Popular fitness culture thrives on fads and “if, then” statements. If you buy our program, do this workout, eat this food and drink this tea, then you’ll reach your health goals.
Keeping up with the latest and “most effective” regimens is exhausting. And who knows it they’re even true. So, I decided to tackle one fitness myth at a time. I started out by asking experts what the best time of day to work out is.
Here’s what the experts had to say.
Maximizing Morning Workouts
“These hormones help us stay alert and improve our performance,” says David Rosales, personal trainer at Roman Fitness Systems. “If you’re doing any kind of resistance training in the morning, we can tap into the strength benefits a little extra bit of testosterone affords us.”
Unchecked hormonal surges can leave us feeling stressed and agitated. Exercising expends this energy in a healthier way than, say, getting in a Facebook fight with your uncle at 8 a.m.
Additionally, early workouts on an empty stomach can help burn more fat. “Your body will utilize your fat stores for fuel rather than the food that you’ve eaten,” says Alissa Tucker, an AKT Master Trainer.
Tucker adds that AM workouts can help with exercise consistency as well. “Later in the day, there tend to be more distractions that come up. It’s easier to find excuses to skip.”
Acing An Afternoon Routine
But for many, exercising in the morning doesn’t exactly entice us to get out of bed. And depending on the exercise in question, it might be better to wait until the afternoon.
Robert Herbst, a 19-time powerlifter world champion and member of the AAU Strength Sports Hall of Fame, suggests doing intensive workouts late in the day. “The body’s core temperature is more elevated, and muscles, tendons and connective tissue are more supple,” said Herbst.
Afternoon exercise also helps maximize the body’s parasympathetic response. The sympathetic nervous system prepares us for physical activity by increasing heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. (We are talking about the “fight or flight” phenomena here.)
After a workout, the parasympathetic nervous system activates the “rest and digest” response. The parasympathetic response promotes healthy digestion and decreases blood pressure. It also relaxes the body and increases sexual arousal.
Ending The Day With Exercise
The experts tend to differ on evening exercise. Rosales, for example, cautions against late-night workouts. “The surge of fight or flight hormones make it harder to get to sleep at an ideal hour and impacts our sleep quality,” said Rosales.
Founder and editor of HealthyGymHabits.com, Joshua Lafond, would disagree. Lafond cites a University of Liverpool study that found the body’s circadian rhythms follow a “heat gain” mode in the morning and a “heat loss” mode in the evening.
In heat loss mode, the body begins “pushing blood into its extremities to lose heat,” Lafond explains. “The muscles are already primed, ready to perform and able to expel heat more effectively.” This is especially important, he continues, “since the brain has been shown to limit the body’s performance in hotter temperatures or when it cannot expel heat fast enough.”
So, if you’re a night owl or prone to overheating, PM workouts might be your best bet.
Experts Agree: It’s Dealer’s Choice
Ultimately, all the experts agree on one thing: the right time to exercise is when you can.
“The idea that any time could be particularly bad [or good] mostly revolves around people’s need for a silver bullet or shortcut,” says Michael Julom, CrossFit trainer and founder of ThisIsWhyImFit.com.
Frankly, Julom says, “the best time to train is when it makes the most sense to you. This means when you are actually able to train. But it also means training at a time at which you’re the most motivated and most likely to enjoy it.”
Someone who works nights won’t have the same routine as a 9-to-5-er. Similarly, parents of young kids will have different daily schedules than someone who is single.
Finally, set yourself up for success. If you’re a morning person, exercise in the morning. If you’re not, don’t.
“The only time exercise can have a negative impact or minimize your efficacy is if you are doing it excessively or obsessively,” says physical therapist and mom-focused health coach Dr. Lisa Folden.
“So, work out. But also eat good food, sleep well and spend time with family and friends doing things you love,” Folden continues. “You are more than a body.”