Working out at any time of day is great. But my guest says there are distinct benefits to doing it in the a.m., and he’s going to walk you through everything you need to know, from mindset to habits, to become a morning workout person.
Anthony Arvanitakis is a bodyweight training coach and the author of The 7 A.M. Workout Edge: Wake Up, Work Out, Own the Day. Today on the show, he offers concrete tips for overcoming the challenges of working out in the morning, from getting out of bed to finding the time to do it before work, including his “Brain Start-Up Routine” for shaking off the just-woken-up inertia to get going. In the latter part of the show, Anthony details how to do a highly effective at-home bodyweight workout that can easily fit into your morning routine and requires minimal equipment and only 30 minutes. We also talk about how to combine bodyweight training with cardio to do something he calls “cardiosthenics” that’s great for fat loss.
Resources Related to the Podcast
- Anthony’s previous appearances on the AoM podcast:
- AoM Podcast #652: Mise-en-Place — How Chefs Organize Their Work
- AoM Podcast #888: The Science of a Better Daily Routine
- AoM Article (By Anthony): How to Break Through a Push-Up Plateau (Using the Mind-to-Muscle Connection)
- AoM Article: The Groundhog Day Diet — Why I Eat the Same Thing Every Day
- AoM series on how to use gymnastic rings
- AoM article and podcast about Zone 2 cardio
- Pull-up bar/dip station
- Anthony’s video about his warm-up routine
- Anthony’s video of an example of a full-week bodyweight routine
- Anthony’s video on a “cardiosthenics” beginner’s routine
Connect With Anthony Arvanitakis
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Hey, quick heads up. We have an enrollment going on right now for our online platform, The Strenuous Life, The Strenuous Life is an online platform that we created to help you put into action all the things we’ve been talking about and writing about on the Art of Manliness podcast and website for the past 10 plus years. We’ve done that in a few ways. First, we’ve created a series of 50 different badges based around 50 different skills, hard skills like wilderness survival and self-defense but also soft skills like public speaking and social skills and things like that. We also provide weekly challenges that are gonna push you out of your comfort zone, physically, mentally and socially, and we provide accountability for physical activity and doing a good deed so you can be a well-rounded man. Enrollment is this week, it closes on Thursday. Our next enrollment will not be until January 2024. If you wanna sign up or learn more information or get on our waiting list when our next enrollment opens up, head over to strenuouslife.co. Strenuouslife.co. Hope to see you on The Strenuous Life.
Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Working out at any time of day is great but my guest says there are distinct benefits to doing it in the AM, and he’s gonna walk you through everything you need to know from mindset to habits to become a morning workout person. Anthony Arvanitakis is a bodyweight training coach and the author of the 7 AM Workout Edge: Wake Up, Work out, Own the Day. Today on the show, he offers concrete tips for overcoming the challenges of working out in the morning, from getting out of bed to finding the time to do it before work, including his brain startup routine for shaking off the just-woken-up inertia to get going. In the latter part of the show, Anthony details how to do a highly effective at-home bodyweight workout that can easily fit in your morning routine, requires minimal equipment and only 30 minutes. We also talk about how to combine bodyweight training with cardio to do something he calls “cardiosthenics” that’s great for fat loss. After the show’s over, check out our short notes at aom.is/morningworkout.
All right. Anthony Arvanitakis, welcome back to the show.
Anthony Arvanitakis: Thank you Brett. First of all, great job on pronouncing my last name.
Brett McKay: Well, it’s a great name to say. So we’ve had you on the show a couple of times but, for new listeners who aren’t familiar with your work, how did you become a bodyweight training coach? Because your path to that actually began with a car accident. Tell us more about that.
Anthony Arvanitakis: Alright, so that’s a long story. I’ll try to keep it short. Basically, when I was 22, I was finishing the sports science and physical education university I was studying in in Greece. I had an accident. So I basically flew for about 20 meters, that is like, I don’t know, like 45 feet, and I landed on the pavement. My leg was destroyed basically. I was brought to the hospital. And after six years of basically trying to save a leg that was severely damaged, we ended up having to have an amputation. After that, I got a prosthetic leg. And actually, to just backtrack six months there, before getting the prosthetic leg, I thought that this is something I have to be prepared for mentally and physically. And after six years of not doing a lot basically, of being physically inactive, I decided to get in shape. I started training at home. Going to the gym wasn’t really possible because it wasn’t practical. I didn’t have a car. Also the gym was far away.
So basically I decided to train at home strictly by doing calisthenics, you know that’s bodyweight exercise, and lo and behold, I started getting in good shape. I had my amputation, the last operation, which was the 13th, so that was 13 operations over the last six years. But that was finally the last one and after that, I just continued doing bodyweight stuff. I was getting in great shape. And I realized like this is awesome, right? Because in the past, I would lift weights and I thought that that was the only way to be fit. But I was getting these great results and I thought, “Why don’t I keep doing this?” So I also wrote a book about my story back then. It did pretty good, which I was surprised by. I also had a YouTube channel that I was doing to record my journey. Once I realized, though, that this is picking up, that people are interested in this, I quit my office job and I decided that this is what I’m gonna do. I’m going to be a bodyweight coach.
Brett McKay: Okay, so you got a couple of books out. You got a new book out called The 7 AM Workout Edge: Wake Up, Work out, Own the Day. You’re making the case for morning workouts. Now we’ve had podcast guests in the past where research shows that physiologically speaking, the best time of day to work out is the afternoon because you’re most primed at that time because it takes the chemical processes that power your body and muscles a while to kinda warm up and get going throughout the day. And I personally like training in the afternoon myself. But they all say, though, all this research about exercises, well, the timing of your workout is far less important than getting a workout in, period. And you make a great case in this book for doing your workout in the morning. So let’s talk about, What do you think are the benefits of doing your workout in the morning?
Anthony Arvanitakis: So it is true that world records are set usually in afternoon times. And as you said, physiologically speaking, that’s a time that your body will perform better. I’m not in any case a morning workout zealot, right? As long as you can get your workout in, I’m gonna applaud that. But the reason I started working on this book was because basically the most practical solution for me, after a certain point, seemed to be working out in the morning. So after struggling a lot to find the time to work out, my business was growing, so I found myself not training or having so many things to do that I ended up training at the end of the day, which also made me a little bit resent my workout ’cause you’re exhausted at the end of the day, you’re depleted and then you also have to train instead of going home and having a shower, being with loved ones and all that. So I started exploring this whole morning workout routine approach. Just as with afternoon workouts, you have the same benefits if you work out in the morning. Your mood is gonna be boosted, you are gonna have that self-confidence boost as well if your strength training, better alertness, energy levels, more sharpened focus, creativity, all that.
But what I found out by working out in the morning is that these benefits, especially the mental ones, are amplified during the rest of the day because basically what happens is that you get to ride that post-workout wave of euphoria, of improved cognitive performance. You get to ride that wave across the whole day compared to if you train in the afternoon, that’s going to taper out after a few hours when you go home and you get to bed. So I realized that, especially when it comes to cognitive performance, to the mental benefits, the morning workout gives you a better boost when it comes to all that. And it also boosts you during the hours that usually for most people matter the most ’cause you get to experience that peak boost when you’re going afterwards to your job, when you’re doing those first tasks of the day that are critical.
Brett McKay: And then another benefit of working out in the morning you talk about in the book is that for a lot of people, if you work out in the morning, that’s going to ensure you actually get a workout in. ‘Cause most people who are working a 9-5 job, let’s say their commute to work is 30 minutes, some people have an hour long commute, so if you try to work out after work you might have just like four hours of free time potentially to work out and then do all the other stuff. Just daily adult responsibilities, personal hobbies, maybe doing stuff with your kids. So working out might not happen unless you get that in the morning. That’s another benefit you talked about is you found yourself, when you shifted your workout to the morning, you freed up some time in the afternoon or in the evening where you could pursue hobbies and do other things that you otherwise wouldn’t have done because you’re using that time to work workout in the afternoon.
Anthony Arvanitakis: Yeah, yeah, exactly. So this is what happened with me ’cause I was basically commuting one and a half hour in the morning. I was commuting one and a half hour in the afternoon. I was working overtime like eight to 10 hours per day. And then I had to train after that, which I ended up resenting it. Plus, for people after work, when you’re exhausted, you also have very little quality time to spend with your family, with your significant other, whatever it is. Or maybe you wanna focus on a hobby or something else. So getting it done in the morning is really really helpful. For a lot of people, it’s the only way that works. You just need a smart way to set that up. And the first rules that I have in my book is, like rule number one is make sure you do it before your adult responsibilities, so you don’t have to train at 5:00 AM or 7:00 AM. The title of the book is just there because I just wanted to make a point that you don’t have to wake up extremely early.
Now, the key to morning workouts is consistency when it comes to workout time because if you stick to the same time you can kinda hack your physiology. Your body basically adapts and it primes you to perform better during that time. So in the beginning, you’re gonna feel out of sync. I experienced that as well. You’re gonna feel clunky, you’re gonna feel all those things. But if you’re consistent with your workout time, it’s gonna feel better and better especially if you stick to it for about six weeks. Basically find a time that works for you and as long as you’re doing it before work, before adult responsibilities and you’re keeping that workout time consistent, you’re basically good.
Brett McKay: And then we’ll talk about this later on, but a body weight workout is really conducive to this morning workout because it allows you to work out at home. So now you don’t have to commute to the gym, which could be for some people 15, 20, 30 minutes. You take that out so you can knock it out really fast, and we’ll talk about that in a second. So you mentioned some rules about the morning workout. So do it before your adult responsibilities. Then the other one is be consistent with it. So wake up at the same time every day ’cause it’s gonna allow your body to adapt. Are there any other rules that you have found to be useful if you wanna make this morning workout thing routine in your life?
Anthony Arvanitakis: Yeah. So I do also have what I call the three golden rules of the 7:00 AM workout edge. And number one, don’t snooze, ’cause you really don’t gain anything by snoozing. You don’t have enough time to get into a deep state of sleep that will actually help you feel better. So when you’re falling asleep, you’re kinda getting into back into your sleep cycle but it’s not really quality sleep. So you actually feel worse when you try to sneak in some few minutes by snoozing. So rule number one is, again, don’t snooze. Rule number two, and what I do here is I just repeat rule number one is, again, seriously don’t snooze. And I include a Jerry Seinfeld bit in the book when it comes to this. So Jerry Seinfeld had a bit where he said the following, “If any invention marks the decline of human civilization, I think it would be the snooze alarm. So the snooze alarm is based on the idea that when the alarm goes off, you are not getting up, right? You’re not even awake and you are already a failure. They should sell the snooze alarm with an unemployment application and a bottle of tequila, just to make it a complete pathetic loser kit.”
So that’s a bit from Jerry Seinfeld, a bit aggressive. But in my opinion, the way I see it is when you set a time to wake up the previous night and you’re not actually doing that, you’re hitting the snooze button, you are kinda violating an agreement you’ve made with yourself the previous night. So that leads to basically waking up with failure mentality. And that only builds a negative momentum for the rest of the day. So instead of snoozing, remind yourself that you’re not gonna gain anything from this, just try to practice getting up instantly. And I found that this is also a skill. So getting up when your alarm clock goes off, the more successfully you do it on repeat, the better you get at it. Some people find it a little bit more difficult but I definitely believe that it’s something that you can work on and that is your first small win of the day as well. So when you get that small first win of the day, you get that little spritz of dopamine, you feel good, you’ve already accomplished something, and each step after that becomes easier.
I’m gonna be honest, it never becomes effortless. At least I’ve been doing this for, I don’t know, like consistently five years now or so and I still have mornings that I really hate. Especially I think the worst ones are when your alarm clock rings when you’re in a deep sleep cycle, like when you’re in the middle of a deep sleep cycle, which is going to happen less and less if you keep your wake up time consistent. But sometimes that’s gonna happen and it’s still gonna suck. But the other metaphor I like to use is thinking of that, of getting up in the morning, of avoiding that snooze button, like the first hardest rotation of a bike, of the pedals of the bike. Once you get that round, it gets easier and easier and the morning workout bike starts to roll. So if you can skip the snooze button, I think after that everything gets easier.
Brett McKay: And then the third rule was do what you call intermittent social media fasting in the morning.
Anthony Arvanitakis: Yeah. So I actually thought that I came up with that term. I thought of it one morning and I thought, “Oh wow, this is awesome.” But then I googled it and there were already a couple of articles. But whatever the case, I mentioned it in the book and it’s basically a way to, first of all, control your social media usage and what it means is simply that you don’t turn on your internet connection until you’re done with your workout. That’s how I started managing my phone a little bit more efficiently. Nowadays, that’s helped me to be even more conscious of how much I’m using my phone. I’m trying to use it less and less. And having that as a rule, first of all, it’s gonna help you be more focused when you’re training. It’s gonna help you relax, kick back, enjoy your workouts so you’re not answering emails or you’re not getting back to notifications from social media when you’re training. It also saves you a lot of time in the morning. So intermittent media fasting, really really good tip as well to control your social media usage and all that.
Brett McKay: All right. So the book’s called The 7 AM Workout Edge but this is not a rule you have to work out at 7:00 AM. And I think a lot of people when they say, “Well, I gotta workout in the morning,” it means I gotta wake up super early, right? I gotta do my workout at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning. Maybe some people have to do that. But in the book you say, yeah, you probably don’t have to wake up as early as you think to get a workout in the morning. So in your experience with yourself and then coaching other people, how early do you need to wake up in order to get in a workout first thing in the morning?
Anthony Arvanitakis: Yeah. So there was a point when you had all these motivational YouTube videos couple of years ago where you had quotes like, “You don’t need sleep. Get up. Get your workout in.” Then you had famous people like Dwayne Johnson The Rock who get up at 4:00 AM and they get like a two hour workout in. And all that is great if you are maybe famous, if you maybe have other people doing everything else for you but that’s not doable for everyone. That’s not doable for family guys, people with kids and a job and a whole bunch of other stressful responsibilities. So, first of all, you don’t need like a two hour workout to experience the morning workout edge, that morning boost that you get from a session first thing in the day.
Like just 30 minutes are enough, and if you’re training every day 30 minutes of targeted exercise can get you really really good results. So if you’re smart about how you structure your morning routine and you make sure that you’re not wasting time snoozing, you’re not scrolling on social media, you’re not reading stressful headlines, if you get really really organized with your mornings and you try to get a little bit earlier, the previous night in bed, let’s say 15 minutes, you can open up like 30 minutes of space to work out really really easily. Most people are amazed when I have them basically go through an exercise where they note down everything they do in the morning. And based on that exercise, we figured out how to unlock those extra 30 minutes to work out. And for most people it is doable if you’re very mindful of how you are operating in the morning, what you’re doing. So the reality is that you don’t really need to get up extremely early.
Brett McKay: Okay. So you don’t wanna skip on sleep just to get a workout in because that’s gonna be detrimental. It’ll get in the way of making any gains. You just feel like crap if you don’t get the sleep you need. You talk about how getting ready for the morning workout starts the night before and part of that, as you just said, is going to bed a little bit earlier. But what else can people do the night before so they get the sleep they need to train in the morning?
Anthony Arvanitakis: Yeah. So what I recommend is, first of all, try to avoid binge watching episodes on Netflix. Set a time that you wanna get in bed and sleep, have a wind down routine. I talk about that a lot. Something more targeted that I mention a lot in the book as well is basically mise en place, right? So I think you, yeah, you did have a guest as well where you talked about this topic, which is mise en place is basically a fancy French term from the culinary arts for being tidy. Word for word, it means to put in place. And the core principle of mise en place is clean as you go. So what you wanna do every time you work out in the morning, with everything you do in the morning, is to give yourself as little as possible to do the following day, right?
So you make sure that you, just like a good chef never leaves a dirty kitchen, you make sure that everything before your eyes is clean and tidy before you finish your workout. That includes like clearing out your backpack and tidying the room and organizing your equipment and cleaning your kitchen if you’re having breakfast before or after. The more mindful you are about being tidy about basically creating as less friction for yourself the next morning, the more effortless your morning routine will be and the more time costly it’s gonna be. So doing all that, being very tidy, being organized from the previous day, things that most people know like prepping your clothes, putting those on the bed to be ready for your workout and all that, these are simple things, but they’re essential if you wanna make that morning routine a habit.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Last time we had you on, we talked about making exercise a habit through routines and in the 7 AM Workout Edge, you continue this idea. You have this idea of the brain startup routine that you do in the morning to make sure you get working out. And this, like I said, is to help you when you first wake up, you’re feeling groggy, you don’t really wanna do anything. But, as you talk about in the book, action is the antidote to that. So what does your brain startup routine look like in the morning?
Anthony Arvanitakis: Now I’ve been doing this consistently for five years but when it’s cold and it’s the winter, I don’t wake up thinking like, awesome, I’m gonna leave my nice warm bed and I’m gonna go train in the cold. So that’s never my initial idea, my never initial thought. And the reason for that is basically there’s a battle going on when you’re waking up in the morning. So this battle is between the primal part of your brain, so the lizard brain as they call it, sometimes the limbic system, and the other part is your more evolved part, the prefrontal cortex. So the bad news here is that when it comes to your lizard brain, it mostly cares about survival, things like passing along your genes, food, shelter, all that. So as long as you have a roof over your head, you’ve had food the previous night, your lizard brain is not going to be that motivated to get you up. But, as I said, the bad news is that when it comes to the lizard brain, daytime blood flow returns to normal the moment you wake up. Whereas when it comes to your prefrontal cortex, that part of your brain that can think more logically, that knows what’s really good for you, it takes an extra 20 minutes for that to turn on.
I use a metaphor that it’s kinda like a really old computer. You have to give it time to boot and all that. So that is the reason I created the brain startup routine, which is basically a routine that gives yourself those 20 minutes to help your prefrontal cortex to load for you to be basically more mentally prepared to work out. So instead of waking up and being overwhelmed from the thought that you have to work out, you just focus on your brain startup routine. And it’s just a very simple, clear set of actions that you do every day that you do in the same order, and by repeating these actions more and more, the more you’re priming yourself. You’re putting yourself on autopilot and you’re creating a lot more effortless path from the moment you wake up until time to work out. So I like to use four or five steps to set this up. Step number one is the countdown. So I just use a very simple method where I count back from three. So the moment I wake up, I’m like okay, three, two, one and we’re up. So that’s kinda like a form of metacognition, as a scientist would say, which is just a fancy way of saying that you’re tricking your brain to do something.
And the reason you do it in reverse is because that doesn’t give you any way out, right? ‘Cause if you say I’m gonna count until 10 and you start like one, two, three, four, five, six until 10, after 10 maybe your lizard brain is gonna start negotiating, telling you like, “Ah, let’s count until 20,” and maybe you’re gonna fall asleep until then. So I keep it simple. I just say three, two, one, and I get up. The trick here is being really really serious with this. I imagine myself like the NASA guy when he’s doing the countdown for the space shuttle launch. So that’s step number one. Step number two is giving yourself those very simple set of actions that we talked about until your brain starts to wake up. Basically you want to do things that keep you on your feet. One of the things that works really well is making your bed, that way you will not wanna go back into bed. But if you’re sleeping with someone else, with your wife or whatever, then obviously that’s not practical.
So what I like to do nowadays is I’m either gonna wash the dishes from last night or I’m gonna tidy my office. Basically find something very simple that keeps you on your feet and something that you do until your brain starts to wake up a little bit more effectively. Step number three is hydration or breakfast. So if you like to eat something in the morning, you can have like a little snack. Or if you’re like me, if you like to train fasted, just get some water or get a cup of coffee or get a cup of, I don’t know, water with a pinch of Himalayan salt, some people like to do that. Basically find a way to hydrate yourself that you enjoy. I have coffee. Nowadays I know that people mention that it’s more effective to have your coffee later on but I’m a creature of habit. I enjoy the whole ritual of grinding my coffee beans and doing all that. So that’s what I do. It works for me.
Step number four is the suit up step. Basically, before you commit to working out, again you’re still trying not to think about that, you just tell yourself that I’m gonna put on my workout clothes and after that you’re gonna decide if you’re really ready to work out. So putting your workout clothes on, there’s even research on this, really really increases your motivation to work out. Maybe having some favorite clothes, like I like to have shorts and a t-shirt and a hoodie. That’s my typical go to. Even if it’s warm, I don’t know, I just like to have that hoodie on when I first get started. And the last step is tune up, so put some music on. I have a standard workout list that I will update over time but it usually starts with the same song and that kinda creates a Pavlovian response to get me into that workout mood. So that is the brain startup routine. Simple stuff but if you stick to it, if you create your own, it really really helps.
Brett McKay: We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors.
And now back to the show. So part of that brain start-up routine could be nutrition. What should pre-workout nutrition look like if you’re gonna workout in the morning? And then what do you think of working out in a fasted state?
Anthony Arvanitakis: So, personally, I’ve been training in a fasted state since 2013 probably, so like about 10 years now. For me, it works. I’ve noticed that for a lot of people it works, especially guys. It’s quite often the case that for women it’s not gonna work that well. Obviously not every woman but I have noticed that with men it works a little bit better. But basically you can try it out and you can see. If you feel horrible, if you feel shaky, if you feel weak, maybe you’re gonna have to consider having a little something before training. This can be tricky because for most people, you’re in a hurry in the morning so you don’t have a lot of time. So what I recommend is making a really small snack, something that is very very quickly absorbable. So you can do that during your brain start-up routine. Instead of having that glass of water or coffee, you can have that pre-workout snack.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. So before the work out, you wanna do something like piece of fruit, maybe a little bit of protein, so you could probably just do like, I’ve done this when I’ve worked out in the morning, like a banana and some peanut butter and almond butter.
Anthony Arvanitakis: Yeah. What I recommend is basically the format that works for most people, more or less. This doesn’t have to be exactly like that. About 50% simple carbs. So simple carbs can be fruit, it can be like a rice toast, basically like a really quickly digestible source of sugar. About 30% to 40% fat, like a healthy fat usually like peanut butter, or if you’re allergic to nuts, maybe for some people seed butters work, and a little bit of protein which will be usually in healthy fats like peanut butter or almond butter or whatever. So 50% of carbs again, 30% to 40% fat and 10% to 20% protein. And keep it small. For example, like a banana, you put some peanut butter on that and you’re good, for most people.
Brett McKay: So that’s if you’re gonna eat before you work out. You might be okay with fasted workout, so try that. But then whether you fast or eat before you workout, after you do your workout you wanna get a good breakfast in. So what does that look like for you? And any tips on… Again, we’re trying to save time, so you gotta get to work. Any tips on streamlining your morning breakfast after your workout?
Anthony Arvanitakis: So what I do is, when it comes to breakfast or basically the first meal of the day, is I have the same thing every day. That might seem boring to some people but I know that if I’ve trained in a fasted state, there is no chance I’m not gonna be hungry, right? So for me… Again, everybody is individual, we all have our own biological differences and all that but, for me, what works is I’m gonna have three eggs. I’m gonna have two portions of fruit or vegetables, or one portion of vegetables and one portion of fruit. Maybe I’m gonna have two slices of whole wheat toast and I’m gonna also have 150 grams of cottage cheese. So for me, that covers my needs in protein. I’m getting my veggies in, getting in my micronutrients, my macronutrients. But the key here is that I do this every day, like the same thing. So I know that I can prepare this meal in five minutes. I can eat it in about 10 minutes and another 10 minutes to clean up and wash the kitchen, so I know that I can do this in 20 to 25 minutes. So obviously, there are all kinds of different combinations you can choose here.
I say start with one. Master it to the point that you know how much time it takes you, that it’s fast, that it’s healthy. I mean, cereal is gonna be easy choice but I’m not a big fan of cereal, anything that is in a boxed shape. And when every single bite has the same exact shape, for me, that’s not real food. I like to focus on minimally processed foods as possible, focus on protein if your priority is to build muscle, and find something that works for you. That also means quantity. So if you eat a lot of anything, you’re gonna feel awful afterwards. Even healthy stuff, if you eat a lot of it, you’re gonna feel heavy afterwards. So find the right amount, the right quantity. And also find what sits well in your stomach ’cause maybe orange juice in the morning sits well with me but maybe for you it triggers like a little bit of a gastric reflux. Find basically what works best for you.
Brett McKay: So I think the keys is finding something that you can do every day. I’ve pretty much for, I don’t know, past eight years, nine years of eating the same thing for breakfast, it’s really easy to make. I go one egg, eight ounces of egg whites. So I just buy the egg whites in the carton at the grocery store, and then some type of carb. Sometimes I’ve used the tortillas wraps. I had the high fiber tortilla wraps. Done those. I’ve also used Dave’s Killer Bread, which is like this really whole wheat bread with seeds and nuts and things in it, it’s really good, and some cheese. And that’s pretty much it. And then maybe like a piece of fruit, some fruit. And I can knock that out, I can cook it in four minutes, five minutes. And then what’s nice about the sandwich or the wrap, if you need to, you can take it on the road if you got to but you can eat that pretty fast. So like 10 minutes you’re done with breakfast with that. So, yeah, I think get really good at making a really easy prep breakfast that’ll save you a lot of time. So let’s talk about the actual workout. So you’re a body-weight guy and, as we said earlier, body-weight training seems really conducive to a morning work-out ’cause you don’t have to do the commute to the gym. You just do it at home. What equipment do you need for a body weight training session?
Anthony Arvanitakis: So I’m a big fan of gymnastic rings. I don’t go anywhere without those. I always have a set in my car or in my backpack. So that’s my standard carry-on. But really what I usually recommend, it depends. So I’m usually gonna recommend either a combination of a pull-up bar and a dip station because that way you’re covering the upper body and with the lower body you can do other things. But basically if you have a pull-up bar and a dip station, that means that you can do pull-ups, that means that you can do things like dips, you can do rows. So you’re basically covering all basic angles, vertical and horizontal, when it comes to basic movement patterns, so pull-push. Or if you want to use one tool, my favorite one, if you can set up a pair of rings, for some people that’s not gonna be an option if you’re training at home ’cause you’re gonna have to screw those usually. But if you can get a pair of rings, that covers everything you need basically. You can do pull-ups with them. You can adjust them, do dips on them, do rows, do basically hundreds of exercises really if you’re creative and usually that’s what I recommend. Start with one of these two combinations.
Brett McKay: All right, so pull-up bar or gymnastics rings. Walk us through a body weight training session from warm up to finish. So you talked about, I think you mentioned earlier, one of the hard things about working out in the morning, I think a lot of people experience this, when you wake up you just feel stiff, you’re groggy. The stiffness is really… That’s one of the reasons I stopped working out in the morning, I just felt… You start squatting and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is not fun.” So anything you can do to counteract the stiffness when you start your body weight training session.
Anthony Arvanitakis: Yeah, so the way I dealt with that, first of all, is I created this very short morning routine that’s a warm-up routine basically that combines light static stretching, dynamic stretching and mobility drills. So if you master this, and you can find that in my YouTube channel, if you master this, it takes 11 to max 12 minutes. Basically I get it nowadays in 10 to 11 minutes. Once you master all the transitions, if you’re doing everything super smoothly, you can get a great great warm-up in 11 minutes. So I spent a lot of time on designing this warm-up and basically it’s structured in a way that it helps your neuromuscular system loosen up. It warms up your joints and it helps you get rid of that clunky feeling when you wake up in the morning. So that’s the first part of my workout. I do that religiously every day. There’s no way I’m gonna skip my warm-up.
I like to say, which is probably a quote I stole from Dan John, “If you don’t have time to warm-up, you don’t have time to work out.” Or another quote: “The warm-up is half the workout.” I really really believe in that. And the second part is that you wanna also be smart on how you sequence the intensity across your workout. So the way I do it, and I recommend to people to do it, is you wanna structure your workout in three phases or three rounds. The first round, I like to call this round the “get your engine started” round. It’s basically where you go about 50% of what you feel you can do at that moment. So during your first round, maybe let’s say you just got started with morning workouts which means you’re gonna feel extra clunky in the beginning until your body adapts to those morning hours, but if you feel that you can do right now let’s say 10 pull-ups, go for five. So that’s round one. Just focus on getting your engine started.
I like to imagine myself like a really old car during Winter morning. You’re starting the engine slowly with a warm-up and then you’re just doing around the block, right? Round two is leave 20% in the tank. So here you don’t wanna go 100% again, you wanna go aim for about 70% to 80% of the max reps you’d usually do if you were training in the morning. So, again, if you feel that you can do 10 pull-ups right now, go for seven or eight. And then once you get to round three, that is where you get your best reps in. So round three, your body’s gonna feel a lot better, assuming you scale the intensity and that weight, and you’re going to be able to push your body. I also like this ’cause that way you finish your workout strong, which gives you that boost of motivation, of confidence and energy, especially if you’re doing calisthenics, or it can be all kinds of other stuff. But it also at the same time leaves you fresh and really looking forward to the next workout.
So you don’t feel annihilated, you don’t feel completely destroyed. You feel that you got, what I say, that morning workout edge. And it works. I’ve gotten great results. A lot of people that I coach nowadays this way, they get great results. The key is the high frequency. So I wouldn’t recommend this approach if you were doing two workouts per week. I’m a big believer in high frequency, especially when you’re training in the morning, ’cause that way you get that small dense workout every morning and the overall volume builds up across the week. So you get those easy sets but you are also getting that last set that is high intensity and that adds up at the end of the week.
Brett McKay: Okay. So you start off with the warm-up. You’re gonna do some static stretching along with some dynamic stretching. So that’s gonna be you’re kinda doing a stretch but you’re moving. And then some mobility stuff. You’re gonna do some air squats, things like that, just to get the things, get the muscles going, revving up that engine. And then when you move to your workout, let me just make sure I understand, you’re gonna be doing sets. So maybe you have planned three sets of, I don’t know, we’ll say 10 of a particular exercise. That first set you’re gonna go 50%.
Anthony Arvanitakis: Yeah.
Brett McKay: You’re just gonna go halfway. And then the second set, you’re gonna leave 20% in the tank. So if you could have done 10 reps, just do eight reps. And then on that final set, that’s when you’re gonna go all the way, really get those good reps in.
Anthony Arvanitakis: Exactly. Yeah. And you can use that also with if you’re lifting weights, whatever you’re doing that is strength oriented.
Brett McKay: So what does a body weight workout look like for you? How many exercises are you doing in your body weight routine?
Anthony Arvanitakis: So with this approach, what I’m usually doing is I’m doing a pull-push, lower body and a core exercise. I do this in a circuit fashion. So I do the first exercise, take a little breather there, like 15 seconds not more than that. I move on to the second exercise, the third. Basically I start usually with a pull or a push. I move on again to the push, let’s say you start with a pull. I move on to a lower body exercise and then I move on to a core exercise. So that is one round, that round I do in 50% intensity and I get a good resting period like two minutes, three minutes. And then I do round two, again the same sequence, which is 80% and then round three is my best round.
Brett McKay: Okay. So just based on what you said, a sample routine could look like you do pullups, then push-ups, just regular push-ups, and then maybe some lunges.
Anthony Arvanitakis: Mm-hmm.
Brett McKay: And then followed by some leg lifts, leg raises for the core. And you’re gonna do that in circuits so you’re gonna do each one right after each other and then just repeat the round. With body weight training, we go into detail in this in our previous conversation, but with body weight training, how do you progressively overload, right? So that’s one of the things that drives strength and muscle gain. With barbell training or weightlifting, you’d add weight. How do you do that with body weight exercises?
Anthony Arvanitakis: So, first of all, you can simply increase the reps. In the past they used to think that there’s a specific rep range where you have hypertrophy or you build muscle. They used to say that’s around eight and twelve reps. That used to be the main consensus back in the days. If you wanna focus on strength, you stay below eight reps. So like one to five, something like that. And anything above 15 is more like muscular endurance. But nowadays all the research is pretty conclusive that as long as you’re working close to technical failure, you are building muscle and you’re building strength, right? So if you can do, let’s say, 15 push-ups, you can work yourself up to 20 push-ups. You can work yourself up to 40 push-ups and still make gains assuming you’re working close to technical failure, as you’re reaching those last reps. Now, sometimes I’m gonna do this ’cause I like the high reps. It’s a different stimulus. It’s more fun. But sometimes it’s not practical because your workouts become a lot longer. They take more time.
And when I’m coaching other people I’ve noticed that when you try to reach technical failure across 40 reps, let’s say an extreme example, it’s easier for people to mess up their form. Whereas when you’re doing 10 reps, it’s easier to stay focused. I mean, the intensity is harder but usually people can have better form. So if that is the case, other ways that you can increase the intensity can be, first of all, just using a weighted vest, a very simple solution. I’m not a big fan of weighted vests, not that I’m against them. I’m just a simple guy. I’m a practical guy. I don’t wanna carry a lot of stuff with me. I usually head outdoors. I like to train in nature in the morning so I don’t wanna be carrying a ton of stuff with me. So if you don’t have a weighted vest, that’s also like an expensive option, another free way to increase intensity is using more mind to muscle cues.
So you can focus on… Let’s say you are doing pull-ups, you can focus on really squeezing your shoulder blades, bringing your elbows close to your ribcage. Another adjustment you can make with pull-ups, you can focus on increasing the range of motion so you can go higher, basically. Try to do chest-to-bar pull-ups, those are my favorite pull-ups. The only way I do pull-ups. It takes time if you’re a beginner to get there but you can make that your goal. So if you can do pull-ups until your chin, start trying to bring the bar closer to your clavicle. Once you can do that, try to bring the bar closer to your sternum. So there are all kinds of ways like that where you can play around with range of motion, with mind to muscle cues, or adjusting the lever. For example, if you’re doing pushups you can increase, put your feet on an elevated surface, all kinds of things like that.
Brett McKay: Okay. So you can increase volumes by adding reps but at a certain point that might just make your workout too long. So find ways to increase intensity just by making the exercise harder. There’s different ways you can do that. And you talk about that in the book as well as on your YouTube channel. So, okay, we’re looking at 11 minute warm-up, and then how long should the circuit, the body weight circuit, take?
Anthony Arvanitakis: So if you’re doing three rounds of a circuit like the one I described, you can get that done in like 15, 17 minutes, depends on the resting periods. So you can really get your workout done within half an hour. I like to think of it as about 35 minutes, that way I have some extra wiggle room in there so I’m not stressing in the morning to get my workout in. I’m a little bit more relaxed. I’m enjoying the morning. I’m enjoying the view, the nice, peaceful environment around me, all that. I’m really taking everything in. So I like to think of it as 35 minutes but you can definitely get it in in 30 minutes.
Brett McKay: Okay, so 30 minute workout. Everyone’s got 30 minutes. You can do that. And what’s crazy about this, people might be listening like this workout sounds really easy. You can make it hard. And it might be easy a. And that’s maybe that’s… You don’t have to feel destroyed after a workout to get the benefits of a workout. I mean, one of the things you talk about in The 7 AM Workout is that one of the benefits of working at 7:00 AM is that you actually do the workout. And if you do that long enough on a consistent basis, you’re gonna get the benefits. I think there’s this idea in popular culture that if you’re gonna work out, you have to just destroy yourself and just feel like you can’t walk after a leg workout. Not so. Just get the workout done.
Anthony Arvanitakis: Yeah. No pain, no gain, right? That can be fun when you’re 20, so that’s another thing, but as you grow older, like after 30, 35, things change. Not that there’s not potential to build a great physique and all that but you have to train smarter. You have to respect your body, respect your joints. I turned 38 this year and I’m constantly noticing differences. So, my whole mentality has changed a lot ’cause I would love to do calisthenics until I’m 100, right? And I’ve seen people mess their bodies up, either that’s with lifting weights or calisthenics, ’cause a lot of times people think of calisthenics as innocent. But if you’re jumping on a bar and you’re doing pull-ups with no warm-up, that is basically like doing lat pulldowns on a lat machine with your weight. So, an average guy weighs, I don’t know, like 170 pounds. That’s like getting on the lat down machine and cranking in reps with 170 pounds without doing any warm-up. So you have to be smart. Either you’re doing calisthenics or lifting weights, especially in the morning. You have to be extra careful. You have to be very respectful of your body, of the warm-up. Again, if you don’t have the time to warm-up, I prefer that you don’t work out.
Brett McKay: So with this body weight workout, how many times are we doing this a week?
Anthony Arvanitakis: I like to train five to six times a week. The way I structure it is if I’m doing today like a horizontal pull, that is like inverted rows, a horizontal push, that is like push-ups, and I’m doing let’s say a knee dominant lower-body exercise and a core exercise, I can train again the next day. Some people think that you can’t train two days in a row but it depends on the volume and the intensity and how you’re programming everything. So you can train again the next day and do calisthenics if you switch things up a little bit. So if on day one we did a horizontal pull inverted rows, on day two do something a little bit different. You can do a vertical pull, which is pull-ups. Or, again, if you’re lifting weights that can be like a lat down exercise.
If I did push-ups the previous day, I’m gonna focus on a different angle, different exercise. I’m probably gonna do dips. Now, if I did a knee-dominant exercise, I’m gonna do a hip-dominant exercise. And if I did like a plank kind of core exercise I’m gonna do a more hollow body exercise. So as long as you’re smart on how you’re programming everything, you’re altering the angles, you can train every day. I like to do about four of these workouts, so the pull-push, lower body and core calisthenics workouts, and the rest of the week I also like to do things like sprints. I’m a big fan of sprints. And then I have other things. Nowadays, something I love doing is a hybrid approach where you combine calisthenics and cardio. I don’t know if we have the time about that but I can explain that as well.
Brett McKay: Yeah, what does that look? I mean, we’ve been talking about strength training and a calisthenic workout could become a cardio workout. So how do you combine body weight training with cardio?
Anthony Arvanitakis: So this is something I came up about a year ago. I call it cardiosthenics because it combines cardio and calisthenics and it’s just a hybrid way to combine strength training and aerobic training. I find that it’s great for fat loss. It’s great for morning workouts ’cause you’re hitting basically two birds with one stone, as they say. And in a nutshell, what you do is instead of resting between your exercises, let’s say we’re doing, again, a pull-push, lower body and core routine, instead of resting between exercises, you jog or you do any form of cardio that you enjoy. So let’s say you start with pull-ups, you do your pull-up set. You jog for, depending on your condition, one to three minutes. If you’re a beginner, let’s say you’re a beginner, you jog for one minute and then you move on to the next exercise. So that can be push-ups. Once you’re done with push-ups, you jog for a minute, you move on to your lower-body exercise, and then you jog for another minute and you move on to your core exercise. So basically instead of resting between sets, instead of walking around, you’re jogging but you’re making sure that you’re jogging at a very very low intensity. So we’re talking about zone 2.
Most people that do cardio, usually they’re doing zone 3 or zone 4. Again, you have a great podcast, Brett, on this topic. People can listen to that so we don’t waste time now. But you wanna make sure that you’re doing your… I call it my old guy jog ’cause I’m jogging extremely slow. So that way you’re not compromising your strength performance in the next exercise. Now, obviously it’s not going to be the same with completely resting and walking between sets but it is a way to get both things in. I never was a cardio guy. I never enjoyed it. But this was a way that I married cardio and calisthenics and I started enjoying cardio to the point that nowadays I’ve gotten a really really good cardiovascular conditioning as well. So I can jog a lot nowadays because I built my cardiovascular performance this way. So cardiosthenics, again, you can search that on YouTube. I have got some tutorials. But it’s a really fun way to combine both strength and cardio in a way that is fun even if, like me, you’re someone who could never really get into cardio.
Brett McKay: Okay. And you could do that 5 times a week. You could do that every day during the week if you wanted. But then another thing you talk about in the book, if you want to get cardio in you could also arrange your morning workout so that it’ll be like Monday, Wednesday, Friday, doing a bodyweight training session, the strength session, and then, Tuesday, Thursday, you do 30 minutes of cardio, for example. So that’s another way you get your cardio in. And then just find what you enjoy, the cardio you do. You could do… It could be a brisk walk but it could also be some hill sprints. Your’re a big fan of the sprints as well.
Anthony Arvanitakis: Yeah.
Brett McKay: So, Anthony, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?
Anthony Arvanitakis: So nowadays, you can find me on YouTube if you search for Bodyweight Muscle. That’s where I talk about my whole approach to fitness, calisthenics. And if you’re really serious with getting into a morning routine, you can find everything at The 7 AM workout edge. You write the 7 numerically, so it’s not a word just a number. Again, www.the7AMworkoutedge.com. You can find the book there and I also have a free 5-day challenge where you can get started. I’m there. It’s basically a free community. I make sure that I get back to everyone every single day. If you have questions, if you’re struggling with your morning routine, I’ll be there to help you out. So you can check those two sites.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Anthony Arvanitakis, thanks so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Anthony Arvanitakis: Thank You, Brett. I’m very very honored to be here.
Brett McKay: My guest is Anthony Arvanitakis. He’s the author of the book, The 7 AM Workout Edge. It’s available on amazon.com. You can find more information about his work at his website bodyweightmuscle.com. Also, check out our show notes at aom.is/morningworkout where you’ll find links to resources and we delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of The AOM Podcast. Make sure to check out our website at artofmanliness.com where you’ll find our podcast archives as well as thousands of articles that we’ve written over the years about pretty much anything you think of. And if you’d like to enjoy ad free episodes of The AOM Podcast, you can do so on Stitcher premium. Head over to stitcherpremium.com, sign up. Use code MANLINESS at checkout for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher App on Android, iOS, and you can start enjoying ad free episodes of The AOM Podcast. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, it helps out a lot. If you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time. This is Brett McKay. A reminder to our listeners of The AOM Podcast to put what you’ve heard into action.