who usually has a beer before bed, and don’t have a problem at all exercising with that sloshing around in your stomach first thing in the morning. However, I think most people want to have a neutral stomach while they’re training hard, so just take that into account and consume what is best for you. Eat foods that will fuel your workouts rather than hinder your performance or sleep cycle, or cause inflammation, or make you dehydrated or bloated.
4. Hold each other accountable.
Befriend your teammates. Send them BJJ videos. Pick their brains about your game. When they don’t show up to a class they usually do, ask them what’s up. The nature of grappling creates robust social communities, because apparently simulated pajama murder is great for bonding. When your favorite training partner goes missing or falls victim to the blue belt curse, hit them up!
5. Pack your bag before bed.
Plan ahead and be prepared for your day. Save time in the morning by packing up your bag the night before. The majority of my own morning warriors head to work right after training, so they pack their work clothes and a shower kit. Please shower or at least use Defense wipes after training, or you may fall victim to nasty skin-borne ailments such as ringworm or staph (and your co-workers will hate you). You might want to make and pack a breakfast or scope out where you can get breakfast after your workout, which leads to the next one:
6. Secure your breakfast situation.
You shouldn't skip breakfast. Your body needs fuel to run on after your workout, and to take care of your body after training. You should be thinking about eating both carbs and protein, like a couple of eggs and a banana. If you go straight to work from the gym, you might find a protein shake regimen helpful. You could pack a few hard boiled eggs, a peanut butter and banana sandwich, or grab a bite on the way to work. Avocado toast, oatmeal, or a (healthy) breakfast burrito are all good options. You could even be a slob and buy a tub of almonds and let that sit in your car for months while you slowly peck away at it. Whatever your groove, don’t wait until lunch, or your body will be extra sore and that nice post-training energy buzz won’t last as long.
As for eating before you work out, everybody’s body is different, so you will have to figure out what works for you. When I train in the morning, I’ll usually have one cup of coffee and something like a banana before the workout. Sometimes it’s half an avocado, sometimes it’s an egg, but it’s usually a little bit of fuel. Not everybody does this, and some folks prefer just water and a mostly empty stomach. That’s fine too, but it’s even more important to be sure to eat breakfast after working out.
Finally, you should think about drinking enough water the night before and after waking up, and before you workout, so your muscles don’t cramp up. (Coffee doesn’t count, as it is a diuretic. try chugging a mug full of water before you fill it up with coffee).
Example: This veggie scramble took me all of 10 minutes to make. Fry up a small handful of diced fresh veggies (spinach, onion, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, broccoli, etc.), toss in a couple of beaten eggs, and when it's ready, top it with avocado and salsa. Simple and packed with nutrition.
7. Make sure you warm up, cool down (and PT your injuries)
Your coach(es) will probably take care of this part for you, but if they don’t, please commit to just five minutes before and five minutes after class to do this on your own. This is to ensure your muscles don’t go into grappling-mode completely cold, and you don’t stumble out the door jacked up on adrenaline—both of which could cause injury. Speaking of injuries, if you have any nagging injuries or old wounds you’ve got to take care of, it’s a good idea to take the time to PT them a little bit before and/or after practice.
I’m 30 years old and I’ve been training martial arts my whole life, and the more I train, the more I realize how important this recovery piece to training is. There is a risk for serious injury when your body is not warmed up before training hard. I was 23 the first time I exploded my knee (patellar tendon torn), and it was probably because I jumped into an MMA cage-sparring session almost completely cold. If you take a little bit of time now to warm up before training, cool down after training, and PT any possible nagging injuries, it will pay off as more mat time for you in your long-term journey as an athlete and martial artist.
8. Figure out your routine and stick with it!
It might not be easy, but it’s very simple—you just have to commit. The first week or so might be messy as you figure out when you have to go to bed, what you need to eat and how you can set up your schedule around your training session. You’ll have to figure that out on your own, and it’s toughest in these beginning stages before it becomes a habit. Stick with it, and it'll get easier week by week, eventually becoming your new normal.
Simply answer that early morning call . It will feel a lot easier to reach over and push your alarm a sad, restless hour forward and cocoon yourself into your bed until you are woken again in defeat. You’ll feel guilty, or try to justify it. “I’ll start tomorrow instead,” you’ll think, and it will poison the process. Turn that voice off. Don't even let yourself think about it, don't even give yourself the choice. When your alarm clock goes off, just remove the blankets and guide your feet to the floor. That’s typically the hardest part. Once you’re vertical, it’s a lot easier to push that body forward like an engine when the mind is not motivated to move. There is a lot to be said for just going through the motions when you’re feeling weak, tired, and unmotivated—I see it on my students’ faces in the morning, when cheery “Good Morning”s are acknowledged with a half-asleep grunt. Once they get going, though, it isn’t long before they’re not just going through the motions anymore—they’re feeling their jiu-jitsu, and enjoying class by the end of it.
Once it becomes a part of your daily routine, it will feel abnormal to skip class. The more you get used to it, the more energized you will feel, and it will help you start your day out right. If you happen to be in the Seattle area, come check out our morning classes at Ivan Salaverry MMA in South Lake Union!