When is the Best Time to Exercise?

As a gym owner, I get asked this question a lot! As a science nerd, I have all sorts of information on the human body and how the time of day you train can impact it and your training. But, since we dedicate our energy to creating personalized programs that work for each individual, our prescription often comes down to routine.

Routine is an essential part of life, especially if you’re chasing health and fitness goals. Typically, when it comes to consistent exercisers, they fall into two camps: morning or evening. The early-birds and after-work trainees rarely cross paths, committed to their favorite time to hit the gym, since work and family schedules are usually what dictates the time of day to train.

But what if you have a choice? 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

On the psychological side, training in the morning provides a sense of accomplishment, which is a great way to start the day. Morning sessions can also be extremely beneficial for compliance, as training is completed before other stressors and responsibilities from the day begin to pile up, possibly derailing a training session planned for later in the day. For those with long work days and/or families, an early morning session can be the only realistic time to train, before the kids wake up, and the emails start rolling in.

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 for the body. If training can happen around 9 or 10am this generally aligns with circadian rhythm and peak cortisol, which is beneficial for energy levels, and can lead to better sleep.

Disadvantages of Morning Exercise

If your fitness journey includes serious performance goals, then training in the early morning may not be ideal for you. 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. However, it is important to 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, allowing you to be consistent with your training (though the same could be said for the morning).

Other benefits of an evening session include giving yourself the time to decompress after work and for some, can improve 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, BUT…this is only true as long as they are not doing high-intensity exercise in the late session.

For serious athletes, general power and performance for anaerobic activities (such as  sprinting, weight lifting, and spurts of intensity), is highest in the afternoon and evening.

Disadvantages of Evening Exercise

Training in the evening can actually negatively affect sleep, if the workout is high intensity. However, for those training for general health and longevity, this is not a consideration, as their training will be a mix of aerobic work and strength training.

The biggest disadvantage for most evening exercisers is that it can be easy to miss workouts when the day gets too stressful, meetings run late, or happy hours pop up last minute. Because of this, compliance rates have been shown to be lower for people that train in the evening.

The Best Time to Train?

The bottom line is simple…for 99% of people, the best time to train is whenever you can fit it into your schedule, consistently.

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 of us, 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, as consistency wins every time.

OPEX Franklin

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