Some of us can wake up at the crack of dawn, jump out of bed and hit the gym without so much as a second thought.
Then there are some of us that have all of the right intentions, but end up pressing the snooze button all the way through the proposed workout routine. Instead, we then opt to fit it in later in the day…
The question that often arises from both groups of people is: are morning or evening sessions better for us?
The obvious answer is, of course, that any exercise is better than none at all. Interestingly, however, research does actually provide solid evidence to suggest that there is, in fact, a ‘right’ time to exercise…
Exercise timing according to science
Exercise, no matter how good it is for your body overall, places a huge amount of stress on your system1,2. Think about how you feel when you first start your routine. Your heart pounds in your chest, your breath quickens, you begin to sweat, and some people even feel a little light headed. For many, this is the point where there body screams “STOP!”, but this is also the point where your head tells you “push through!”.
In these moments, your body goes into overdrive to try to bring about balance in this chaotic state3. This tolerance is a key factor in why researchers suggest that there’s a better time of day to take part in a workout routine - a time when your body is more tolerant or accepting of these added pressures.
Experts at the Cleveland Clinic suggest that the most optimal time of day to exercise is in the late afternoon4. Some of the reasons include the release of the hormone testosterone and the temperature of your body at that time of the day.
Testosterone, an anabolic hormone that plays a role in your ability to get stronger and fitter as a result of exercise, is at its most favourable levels between the afternoon hours of 2pm and 6pm5,6.
Your body’s core temperature is also typically at its peak at this time7, which means you’re likely to be able to see an increase in your flexibility and range of motion, which lowers your risk of exercise-related injuries that can come about as a result of pushing your joints too far.
Your lungs also work better at this time of the day, which means you are able to take in oxygen more effectively, delivering it to the tissues that need it as they work. This change also adds to your endurance capacity and can significantly improve your ability to get through a tough, gruelling workout7.
When these differences were tested in athletes, soccer players had better athletic performance, speed and endurance at 5pm, while experienced swimmers showed faster lap times when they took part in trials held in the early evening8.
Now, there are certain instances where afternoon exercise is not always better - and, this is when your own lifestyle, goals and personal preferences can be taken into account.
For weight loss, the American Council on Exercise shows that those who take part in activity shortly after waking up are more likely to stick to their exercise routine and thus gain the physical benefits. Not only that, a workout in the morning often encourages people to make better food choices directly following the exercise9.
There’s another great benefit of a morning workout: you tend to burn more calories for the rest of the day overall due to that metabolic boost you gave yourself first thing in the day10.
Doing exercise in the morning does have a downside: if you don’t warm up correctly, your body which has been in a relaxed throughout sleep, is not warm nor very flexible at this time. A quick fix is to ensure you ease into your morning workout, starting with a good warm up session to prepare your body for the activity ahead.
Additionally, if your aim is to sleep better, exercise at any time of the day is better than none, but the National Sleep Foundation explains that a morning workout routine could help your brain to fall into a resting state at night as it recalls that you were up and active a few hours earlier11. There’s also evidence to suggest that morning exercise can reduce blood pressure, with an additional dip in your levels at night, which promotes better sleep.
Overall, if you want to be strong and lean, try to exercise in the late afternoon or early evening whereas if your aim is consistency and better sleep, morning may be best. If neither of these suit your schedule, or you simply don’t find either to be the right time for you as an individual to exercise, absolutely any time of the day is far better than no exercise at all!
The bottom line is that if you are noticing that your exercise goals are reaching a plateau and you’re not currently taking part in a routine in the afternoon, there could be merit in switching up your workout and taking part in a different session at a different time of day.
It could be that your body needs some change or that, in order for you to progress, you need to make the most of the ‘right’ time of day to exercise!
- Jamurtas, A. Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage and Oxidative Stress. Antioxidants 2018. 7(4):50.
- Yavari, A., et al. Exercise-Induced Oxidative Stress and Dietary Antioxidants. Asian J Sports Med. 2015. 6(1):e24898.
- Cho, L. Does It Matter (to Your Heart or Otherwise) What Time of Day You Exercise? Cleveland Clinic. 2019.
- Zadow, E., et al. Time of day and short-duration high-intensity exercise influences on coagulation and fibrinolysis. European Journal of Sport Science. 2018. 18(3):367-375.
- Hayes, L., et al. Interactions of cortisol, testosterone, and resistance training: influence of circadian rhythms. Chronobiol Int. 2010 Jun;27(4):675-705.
- Kuzawa, C., et al. Is There a Testosterone Awakening Response in Humans? Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology. 2016. 2(2):166–183.
- Machado, F., et al. The time of day differently influences fatigue and locomotor activity: is body temperature a key factor? Physiol Behav. 2015. 1(140):8-14.
- Chtourou, H., et al. Diurnal Variations in Physical Performances Related to Football in Young Soccer Players. Asian J Sports Med. 2012. 3(3): 139–144.
- Hanlon, B., et al. Neural response to pictures of food after exercise in normal-weight and obese women. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012. 44(10):1864-70.
- Iwayama, K., et al. Exercise Increases 24-h Fat Oxidation Only When It Is Performed Before Breakfast. The Lancet. 2015. 2(12):2003-2009.
- Morita, Y., et al. Effects of acute morning and evening exercise on subjective and objective sleep quality in older individuals with insomnia. Sleep Medicine. 2017. 34:200-208.