At my gym, people tend to fall into two different camps. You’ve got the 5:30 a.m. group, who are bright and bushy tailed before the sun even comes up, ready to crush a workout and then get on with their day. Then, you’ve got the night crew, who’s bodies just don’t function properly unless they’re exercising at night.
If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because many if not most people have a preference what time of day they work out. I, myself, find that I don’t do as well in the morning but I have many friends who say that by the time the afternoon rolls around, their energy is depleted and they want nothing to do with physical activity.
But is there a proper time of day to get your workout out? Is exercising at night really more beneficial than working out in the morning? We took it to the experts to figure out the real day.
1. The Best Time of Day to Work Out is Different for Everyone
Although arguments can be made for working out earlier in the day and later in the day, what’s best for you will depend less on the clock and more on what your schedule looks like. If it’s best for you to workout in the morning, then kill a workout before the rooster crows. If exercising at night is more doable for you, then kill it after dark.
Find where you are most likely to work out consistently and carve out 30 minutes to an hour to take care of your body. For some people, this may mean incorporating someone else’s schedule as well. For example, if you do your best workouts when you have someone else to hold you accountable, then make sure you pick a time that works best for you and your gym buddy.
2. Your Workouts Don’t Have to Be Consecutive…
The American Heart Association promotes the idea of “Fit in Fitness”. This is to say that working out for 30 minutes or an hour at a time may not be feasible for everyone. If that’s the case in your life, you can find creative ways to fit in their recommended 250 minutes of exercise throughout the week by running up the stairs in your office, taking a brisk walk on your lunch break or even doing ten jumping jacks each time you visit the restroom.
For more fun ideas for how to get moving at work, check out our 8 Office Exercises to Keep You Moving at Work.
3. …But There’s Something to Be Said For Sticking to a Routine
It’s more important to exercise than it is to exercise at the same time every day, but there is something to be said for sticking to a routine. According to this study, you will reap the most benefits by exercising at the same time each day. However, it doesn’t mean that you are stuck only working out at one time of day.
To put this study in real time for you, I have worked out in the afternoons every day for the past three years. So, it’s no surprise that when I swapped things up several months back and started attending the early morning class, I saw significant drops in everything from my work capacity to the amount of weight I was able to lift. I complained to my coach that my body just wasn’t awake that early in the morning.
Thankfully, my schedule permitted me to drop the early morning workout class and return to the 6:30 p.m. group. However, according to this study, if I would have stuck with it, eventually my body would have adjusted to the early morning workouts and I would have seen the same gains I was used to seeing in my 6:30 p.m. class.
4. Some Studies Suggest That Exercise in the Morning Can Lead to Weight Loss…
Some studies like this one published in the New York Times in January 2015 highlight that there may be some benefits from working out early in the morning, particularly when it comes to weight loss. In this study, they took three different groups of men and increased the amount of food they were eating drastically. One group didn’t work out at all, one group worked out after breakfast and one group worked out before eating.
At the end of the study, the men who didn’t work out and the men who worked out after breakfast had experienced detrimental affects to their health including weight gain and increased insulin levels, but the men who worked out before breakfast who had followed the same diet were virtually the same.
This concept isn’t completely foreign — fasted cardio has been a popular weight loss method in the exercise world for quite a time. Whether or not it works depends on who you ask or what study you cite — there are arguments supporting fasted cardio as a weight loss tool and dispelling it — but if you prefer A.M. exercise routines, give it a shot and see if it works for your body.
Another good point for early morning workouts is that it increases your metabolism throughout the day. And, from a completely non-scientific point of view, it is easier for some people to exercise first thing in the morning before the distractions of every day life interfere. If you’re this person, then set your alarms and grab some coffee and get moving!
5. …But There Are Also Arguments for Why Exercising at Night or in the Afternoon is Better
As the day goes on, your body warms up, meaning your muscles are more supple and flexible and ready to go. Your body favors working out in the afternoon in a lot of different ways — your good hormones like testosterone are at their highest levels –gainz! — whereas your “bad” hormones like cortisol or the “stress hormone” drops throughout the day.
Bottom line? Like SO MANY things when it comes to being healthy, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all option. The most important thing is that you ARE exercising regularly, so if that means waking up at 5 a.m. to squeeze in some exercise before the kiddos wake up or waiting until at night when they’re in bed, go for it. Find a routine that works well with your schedule and your body and STICK TO IT. The benefits you will reap from exercising regularly far outweigh those of exercising at a particular time of day.