Grab your cheat sheet
It’s an age-old question in the fitness world—and one that divides us all.
Which is better, exercising in the morning or having an afternoon or evening workout?
Early birds rave about the benefits of a 6 a.m. spin class or sunrise run, while night owls preach about burning away work stresses with an evening sesh.
But is one really better than the other?
Few studies have investigated whether our workout timing affects results. And of those, the results have varied greatly. Overall, research on exercise timing points to the benefits and drawbacks of both morning and evening workouts.
So, we’re exploring the pros and cons of morning and evening exercise and offer some top tips for finding out which is best for you.
Ready to find out once and for all?
Great. Let’s go.
What are your workout goals?
Before deciding if early morning workouts are the one for you or if waiting until later in the day is better, it’s worth thinking about what you want to achieve.
Are you trying to lose weight and burn belly fat?
Do you want to get your blood pressure under control?
Or is going for those epic gains the name of the game?
Your goals and subsequent exercise performance might impact what time is best for you to get stuck into your workout.
For example, research shows that early morning workouts might be more effective in lowering blood pressure and burning belly fat. In contrast, nighttime workouts could help to build more muscle.
So, why you’re exercising might be the best starting point when deciding on the right workout time.
Should you work out in the morning?
There are plenty of people online prompting you to join the 5 a.m. club. Get up before the rest of the world rises, and you won’t believe what you can fit in…one of those things is early morning workouts.
But is rolling out of bed when your early morning alarm goes off really all it’s cracked up to be?
The pros of early morning workouts
There are definitely some real benefits to getting your workout over and done in the morning. These include…
For many people who work out first thing in the morning, a huge benefit is getting their training over and done with at the start of the day.
How often have you said you’ll have a pump at the end of the day only to spout excuses like “I’ve had a busy day at work” or “I’ve left it too late now”?
Exercising first thing can even help you maintain a consistent morning routine.
Energise your day
You might think that morning exercise will tire you out before the day begins. Instead, you’re likely to feel a boost in mood and energy after a morning session.
Exercise increases your heart rate, pumping oxygen throughout your body. This “wakes up” your muscles and joints, getting you into gear for the day ahead.
After exercise, your body experiences a release of endorphins. These chemicals reduce stress and anxiety, increase feelings of joy and may even boost your metabolism.
The cons of morning workouts
Ah, of course, there are some downsides to hitting the gym before the day begins. Let’s take a look.
The afternoon slump
Working out in the morning needs fuel, like any other workout. But it can be easy to forget about breakfast in the sleepy rush of trying to get out the door in time.
For some, working out on an empty stomach suits them. It may even increase fat burn. But for many, this approach can leave them with little energy for the workout and the rest of the day.
It often leads to binge eating, and the dreaded afternoon slump is more likely to creep in if you do not fuel your morning workout adequately.
You need a good sleep
You must sleep well the night before to get the most out of a morning workout. The recommended minimum hours you should be aiming for each night is seven.
Getting less than this, or having an interrupted sleep, can leave you feeling sluggish with less energy to put towards your morning exercise. Worse, you might bail on your workout altogether.
Should you work out in the evening?
If you’ve ever hit the gym after work, you’ll know it’s an extremely popular time to workout. And it makes sense, especially if getting up at the crack of dawn to work out doesn’t appeal to you.
Again, there are benefits and drawbacks to working out in the evening.
The pros of evening workouts
Need a boost to choose evening as your workout time of choice?
Well, there are some pretty good reasons to kick your workout off later in the day, and some of these are (*drum roll please…*):
Your body is already warmed up
Every workout should start with a warmup routine, regardless of the time of day. When working out in the morning, your body is likely to feel rigid and take a little longer to loosen up. You’ll also need to do a longer warm-up (which you might not have time for).
But by working out in the evening, your body has had time throughout the day to ease.
You can get away with a shorter warmup routine in the evening and may have more power to put into your workouts.
Work off stresses from the day
Do you have a busy work schedule or work in a stressful job?
A nighttime workout could be the key to reducing that stress.
Physical exercise is a well-known stress reducer. Endorphin release, the reduction of adrenaline, and increased self-confidence are just reasons exercise lowers stress levels.
If you find parts of your daily life stressful (like your job), evening exercise helps wash the stresses away. You can then enjoy your evenings and downtime, feeling much more relaxed.
The cons of evening workouts
There are some definite disadvantages to working out later in the day. These include::
Peak gym time
Working out in the evenings might suit your lifestyle, but you’re not the only one. After-work hours are the most popular time for gyms.
While this should not put you off an evening workout, you must prepare for a busier environment, classes booking out faster and a longer wait time for your favourite equipment.
It’s easier to “slack off”
Despite it suiting your schedule more, it’s easy to let the excuses creep in when you’re training in the evening.
Last-minute plans, being too tired from work or deciding you can “go tomorrow instead” are all popular excuses.
These convenient reasons to skip the gym can grow on your mind during the day until you’ve convinced yourself to ditch your workout.
It might interfere with your sleep
For some people, working out late at night will not impact your sleep cycle, and you’ll still find yourself able to drift off and sleep through the night soundlessly.
But (and it’s a big but) for others, a late workout can impact the circadian rhythm, especially when taking part in intense aerobic exercise like CrossFit or HIIT.
So, what’s the best time of day to work out?
The answer? Whenever you can.
Really, it all comes down to the individual when deciding whether morning or afternoon and evening workouts are better.
You simply need to find what works for you. Ultimately picking whichever option works for you will ensure that you have a bigger, better workout—and you’ll be more likely to reach your goals.
Experiment with both morning and evening and discover which you enjoy and suits your lifestyle best.
You may even find you love a bit of both. Why not start the day with a morning run, then get ready for sleep with some gentle yoga?
FYI: Once you’ve discovered your perfect time to work out, you should try and stick to a similar time every day (or however frequently you train).
Doing so will help you to build fitness into your routine, making it easier to maintain your workout schedule.
Oh, and don’t forget about afternoons. With the shift to remote work, afternoon workouts are becoming all the more popular. It can be perfect to enjoy while the kids are at school or an excellent use of your lunch break.
Take charge of your workout schedule
Whichever option you choose, plan your meals so you can effectively fuel your workouts.
Create a schedule so you can maintain a work-life-exercise balance. Prepare breakfast the night before if you are heading for a morning workout. Or batch-cook a healthy dinner you can eat after an evening gym session.
There really is no "best" time of the day to work out. In reality, the best workout time is the one that you will stick to consistently. You’ve got this.
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