Whether you are a rise and grind kind of person or a late night gym rat, you may be positive that your time of day is the best time of day to work out. Or maybe you’re wondering if switching your workout routine would give you better results. So, let’s dive into the question: What’s the best time of day to work out? Spoiler alert: It’s really whichever time works for you so you actually do it consistently. But we wouldn’t have a whole article just to tell you that. It turns out there is a lot of back and forth in the athletic and scientific community for which time of day is best, and it may all come down to what your goals are.
Pro morning workouts
According to research, human willpower and determination is the highest it will be all day when you first wake up. This supports the idea of doing something difficult as your first task of the day. Additionally, when you work out, your body releases endorphins and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). You may know that endorphins create a happy feeling by blocking the sensation of pain. But less people tend to know that BDFN is the protein in charge of repair in your brain which results in a clearer mind and helps you make positive decisions. This is all to say that exercise can help you make better decisions. You may be thinking, but that’s true regardless of what time of day you work out. And you’re right, it is. So why are we considering it a pro of a morning workout?
Well one of greatest things a morning workout is shown to do is influence your decisions for the rest of the day. When you work out in the morning, you are more likely to make healthier decisions throughout the day. It’s a pretty powerful ripple effect. The idea is that you likely don’t want to “ruin” all the good you did at your workout by making unhealthy choices after the workout.
Working out in the morning also means that it’s done before the rest of your day even starts. We’ve all been there—we planned to work out right after work (maybe you even signed up for a class). Then things come up, people need you, and you end up staying late at work. Then you need to get home to take care of responsibilities there. And the work out you had planned, never happens. Or you get to the end of the day and happy hour with friends sounds a lot more fun, so you skip your workout. When you work out in the morning, you can ensure that other things won’t come up and take priority, and you won’t have to worry about losing motivation after a long day.
Lastly, any workout can invigorate you with a boost of energy—which can actually be a good or bad thing. Having an extra boost of energy in the morning can set you up well for the day, and possibly even eliminate the need for caffeine. However, an evening energy burst could make it harder to fall asleep.
Pro afternoon/evening workouts
Although psychologically a morning workout may set you up well for the day, your body may be more ready during an afternoon or evening workout. Research shows that strength and flexibility are greatest in the late afternoon and perceived exertion—how hard you feel your body is working—is lowest. Scientists believe this is partially because the body rises in temperature throughout the day due to your circadian rhythm. Basically, your body has been warming up all day and is ready to go, unlike right when you wake up. Because of your all-day warm up, your body is also the least likely to get injured when you work out in the afternoon or evening. If you do work out in the morning, you will need to spend more of your exercise time getting warmed up in order to prevent injuries.
Perhaps in the morning you can’t run as quickly or you can’t lift as much weight, this is known as the morning performance gap—which is when the lack of being warmed up inhibits your ability to perform as well. While this gap can be eliminated by consistently working out in the morning, your body does naturally rely on waking up first and moving around before putting it into more difficult conditions.
Lastly, one of the best psychological benefits of your afternoon workout is that it can help you overcome a mid-day slump, and provide a second boost of energy for the day (you naturally have one at the beginning of a day).
In summary: work out when you can consistently
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found there are greater gains in muscle size when trainers work out during the evening hours. However, the results may not have been completely accurate; If these trainers usually worked out during this time before the study, their bodies would be used to it. This is called temporal specificity, which is when muscular strength adapts to be at its strongest at the time of the day when you train. In other words, you can actually influence when your muscles are the strongest by consistently working out at the same time.
So although your goals can help determine when you work out, the best time to work out is when you have time to do it consistently. Research supports the idea that your body will adapt to whichever works for you—just keep it consistent. Of course, if you work out in the morning one day and the afternoon the next, you are still moving your body which is ultimately the most important part. However, you may not optimize your workout fluctuating between the two.
So morning birds: keep getting the worm. And night owls: keep shutting down the gym.