Strength training and not sure whether it’s better to work out first thing or exercise at the end of the day? We asked fitness trainers to discuss the pros and cons of morning vs evening exercise to help us decide once and for all.
For some people, jumping out of bed and straight into gym kit is the ideal way to start a new day, while others would rather save their strength training session, 5K run or HIIT class for later on in the evening. Whatever you do, we bet you can’t imagine any other way.
But, as it turns out, there might be an optimal time to train that could help you get the best possible results from your workouts.
The research is a bit confusing, though. According to some studies, a morning exercise habit can shift your circadian rhythm so that your body is naturally more alert in the morning and more tired in the evening, so you fall asleep earlier and can exercise in the morning again.
However, other research suggests that muscle strength, flexibility, power output and endurance are all better in the evening than they are in the morning. Plus, people who exercise in the evening take up to 20% longer to reach the point of exhaustion.
So which is really better? We turned to expert trainers to explain when we should be hitting the gym floor, to find out whether you’ll get the most out of exercise first thing in the morning, during your lunch break, straight after work or before bed.
“This is subjective depending on the person, what they want to achieve and also their own schedule,” begins Emma Obayuvana, member of the Strong Women Collective. “You might want to explore the benefits of training at different times and tailor that for your own needs.”
Tess Glynne-Jones, trainer at Rowbots, agrees: “I think it completely depends on the person. However, you might want to adapt your training style depending on the time of day. For example, with strength training, it’s best to be fuelled beforehand, so you might not want to do that first thing in the morning and instead focus more on cardio if you are training pre- 9 AM.”
What are the benefits of morning training?
A study published in the Journal of Transitional Medicine showed that training first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, is optimal for resistance training and maintaining muscle mass. But it has more benefits than that: “It can mentally set you up for the day, helping you feel more organised, refreshed and energised,” says Emma.
Tess agrees that morning workouts are great for the mind: “From experience, my most productive clients are in the morning. And often they seem to be a bit happier too because if you train at the end of the day, you are often distracted by the stress of the day or simply knackered and not wanting to train. I’d say morning or lunchtime tend to be the best.”
Another good reason for training earlier in the day is that it can help us avoid that afternoon slump. According to research published by the American Psychological Association, a walk was associated with higher energy and lower tension than eating a snack. “I think quite a good tip is that if you have flexibility with taking breaks, try to go to the gym mid-morning so you have time to fuel beforehand and it’s not peak time,” suggests Tess.
Should you exercise in the evening?
“Evening training can be good after a stressful day so you can use all that pent up stress and energy to channel into your workout and get a restful night’s sleep afterwards,” says Emma. “We can also have a longer time to work out, as there’s nowhere to rush off to after.”
However, evening exercise does come with its own downfalls, mainly overstimulation too close to bedtime. “Often our schedules are busy so we race to the gym really late, do a workout, rush home, have a shower and then try and sleep. In reality, we need time to come down from the buzz of exercise before we sleep,” Emma explains.
“Training puts your body into a really stressed state. We need to soothe our parasympathetic nervous system after we train. So if you sleep really soon after exercising, it might take your body a couple of hours to actually go into recovery mode,” adds Tess. “I would usually suggest training pre-6pm, but if you are a natural night owl then a bit later is OK, “as if you’re not going to bed until midnight you will have a few hours of recovery before sleep.”
So, the jury’s still out, but ultimately it’s going to come down to what works for you, your schedule, your mood and your sleep. Because the best type of training is one that’s enjoyable and sustainable.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).
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