By Jamie Logie, PTS, NWS
You are aware of the benefits that come from being physically fit and active. You know strength training, cardiovascular exercise, stretching, and recovery can be life-changing. But what time of day should you exercise?
This article will look at why workout timing may have a big impact on your results and progress in the gym.
Should you work out earlier or later in the day?
If you have always been a morning person, this has probably been an easy decision and you exercise first thing. If the thought of getting up early in the morning repulses you, you may want to reconsider it when it comes to working out.
Not only can working out first thing give you a boost of energy for the day, but it also pays off with better sleep later that night. When you’re active first thing in the morning, your circadian rhythm is engaged. This is your biological clock that needs to follow the course of the day, but can be thrown off very easily. Staying up too late and neglecting your sleep throws it out of whack.
When you work out in the morning you set your biological clock into motion. This means it will start to wind down right around when you need it to. This is beneficial as it will help you to not only fall asleep faster, but stay asleep. It will allow for deeper sleep and with that comes improved recovery from training.
Research from Johns Hopkins University found that when you work out in the morning it improved slow-wave sleep. This is that deep restorative sleep you need to feel refreshed and rejuvenated. The other benefit of early morning workouts is that it raises your body temperature, which is a signal to your body that it’s time to wake up.
The rise in core temperature will allow you to become more alert and productive first thing in the morning. Morning workouts will also give you a brain boost and with it comes alertness and improved creativity. This will allow you to bust through plateaus at work and focus better on projects and requirements.
Is there a best time of day to work out?
The mornings look good for exercise as it helps set you up to take control of your day. Working out first thing may also be the ideal choice if you’re looking to feel better and more energized.
To find the ideal time to work out you need to look at what type of training you are doing. Regular cardio such as running, or even walking, will be quite manageable early in the day. If your training involves more intense activities such as strength training or HIIT, you may want to wait for a few hours after you wake up. This is not to say you won’t get results from high-intensity training early in the morning, you just might not be able to provide maximum exertion.
Training will depend on your schedule, but if it’s possible you could be better off waiting an hour or two after a light breakfast for more engaging workouts. Another option is to do some lower-intensity cardio earlier in the day and save the more intense training for lunch breaks or after work.
Your goals will determine the best time of day to work out
If you’re looking to lose body fat and want to boost your energy, early morning workouts would probably be best for you. You get the added bonus of your metabolism continuing to burn throughout the day after your workout. If your goals are more strength and muscle-based, then training in the earlier half of the day would be more ideal.
Hormone levels – specifically testosterone – peak from around 8 am to 11 am and then drop over the rest of the day. With testosterone at it’s highest, gains in strength and muscle are more likely. If you are only able to workout late in the day, you want to leave a gap of a few hours between training and sleep. High-intensity training late at night will lead to difficulty falling and staying asleep. Better pre-sleep exercise choices include walking, stretching, and yoga.
If you’ve been wanting to get up and at ‘em first thing in the morning, this can be a great time to start doing early workouts. Many benefits come from training at this time, but it’s important to look at what you are looking to accomplish from your training. Your schedule will determine a lot of this, but for general fitness and cardiovascular exercise, earlier in the day is ideal.
The other advantage of working out early is it helps you in time management and structuring your day, making you more productive. Ultimately, it’s all about finding the time of day where you will be consistent with your workouts and consistency is what drives results. Consistency leads to better performance, improved oxygen consumption, and lower exhaustion rates. So find your ideal time and stick with it.