I’m often asked what is the best time to exercise. My short answer is that it boils down to what works best for each individual when they take into account schedules, energy levels, and motivation.
While some people feel stronger and more energetic first thing in the morning, others find that later in the day feels best for them
So, while timing does matter when it comes to exercise, there just isn’t unanimous scientific evidence that crowns any certain time of day the champ.
Identifying the Best Time to Exercise
Morning, afternoon and evening workout routines each offer-up their own unique benefits. Ultimately, however, it’s up to you to determine which is the best time to exercise based on your energy levels and motivation. It may take a little bit of experimentation, but learning to listen to your body and finding what works best for your schedule and life will go a long way in getting you the results you want from your fitness routine.
Let’s take a look at some of the advantages that each time of day offers.
Benefits of a Morning Workout
- Boosts Your Metabolism. Early morning exercisers benefit from Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), which means your body tends to burn more calories after your workout, even when sitting most of the day at work.
- Develops Strong Self-Discipline: Waking up early in the morning to get a workout in takes a lot of discipline! Over time, it will get easier and many find that this discipline spills over to many other areas of their life.
- Allows for “Fasted Training.” It may seem a little unorthodox to start off your day without breakfast first thing in the morning, but research shows an overnight fast can be beneficial before workouts. It helps control appetite, improve glucose tolerance, and boosts insulin sensitivity.
- Improves Physical and Mental Energy. Early morning workouts wake up the body and prepare your mind for the day ahead…kind of like an all-natural cup of coffee! Movement first thing in the morning not only provides a great source of energy, but it’s also shown to improve mental focus throughout the day
- Improves Sleep.Millions of Americans suffer from sleeping issues. Many avid a.m. exercises tend to enjoy longer, better quality sleep.
- Mood Boost. The mood boosting hormones that exercise releases can start your day off with increased optimism and positively influence the rest of your day.
Benefits of an Afternoon Workout
- With many workplaces now offering on-site fitness options, a mid-afternoon workout is a great way to save time for after-work or family activities.
- Already Fueled. Most lunch-time exercisers eat a good breakfast and/or have a mid-morning snack that serves as a good fuel source to help get you through a tough workout.
- Provides a Mid-Day Boost. Afternoons at work can become unproductive as the body hits a lull. A mid-day workout is the perfect solution to boosting your mood and productivity and assuring you finish the work day strong!
- Focus on Strength. Studies show that those who work out during the afternoon are often better prepared for heavier strength workouts because your body temperature is at its peak, meaning you should feel stronger, more flexible, and your lungs should be working at optimal efficiency.
Benefits of an Evening Workout
- Blow Off Stress. Pushing yourself through a tough workout after a day at work can be a great stress reliever. It’s an opportunity to turn your work mind off and focus on you.
- Favors Muscle Development. Testosterone promotes muscle and bone growth in men and women. Our bodies produce more testosterone in the evening, which pairs well with strength and resistance training.
- Increased Energy Levels. While this may not hold true for everyone, some people find their energy levels are higher in the evening, this giving them plenty of pep in their workouts.
- Greater Flexibility.While warming up is always a great idea, the body is more flexible by the end of the day. Flexibility helps avoid preventable exercise injuries. Keep in mind that this primarily holds true if you’re naturally moving around throughout the day and not sitting in a stationary position (like at a desk).
Less Post-Workout Soreness. If you wake up sore from yesterday’s workout, chances are you won’t be thrilled about heading straight to the gym. The pain comes from Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), and it tends to decrease throughout the day. The good news is that working out at night optimizes oxygen use and tolerates a higher anaerobic capacity during endurance exercise. This reduces post-workout soreness.
About the writer: Ken Grall is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and owns and operates an Edge Fitness in Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Ken.