When is the Best Time to Work Out?


There’s no doubt that the best time to work out during the day is subjective. It’s a personal preference for most of us. And sometimes (oftentimes) our workout schedule is based on whatever we can fit in that week. But if you’re looking to change it up or have certain fitness goals in mind, modifying the time you work out can have an effect on your day and even your progress.

So when’s the best time to work out for you? It depends on what you’re looking for.

If you need consistency: morning

For most of us, the morning is one of the few times where it is easy to control our schedules before other life pressures begin to interfere with our day. So it’s almost no surprise to hear research has shown that consistent exercise is easiest for subjects to perform in the morning. Throughout the day most of us face a lot of decision fatigue (decision quality fades when we get tired), making it harder to have the same amount of willpower to go to the gym as you intended to have at the beginning of the day.

If you’re looking to build muscular strength: evening

Generally speaking, most people are weakest in the morning before they have warmed up throughout the day. Various studies have shown a slight increase in muscle power and force production in subjects’ bodies later in the day.

If you want to be more productive during your work day: afternoon

Some believe that mornings are best used for work productivity and exercise can be used to help reinvigorate us as energy levels dip. The workout is a great mental break for your work day and boosts your energy levels for when you need to get back to your to-do list. If you work out at lunchtime, just make sure you eat after your afternoon workout, not directly beforehand (or give yourself at least 90 minutes to digest).

If you are looking to avoid crowds: afternoon

Gyms are most crowded between 5 and 8 pm, so if you are looking to avoid the rush and crowded machines, getting in ahead of time is your best bet. Morning workouts tend to also be crowded between 6 and 8 am, but people are less likely to socialize as it is more of a get-in-get-out mentality.

If you are signing up for a more challenging workout / want to push yourself: evening

With all day to fuel yourself, it is often easier to tackle a harder workout at night. In the evening, your body temperature is at its peak (you are already “warmed up”) and your body is naturally at its most flexible and strongest from moving around all day. Your body reacts better to fast workout moves in the evening, so if you tend to exercise after work, signing up for a HIIT class isn’t a bad idea.

If you want to get better sleep: morning

For most people who go to bed at a decent hour, morning workouts are best for high-quality zzz’s. Exercising (and eating) too late raises your heart rate and body temperature, which isn’t helping your body know it’s time to wind down and get some rest soon. In other words, instead of tiring you out before bed, exercising too late wakes your body up more – potentially sabotaging your sleep.

If you’re focusing on reducing stress: morning

This one goes hand-in-hand with sleep, as deep sleep helps decrease stress and anxiety levels. Morning workouts also help us hydrate more in the morning and help us set intentions for the day, getting our day off to a stress-free start.

Studies show that we can also improve our performance if we are consistent about what time we work out each day (say, if we always work out at 12 pm – our bodies will start to adapt to be in peak performance around that time).

At the end of the day, there are a lot of factors that go into choosing when is the right time for you to workout. Jobs, family and other commitments shape our lives and our days, so changing it up from whatever is working for you right now might not be feasible. You have to do what works best for you, and the best time of day to work out is one you can stick to. But if you do find yourself with some flexibility, consider changing it up and seeing how your body responds.

What time is best for you to workout? Let us know in the comments!

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About Cass Gunderson

Cass hails from the southwest suburbs as a proud White Sox fan and a graduate of University of Illinois. By day, Cass is a full-time student at the University of Chicago's Booth Graduate Business School. Before deciding to throw away all her money to go back to school, Cass worked for a private equity firm that buys technology companies. Raised as the youngest in a family of older brothers, Cass grew up a tomboy and remains active in sports. To her mother’s satisfaction, Cass learned how to embrace her feminine side in college and has developed an interest for fitness activities that require spandex as opposed to knee-length basketball shorts. In her spare time, she runs a lot because it is cheaper than paying for real therapy. Cass has completed four marathons and one ultramarathon (she claims she'll never do this to herself again, but that's TBD). She can still be found on the basketball courts in Lincoln Park wearing knee-length basketball shorts.

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