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When Should You Workout?

I'm often asked by clients, "What's the best time of day to workout?" It's an easy question that doesn't have a straightforward answer.

There are optimal times of day to perform certain exercises based on your "body clock" or circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms cause body temperature to be lower in the morning (making you more sluggish) and higher in the afternoon (when you're strongest).

From a purely physical perspective, you tend to get the most benefit from cardio in the morning and weight training in the afternoon. Here's why.

The goal of cardio exercise is to strengthen your heart and burn body fat. When you exercise first thing in the morning, cardio also raises your body temperature and helps "wake you up" to face the day.

People who exercise earlier in the morning also tend to be more consistent because they have fewer distractions and schedule interruptions. As a bonus, if you exercise outside, the temperatures during the summer are cooler, and air pollution is lowest in the morning.

Weight training is best done in the afternoon or evening. Your body temperature and strength are at their highest later in the day. Also, strenuous workouts can diminish hunger. Since most people consume the majority of their calories after 4:00 p.m., exercising later on in the day may help suppress your appetite, so you are less likely to overeat. An added bonus of exercising in the afternoon is that it may help you relieve some stress after work.

The only time of day I might recommend you avoid exercise is right before you go to bed. Exercise can make some people more alert, and working out just before bedtime might make it harder for you to fall asleep. If that's the best time for you, try it for two weeks and see how it affects you.

Those are the technical arguments for when you should schedule your workouts. Now I'm going to give you the practical answer.

You should start by asking yourself, are you a morning or evening person?

If you jump out of bed first thing in the morning, awake and refreshed, you should consider scheduling your workouts early when you've got the energy and motivation.
But if you wake up later on in the day, or it takes you an hour before you're willing to leave the bed, and then only because you know you're going to get some coffee, working out in the afternoon or evening is probably a better plan.

What it all boils down to is this: The best time of day to workout is a time that you can regularly make, regardless of the time, day or night. Consistency is the key. Do not schedule your workouts at a time that you can't realistically keep.

So, when can I expect to see you working out?

UPDATE: Research conducted after we wrote this article proved what we said. This is from the May 2008 Muscle & Fitness:

THE RESEARCH: A study conducted by researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi (Hattiesburg) had 16 weight-trained males train for 10 weeks following a two-day split performed twice a week for a total of four workouts weekly. Each session consisted of about 45 minutes of weight training followed by 45 minutes of moderate cardio. The first workout trained chest, shoulders, tri's and abs; the second trained back, bi's and legs. Half of the subjects trained in the morning (before 10 a.m.) while the other half trained in the evening (after 6 p.m.).

The researchers reported at the 2005 Annual Meeting of the National Strength and Conditioning Association that the evening group had about a 3% increase in lean muscle mass and 4% decrease in body fat. The morning group, on the other hand, had less than a 1% increase in lean muscle mass and about a 5% increase in body fat.

Researchers suggested that training later in the day could help boost the metabolism at a time when it normally starts to decrease.

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Updated 4/7/2008
Updated 12/12/2012
Updated 1/21/2017