When is the Best Time to Workout?
Routine is an essential part of life, especially if you’re chasing health and fitness goals. Typically those who consistently exercise as a non-negotiable part of their routine fall into two camps: morning or evening exercisers. The earlybirds and after-work trainees rarely cross paths, committed to their favorite time to hit the gym.
So what does science say about the ideal time to train? There are definite pros and cons to each training time, and we’ll lay them out for you so you can decide for yourself.
Benefits of Morning Exercise
Training in the AM is an accomplishing start to the day and can be extremely beneficial for compliance, as training is completed before other stressors and responsibilities from the day begin to pile up. For those with families and long work days, an early morning session can be the only realistic time to train, before the emails start rolling in and the kids wake up.
On the physiological side, a morning session can provide a hit of feel good dopamine and ramps up metabolism, setting a positive tone for the day. If training can happen around 9 or 10am this generally aligns with circadian rhythm and peak cortisol, which is beneficial for energy levels.
Disadvantages of Morning Exercise
If you have serious performance goals then training in the early morning may not be ideal. Research has shown that your ability to tap into your ultimate potential—your peak performance—may actually be impaired in those early morning hours. Muscle strength has been shown to be greater later in the day when body temperature is higher, which is preferential for activating fast twitch muscle fibers. Keep in mind that while this is important for serious athletes, this is not important for those training for health and longevity.
Benefits of Evening Exercise
The number one benefit of an evening session is if it aligns with your schedule and lets you get training in consistently (though the same could be said for the morning).
Other benefits of a PM session include time to decompress after work and improved sleep quality. Studies have actually shown that people who train consistently in the evening fall asleep faster and have deeper sleep than those who don’t, so long as they are not doing high-intensity exercise within an hour of sleeping.
For athletes, general power and performance for anaerobic activities (such as weight lifting, sprinting and spurts of intensity), is highest in the afternoon and evening.
Disadvantages of Evening Exercise
Training in the evening can negatively affect sleep if the workout is high intensity. However, this is not a consideration for those training for health, as their training will be a mix of strength training and aerobic work.
The biggest disadvantage for most evening exercisers is that it can be easy to skip workouts when the day gets stressful, meetings run late, or happy hours pop up. Because of this, compliance rates have been shown to be lower for people that train in the PM.
The Best Time to Train?
The bottom line is that for 99% of people, the best time to train is whenever you can fit it consistently into your schedule.
If you’re genuinely interested in performing at an optimal capacity, research suggests that afternoon and evening training sessions are ideal. However, if like most, your primary goals are to ‘look good naked’ or ‘live long and prosper,’ whatever time of day you decide is perfectly fine. The key is to find the time that helps you be most consistent!