Every weekend the Greatist team gets together to put a new workout to the test. This week's? Refine Method.
What's the Best Time to Work Out?
While some people are up at the crack of dawn to lace up their running shoes, others can’t fathom a workout before noon. Finding the perfect time to exercise is as much about personal preference as it is physiology  . Exercise is supposed to feel good — even if it’s simply the feeling of accomplishment afterwards. But if muscles are tight in the morning or working out too late disrupts sleep, exercise can feel counterproductive. And nobody wants a sad gym rat.
On the Clock — Why It Matters
New research suggests the body could adapt to regular gym dates, so if we hit the weight room every day at 4 pm, eventually we might perform better at that time than at any other time of day . These findings are similar to earlier research, which suggests that sticking to a specific workout time can result in better performance, higher oxygen consumption, and lower perceived exhaustion . But scheduling a workout is more complicated than choosing a favorite number on the clock and depends on a number of issues.
First, the body’s core temperature is an important factor in determining the quality of exercise. A cold body leaves muscles stiff, inefficient, and susceptible to sprains, whereas higher body temperatures leave muscles more flexible. Body temperature typically increases throughout the day, so muscle strength and endurance may peak in the late afternoon, when body temperature is highest . The afternoon is also when reaction time is quickest and heart rate and blood pressure are lowest, all of which combine to improve performance and reduce the overall likelihood of injury.
Hormone levels are also important in determining optimal workout time. Testosterone is important for muscle growth and strength, in ladies and gents. And the body produces more testosterone during late afternoon resistance training than it does during morning workouts . Plus, the stress hormone cortisol, which aids in the storage of fat and reduction of muscle tissue, peaks in the morning and decreases throughout the day and during exercise . But early birds, take heart: Morning workouts can be successful, too.
Pick A Time, Any Time — The Answer/Debate
Those who find it difficult to exercise past lunchtime can find solace in the fact that it's sometimes easier to keep a morning workout routine consistent. Afternoon and evening workouts are more likely to conflict with other responsibilities as the day progresses. Plus a full day’s work can take a serious toll on willpower — issues that can overcome any gym-goer’s best intentions. Morning workouts might also be a good option for stress-free snoozing. Since exercise increases heart rate and body temperature, working out too late in the evening (generally after 8 pm) can disrupt sleep and compromise the body’s ability to repair itself .
Research suggests the calorie burn during a workout depends less on the time of day and more on balancing physical activity with food intake. It's most important to find a realistic, consistent workout schedule. If working out in the morning is easiest, just make sure to spend a few extra minutes warming up muscles that might be extra cold and tight from sleep. And to keep afternoon workouts consistent, treat them as unbreakable appointments, find a workout buddy, and keep a gym bag in the car or office to minimize excuses. In the end, simply getting in a workout, no matter the time, is a step to living life at its best.
- The body tends to adapt to exercise at whatever time we usually hit the gym.
- Afternoon workouts might be best, since body temperature is higher and heart rate and blood pressure are lower then.
- On the other hand, some people find it easiest to stick to a morning workout routine.
- It’s most important to find a workout plan we can realistically maintain.
Are you an early-morning exerciser or do you prefer to work out later in the day? Tell us in the comments below!
Originally posted April 2011. Updated July 2012.
- Circadian Specificity in exercise training. Hill, D.W., Cureton K.J., Collins M.A. Ergonomics 1989 Jan; 32(1):79-92.⤴
- The effect of training at a specific time of day: a review. Chtourou, H., Souissi, N. Research Laboratory "Sports Performance Optimization" National Center of Medicine and Science in Sports, Tunis, Tunisia. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 2012;26(7):1984-2005.⤴
- The effect of training at a specific time of day, a review. Chtourou, H., Souissi, N. Research Laboratory "Sports Performance Optimization" National Center of Medicine and Science in Sports, Tunis, Tunisia. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 2012;26(7):1984-2005.⤴
- Temporal specificity in adaptations to high-intensity exercise training. Hill, D.W., Leiferman, J.A., Lynch, N.A., et al. Department of Kinesiology, University of North Texas, Denton. Medicine Science Sports in Sports and Exercise. 1998 Mar;30(3):450-5.⤴
- Different effects of heat exposure upon exercise performance in the morning and afternoon. Racinais, S. Research and Education Centre, ASPETAR, Qatar Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Hospital, Doha, Qatar. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports 2010 Oct; 20 Suppl 3:80-9.⤴
- Interactions of cortisol, testosterone, and resistance training: influence of circadian rhythms. Hayes, L.D., Bickerstaff, G.F., Baker, J.S. Department of Exercise and Sports Science, University of the West of Scotland, Hamilton, Scotland, UK. Chronobiology International 2010;27(4):675-705.⤴
- Influence of time of day on psychological responses to exercise. A review. Trine, M.R., Morgan, W.P. Department of Kinesiology, University of Wisconsin Madison, US Sports Medicine 1995 Nov; 20(5):328-37.⤴
- Biorhythmic influences on functional capacity of human muscle and physiological responses. Deschenes, M.R., Kraemer, W.J., Bush, J.A., et al. Department of Kinesiology, The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795, USA. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 1998 Sep;30(9):1399-407.⤴
Comments Leave a comment
I prefer to go to the gym in the morning, because it's more convenient for my schedule. I work until anywhere between 5pm and 6pm during the week and it takes me an hour to commute home. By that time I'm ready to rest, and I've also found if I workout too late in the evening I can't sleep. I end up feeling pumped up and then toss and turn until 2 or 3 in the morning. Lastly, my gym is rather small and it is always packed after 5pm. There is rarely a free machine and it's not uncommon to see 6 or 7 people standing around waiting. If I go at 5am the gym is empty, I get into my routine, I don't have to wait for anyone else, and I also know that unforeseen plans (last minute dinner plans, errands, other events that pop up throughout the day) won't get in the way of my workout plan if I stick to a morning routine. I always spend about 5 to 10 minutes doing light cardio before I lift (bike or elliptical), just to warm up my muscles.
I enjoy working out during my lunch break. The gym is more empty (which is usually where I workout). Plus, I find it's great for breaking up the office-day. It's best to always follow <a href="http://www.smoothfitness.com/blog/benefits-of-using-treadmill-programs/">some type of workout program</a>.
@NYCFollowers definitely agree! it also is a great way to boost productivity; I enjoy working out mid-day once I find myself getting distracted sitting at my desk.
I usually work out just before bed, then a cold shower and a glass of water. :D but i dont go to the gym, i use bodyweight workouts... i feel like i can increment my workouts better if im using bodyweight. progress is about progression. heres my blog with a review of the bodyweight exercises i use
I tend to stick to a morning routine like the majority, but often feel "warmer" in the afternoon. Evening workouts are tough, so I usually need a buddy to hold me accountable!
I love working out in the evenings~