By Geoff Rand
Does the time of day you choose to work out have any effect on the results you are likely to see, or is one time of day better than another? Several studies have already examined this.
To understand the research, it helps to relate the factors impacting our workouts into biological, psychological, and environmental categories.
One biological factor in morning workouts is potential for increased stress placed upon the vertebrae of your spine due to fluid retention during sleep. When we sleep, the discs of our spine are not under the effects of gravity and they take on fluid. When we stand or sit throughout the day, this fluid is drained out of the spine as gravity compresses it. If you were to do a heavy lift such as a deadlift right out of bed, the fluid saturated discs would create greater pressure in your spine and you would be at increased risk of injury. For the morning workout people, a thorough warm-up is essential to good spine health and safety.
Another biological factor in morning workouts is the functioning of your central nervous system. Even though you may have just had a great night’s sleep, studies have shown that reaction time and alertness are not at their peak in the morning, as these systems are just coming online. This goes doubly for you coffee drinkers that haven’t yet had your caffeine jumpstart for the day.
Psychologically, getting to the gym early can be quite beneficial. It starts your day and some studies have shown that people who workout in the morning see increased physical activity, productivity and even higher metabolism throughout the day.
Biologically, our bodies are functioning better in the afternoon/early evening than in the morning. Our body temperature is at its highest between 2 and 6 PM. This means that the systems of the body are warmed up and firing on all cylinders and the nervous system, muscle functioning, and enzyme production are at their highest, and blood pressure and heart rate are at their lowest, making this time period the most effective time to work out.
Interestingly, the belief that working out too close to bedtime having a negative effect on your sleep appears to be a myth. Studies have shown no correlation between working out late and quality of sleep.
Environmental factors may make afternoon workouts impossible, however. Evening commutes, school schedules, family, pets, food preparation, and countless other factors fight to occupy that time slot and conspire to derail your afternoon/evening plans. You are probably more likely to miss your afternoon workout than a morning one due to life events popping up unexpectedly.
The Bottom Line
The studies and evidence seem to contradict one another and at the very least, there are several pluses and minuses to each time slot. But researchers have determined these time ranges as the “target times” that will maximize your performance and give you a higher likelihood of experiencing better results from your time investment into working out. They have identified 4-5 hours after waking and 11-12 hours after waking as the “best” times to work out.
I like that it is expressed like this as it is relatable to all types of people, including those of us who work shift work where our “morning” may not be the same time as the rest of the world’s.
Even with all this research and these studies telling us when the best time is, in reality, many of us choose our given work out time simply because that is the best time that works for us and that fits our lives. In the end, it is much better to have a consistent routine at a time that is imperfect in relation to peak body functioning, than to miss working out because life got in the way.