Myth Breaker: When is the best time to train?
Have you been pondering lately on whether you’re getting the most out of your workouts? It’s hard to get your fire burning while your bed is still warm, isn’t it? Afternoons are for siestas, and evenings, well, when will you party then? Besides, the body and more importantly, the mind, is already worn out from all the stress it got throughout the day.
First of all, are you sure this isn’t just a hunt for excuses to slack off training on certain days? Maybe you genuinely are interested in reaching your full potential with your workout. If it’s the latter, certain factors come into play, which may enhance or lessen the benefits you get from your training, depending upon the time of the day.
Rise & Shine: The advantages of an early morning workout
I’ll cut the chase and just put it straight out – early morning workout sessions give you the best results. Now I know this is a hot topic for debate and before you start bashing me over my opinion let me elaborate on this. Firstly, it is just an opinion albeit an educated one. As is with any point of view, there are both pros and cons you should consider. However, research, biological factors and my observations of over a decade, as a professional coach and strength trainer, has put me highly in favour of working out early in the morning.
Understanding the mood of your body.
Every day, our body goes through two cycles of breaking down and building back up, known as the catabolic state and anabolic state of the body, respectively. Also during these periods, the nervous system enters into a sympathetic state (catabolic) or a parasympathetic state(anabolic), depending on which, the nervous system directs the body to releases different kinds of hormones such as cortisol, which is a stress-related hormone.
As the day starts, the body begins breaking down the muscle fibres by entering into a catabolic state. Over the day, the body then slowly reverses the process and by evening, starts building back up by shifting into an anabolic state where it repairs, recovers and rejuvenates the body.
Weight training exercises too, tear the muscle fibres at a cellular level. Early in the morning, your body is in a catabolic state, which means that it has already initiated the breaking down process. If you start pulling weights during this time, the demands of your workout are perfectly in sync with the current state of your body and nervous system, all of which in turn helps you reach your maximum potential.
On the other hand, can you imagine what happens when you exercise in the evenings? Here the demands of your workout are in direct conflict with the natural state, i.e. anabolic, of your body. While your body has prepared itself to relax and recover from the day’s stress, exercise forces it back into a catabolic state. This conflict tends to put considerable strain on the body during its natural resting and recovery time. The Stress Bucket Model, explains how all this stress that accumulates over time, when not released, has a detrimental effect on your health.
Seize the day.
Exercise increases the body’s metabolism, which means that if you choose to workout early, you will be burning calories throughout the day. Exercise also stimulates the nervous system to release our happy hormones, namely, serotonin and dopamine. These hormones ensure that working out early in the morning, will have you feeling good all day!
Besides, once the day starts, there’s no telling what interruptions or distractions will come your way. That’s the other advantage of hitting the gym early; you can complete your workout uninterrupted and without any pressure of time. Getting your workout done with at the start of the day gives us a sense of achievement and also boosts our confidence at accomplishing other goals throughout the day.
Lack of interruptions also ensures you have very few excuses to skip on training sessions. Extensive research also shows that people who prefer early morning workouts tend to be much more consistent with their workout schedule compared to those who choose evening sessions.
choose the time right, if you want to sleep tight!
Between our family commitments, work schedule, and other lifestyle choices, insomnia is but all too well known. Many factors contribute to a disrupted sleep cycle and as such, getting a good night’s sleep has its share of prerequisites, the least of which is having good bedtime habits that help in winding down and preparing the body to enter a sleep state.
Both weight training and eating are inclined to increase your heart rate and body temperature. This situation is contrary to the state the body requires to be, to enter a sleep state. That is why late workouts are likely to prevent you from getting a sound sleep. Ideally, you should avoid any heavy training session in the evening and instead opt for light exercises such as meditation, walking or even yoga. This kind of activities help ease your body into an anabolic state, thus calming your body down and putting it into a habit of a consistent and sound sleep.
When the morning lets you down…
When you get up and start moving about from an extended state of rest, the muscles tend to be stiff and quite inflexible. Also just after waking up, your body temperature, as well as your energy level, is relatively very less. Working out in such a state increases your chances of getting an injury and limits you from exploring your full potential.
“I believe it is ‘seize the day’, not ‘snooze the day!” – Hal Elrod
Many times, more than the physiological, it is the psychological factor that impedes us from training regularly. I’m sure most of you can relate to this, especially after one of those sleepless nights when the alarm clock feels like a mortal enemy that jumps on you just as you manage to catch a few winks. And no, repeatedly punching the snooze button does not count as a workout.
Afternoons & Evenings: Workout when it works out.
Despite all your well-meaning intentions, life schedule or simply your own biological clock just won’t make an early morning workout schedule possible. No need to sweat it, just yet though! If you can be sure to stick to an afternoon or evening schedule, then that works out just as well. In fact, one such research shows that if you consistently stick to a particular time of the day to exercise, then your body tends to perform best during that period compared to the rest of day, irrespective of it being morning, afternoon or night!
Here are a few advantages to exercising later in the day:
- The best point? No more struggling for getting up from bed!
- A better and more focused mindset, since you are no more fighting insomnia or a hangover.
- Your muscles will already be warmed up, which means fewer chances of injury and better performance.
- During afternoons your reaction time is at its best. Also, your heart rate and blood pressure are likely to be low, all of which help to boost performance.
- You are much more likely to find a buddy to join you and help reinforce your commitment to fitness.
Like I said, even the afternoon has its charms. If not, the evening could be excellent too. Just make sure to treat your late workouts as a high priority event that you will not cancel. Consistency is key to ensuring you get the best results even from training, later in the day.
So… The best time to train is?
In an ideal world, early morning exercise fits best. However, it is of much greater importance that the choice of time does not compromise the other requirements of fitness like rest and diet. If you’re going to end up not getting up from your bed anyway, then it is much better just to push the schedule where you can be sure to maintain consistency. Like I always say, use your common sense.
The earlier, the better. But It’s better late than never!
And that is a fact you can bet on! Sure, there are numerous research and case studies or just plain experience that favours one time of the day or another. But all the theories put together cannot represent the unique biological and emotional you. So, first focus on building a consistent workout routine, follow healthy lifestyle habits that ensure proper nutrition and rest. Then when it comes down to the perfect time to train, to each his own, I say!
If you’ve read this far, then either you’re genuinely researching ways to improve your workout results, then kudos to you! Knowledge will be your best tool. Or you can maintain a consistent workout routine already, and maybe you even agree with my point of view. Yes? No? Let me know through your comments or share and see what your friends think.
Krix Luther is a Health and Fitness Specialist and one of Asia’s leading Personal Trainers. He is an Ex Professional Muay Thai fighter and Avid Free Diver. At the same time, he is very active, has a passion for gaming, and has his own Twitch stream. You can contact him via his Instagram if you have any questions.