Are you having a hard time finding the best time for effective exercise? Here's when to hit the gym.
Ever roll out of the gym knowing that you've done your best for the day but feeling a little lackluster anyway?
We do our best to fit workouts around our already-crazy schedules. If you work past dinner, then you might feel like your only option is to squeeze in an hour of Pilates before bed—but what if that timing is the reason that you’re not really feeling your workouts lately?
Or maybe you’re committing to that 4 a.m. run so you can keep the after-work social life active. The early bird gets the worm, right? But if you’re not really a morning person and you go to bed late, working out as soon as you wake up (and sacrificing sleep to do it) might not be a good idea.
Anything that you have to force isn’t the best way to do it. That doesn’t mean exercise isn’t worth it when you have a hard time feeling motivated! It just signifies changing things around, so training is something you want to do, not a chore you do because you have to.
And the timing of a sweat sesh is potentially the BIGGEST factor here.
Let's face it; if you're a person who volunteers for the third shift, there's probably NO WAY you’re going to be comfortable getting up and at ‘em before the sun rises.
And if you live somewhere where the temps routinely hit 95° Fahrenheit at the peak of the day, it’s going to be pretty hard to take a late lunch run without triggering heat stroke (or getting close to it).
So, why not shift things around to make time for exercise… when you’ll actually feel good doing it?
What are the ideal times to work out in the day?
There’s no best time for exercise that works for every single person. The best times to work out in the day are totally dependent on factors like:
- Your schedule and routine
- Your work hours and off-hours
- When you plan to eat
- The weather where you live (if you exercise outdoors)
Plus, whether you’re a morning person or a night owl can make a huge difference. It doesn’t matter that you technically have time to go to the gym before dawn if you’re going to be exhausted and wishing you were in bed the whole time.
During workouts, we get what we give. So, it’s important to schedule them when you can give it your best!
There’s a strong case for moving in the morning
Morning workouts are pretty common among folks who work a 9 to 5 because it’s somewhat convenient to get up when it’s still dark (ick) and get their butt to the gym before a commute (ugh).
It’s a hard sell if you’re the kind of person who likes to hit snooze, but hear us out on this one:
Working out in the AM can be more consistent
Ever notice that what you leave for the end of the day often goes untouched?
If the energy is low from giving work your all all day, then it’s easy to say “f*** it” and turn on Netflix instead of lacing up your running shoes after dinner. Working out early may be the best time for effective exercise because your willpower is at its peak! But it's got to be a habit.
Crunch early to protect your sleep
Working out first thing in the morning could help you sleep better that night.
A 2014 study found that “early morning may be the most beneficial time to engage in aerobic exercise” in terms of causing a subsequent blood pressure dip during sleep (which indicates sleep quality) and time spent in deep sleep.
No bandwidth in the schedule? The best time for effective exercise may be lunchtime
There isn't necessarily any science behind working out at lunchtime, but it could definitely be the best time for effective exercise if:
- You have the time and motivation for a quick walk, run, or yoga vid
- You want a quick performance boost (there is more glucose in your system later in the day if you've been fueling up, which can help you exercise harder)
- You want to avoid the dreaded midday slump with a quick boost of dopamine
Sweating it out at night could be the best time for effective exercise
Right after you exercise is the best time to carb-load (so your body can convert the carbs to glucose and replenish the stores it just used), so evening exercise can work out if it fits your schedule and you prefer a later dinner.
The downside of getting the heart rate up at night is that it can (potentially) make it harder to sleep early.
In a 2019 study, participants who exercised for an hour on a treadmill experienced “phase-shifting effects” on their circadian systems if their exercise occurred at night (between 7 and 10 p.m.)
Those effects translate to later bedtimes, so if you need to hit the sack early, nighttime exercise probably isn’t a good fit. But if you’re a shift worker and need to sleep late, then moonlit yoga starts to look pretty appealing!
So what are the best times for effective exercise for me?
In the end, the best time for effective exercise is pretty simple. The ideal schedule for you to work out is whatever time you’ll commit to every day and makes you feel good while you sweat (and after!)
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Even after you have the best time for effective exercise nailed down, it can be hard to stick to any new habit—including hitting the gym!
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