So much of fitness is divided into teams. We have Team Yoga vs. Team Bootcamp, Team Gyms vs. Team Outdoor, Team Workout Solo vs. Team Workout Class. Now, we have Team Early Risers vs. Team Night Owls. Some people will work out early in the morning, while others find they put their best effort in later in the day or even late at night. Today, I’m going to break down the pros and cons of working out in the morning and at night that I have found in science and from personal experience. As always, I’ll let you decide what is best for your routine.
Team Early Riser
There was a time where I would wake up at 4:45 am for a 5 am a workout. That was because I would have to leave the house by 7 am to drop my dog off at daycare then head to an 8:30am class at school, go train morning clients, come back to school for a 3pm class, go train afternoon clients, then come back to school again for lab at 7pm. I would then pick up my dog at 9:30 pm from daycare, then get home around 10:30 pm. This schedule, or different but equally long variants of it, comprised my entire work week. Talk about a schedule from HELL. The only reason I did 5 am workouts was because I had no other choice. I applaud people who do this voluntarily, truly. And it seems like they might be onto something.
Studies have shown that those who exercise early in the morning make better food choices throughout the day by lowering neural response to food, and another study shows that exercise during a fasted state results in improved muscular adaptations. I will say, though, that if you’re not used to working out while in a fasted state, you will not feel as strong as you normally do when you’re adjusting to this new routine. Be careful of feeling dizzy or nauseous, and take it a little lighter for the first few early morning sessions. You might feel extra tired, even though you’re doing less work.
For me, the first couple of weeks, waking up seemed impossible, but over time, I adjusted. It felt great to get it out of the way and not have to worry about cramming it in somehow. As a trainer, I also worked better when I knew I had already done my work. From personal experience, my most committed and consistent clients were the ones who exercised earlier in the day as opposed to my afternoon or evening clients. They were the rockstars. When you think about it, it makes sense—you’re working out before anyone has a chance to throw your day off track, so whatever happens, at least you got that workout in.
Morning workouts get points for easing up the rest of your day’s schedule and setting the right tone for the rest of your day. It may also help you get to your fitness goals faster by better utilizing fat stores in a fasted state, although there are contradicting studies, so the jury is still out on this.
Team Night Owl
I work out best, weight-lifting wise, in the afternoon or evening. Let me have some food in me, let me get some other work done for a bit, run some errands—or, in L.A., just be in the car long enough to build up some angst and anger—and I unwind at the gym.
Studies have shown that you’re naturally stronger and mentally more prepared for exercise later in the day, which could really help you in lifting heavier and longer or sprinting faster. Your body is actually more capable of increased endurance training during this time as well, so these benefits aren’t only limited to resistance training. I find this to be true in practice—I am able to really work during these afternoon workouts because my body is already up and ready to go. There’s no getting eye boogers out, no hitting the snooze button. Because of this, I am usually more sore after an evening all-out effort workout than morning sessions where I’m still tired, lifting too heavy makes me dizzy, and I’m wishing I was back in bed.
While I am an afternoon/evening exerciser nowadays (those 5am days are long gone—the earliest I’ll do is 7am when I first wake up), I will say the temptation to skip a workout in the afternoon or evening is greater. The day goes on and maybe things come up that leave you too drained to even imagine setting foot in a gym, or Netflix just ends up sounding like a wayyy better idea.
Evening workouts are great if you’re really looking for an extra oomph to put into your workouts. Your body (and let’s face it, mind and mood) are more prepared to really put the pedal to the medal a little later on in the day. It can also help you ease off a particularly stressful day at work.
Here’s the thing: the end of a workout feels like a relief no matter what time you’re done with it. Do what works for your schedule and choose whatever time makes exercise less of a chore for you. The end goal here is that you can stick to doing this for a long time. So whether that’s crossing exercise off the to-do list first thing in the morning, or giving yourself some time to ease yourself into the mindset, everyone has their preference. I will say if you’re more likely to dip on a workout, then just get it out of the way in the morning, but if you’re really looking to put in that work or let off some steam, then wait until your body is already fueled and warmed up from the day. Sometimes, you gotta just get it in where you can fit it in, honey, so you might be all over the board, and if that’s the case, give yourself a round of applause for not letting anything get in the way of you and your workout. All that matters is creating a routine that works for you, whether that’s morning, evening, or a mix of both.
Please note: If you’re training for something particular, such as a marathon, you should train the same time as that event. You want to keep your body’s routine the same and amplify that routine (optimize the body’s circadian rhythm), so don’t mix it up with training in the evening if your marathon is set to start at 8 am. You want your body to be used to and basically, totally trained, at running at 8 am.
I would love to hear what time of day you prefer to exercise and why. Sound off below!