Does the time of your workout matter, or is it more important to “just do it” whenever you manage to squeeze it into your crazy day?
The answer may lie in what you hope to gain from your sweat session.
Knocking it out at the beginning of your day has a number of benefits, and is most often touted as being superior to other exercise times. Many people find that if they “get it out of the way” early on (though the chore-like connotations of that admittedly make the fitness junkie in me rather sad), they're less likely to come up with excuses and procrastinate until it’s too late. There's also a serious argument to be made for starting your day with a challenging workout: it sets the tone for the rest of your day and may make other self-care choices easier. You’ll have started your day with an activity that prioritizes your well-being and accomplishes a goal, leading you to feel productive, energized, and motivated to continue to make such positive choices.
Some research even indicates that a morning workout may improve blood pressure and sleep habits, the latter being attributed to circadian rhythms and the ebb and flow of hormones throughout the day.
A morning session may be the more impactful choice if you have trouble sleeping, but a session in the afternoon may also have some sleep benefits. Late afternoon is also when you’re more likely to reach your maximum power and performance, since body temperature tends to be highest and muscles most limber around this time. So if you’re looking to really push yourself and have a more intense session, the afternoon might be your best bet.
EVENING AND NIGHT WORKOUTS
The one time you want to avoid working out if you have trouble sleeping is in the evening or night. It may seem like it could tucker you out, but it actually interferes with the body’s natural rhythms and hormone “schedule,” amping you up rather than winding you down for sleep. That being said, not everyone responds to exercise identically, so if evening or night workouts seem to be working for you or you don’t tend to have trouble sleeping, there’s no reason to discount them outright.
In fact, some research indicates that end-of-day workouts may have the biggest positive impact on metabolism and glucose management, so it could be worth it to see if you can tolerate its potential sleep side effects.
It's far too simplistic to assume that just because you would prefer the benefit of one exercise time over the others, it’s the best time for you to workout. If the humidity or temperature is high, for example, you may choose to go for a walk or run in the morning or later evening, even if you’d prefer the afternoon benefits of heightened performance. On the other hand, an outdoor workout in the dead of winter may be better placed in the late afternoon for improved warmth and thawed surfaces.
Your schedule also matters. If you have to leave for work at six, then a morning workout probably cuts into your sleep time too much to be realistic. If you drop the kids off at school at eight and pick them up at four, you probably want to aim for when the house is quiet. If there’s a gym at your workplace and you have a long lunch break, take advantage of it! Or maybe it’s easier to pop by the gym on your way home from work so that when you finally get home you don’t need to motivate yourself to go out again.
If you happen to be training for a particular event, consider what time of day that event will take place, and do your best to train at similar times. It helps your body adapt to activity at that time and can enhance your ultimate performance when the big event arrives.
Finally, consider when you tend to function your best. Some people are chipper in the morning, while others feel like zombies until close to lunch. Some people turn in early in the evenings and others are out and active well after the sun goes down. Don’t force your body to exert itself during a time of day you struggle with functioning at the most basic level!
The best time to workout truly is the time that works for you. Any benefits related to time are likely outweighed by simply being consistent with getting those workouts in, period. Don’t pressure yourself to workout at an inconvenient time because some expert or another said you “should.” Ultimately, whatever time you can make it happen, just do it.
Maybe Nike is onto something after all.