Let’s say you want to build muscle, or lose fat, or increase strength and performance, or just improve your overall health and fitness level in any way. What do you do next?
Well, if you’re smart, you put together a workout routine (and diet plan) that will best allow you to reach that goal. That could mean weight training, cardio, sport-specific training of some kind or all of the above.
But when this entire program is all set up and finally ready to be put into action, there’s still one final question you may have… when should it be done? Meaning, when is the best time of the day to work out? Not just in general, but for you specifically? What is the ideal time for you to exercise? When should you work out for the best possible results?
Well, for most people, the answer is super simple: whenever.
As long as you’re getting it done, that’s really all that matters in the grand scheme of things. Whether you exercise in the morning, afternoon, night or anywhere in between… it’s always just a minor detail in comparison to simply doing it in the first place.
But again, that’s the simple answer to this question. Let’s figure out the slightly-less-simple answer…
Determining When You Should Work Out
In order to narrow it down and really come up with the specific time of the day that is going to be best for you, there are a few important factors you’re going to need to take into consideration. They are:
- Sustainability & Personal Preference
- Your Gym Situation
- Interaction With Your Diet
- Partners & Trainers
- Myths, Science & Recommendations
Time for some details and answers…
Factor #1: Convenience
Let’s start with the most obvious factor of all… doing what’s most convenient for your own daily schedule. Meaning, whatever time is most doable for you and best fits your schedule and life, that’s when you should work out.
So if work/school/family/life in general has made it so that the only time you can work out is at 8am, or 8pm, or during your lunch break, or midnight, or before work/school, or after work/school, or any other hour of the day… then guess what? THAT’S the best time to work out.
This is always answer #1 in my opinion and the main (or sometimes the ONLY) factor that you truly need to consider when making this decision. Even if one of the other factors possess some tiny benefit, it’s rarely ever significant enough to beat out the simple factor of convenience. Always keep that in mind.
Factor #2: Sustainability & Personal Preference
Now let’s pretend that every time of the day is equally convenient for you. What’s the best time to work out now? Well, I’d say it comes down to a combination of what’s most sustainable for you and what best fits your personal training preferences.
In terms of sustainability, whatever time of the day makes you most likely to work out consistently… THAT’S when you should work out. That’s why morning exercise is often recommended. It gets things done early and eliminates the potential for something to “come up” later in the day and prevent you from working out.
Similarly, working out in the morning allows you to train BEFORE a bunch of other aspects of your day have the chance to physically and/or mentally kill your focus, strength, energy level, motivation and intensity to train. For example, after a hard day at work or school, some people might be a little less up for an even more grueling workout.
I mean, it’s not always easy to come off a long, stressful, tiring day and then go directly into heavy squats, deadlifts and walking lunges. For some people the stuff that happened earlier in the day has the potential to hurt their workout performance or just cause them to skip that workout altogether. But if you exercise BEFORE all of this other stuff, this problem can be lessened or eliminated completely.
On the other hand, going into that same stressful/tiring day AFTER a hard workout can cause its own problems. Some people finish training and feel awesome and filled with energy that stays with them the rest of the day. Others just want to eat and take a nap. If you’re in that second group, your work/school performance can suffer.
Not to mention, some people just hate working out at certain times for whatever reason. For some, morning workouts are terrible and no amount of coffee can get them into that “zone” where they can push themselves as hard as they need to. Instead, training in the afternoon or night works A LOT better for these people.
And looking at it from the other side, some people can train later in the day and sleep like a baby right after. Others have trouble falling asleep after an intense workout and will be up for hours trying. For them, training at night may not be ideal.
Like I said, it’s about personal preferences and doing what’s best and most sustainable for YOU.
Factor #3: Your Gym Situation
Another potentially huge factor to consider for those of us who work out at public gyms rather than at home or in private facilities are the outside factors we can’t control. For starters, what time does your gym open and close? Do they open too late for you? Do they close too early for you?
And second, I don’t know about your gym, but every typical public gym I’ve trained in gets crowded as hell at certain times of the day. I can remember being there during times where you are literally working in with at least 2-3 other people on damn near every piece of equipment.
This is definitely another underrated factor to consider, as the crowdedness of your gym can significantly affect the quality of your workout AND the amount of time it will take you to get it done.
Factor #4: Interaction With Your Diet
Then of course there’s your diet and how your pre and post workout nutrition and really your overall method of/preferences for eating (3 meals? 6 meals? intermittent fasting? big family dinner? etc.) interact with the time you decide to work out at.
For example, let’s say you prefer having a nice sized solid food meal 1 hour before you exercise. You train better that way, and it fits with your diet and preferences. Now let’s say you want to work out at 7:00am. In order to have your preferred pre workout meal, you’re going to need to wake up at 6:00am or earlier. Is that something you are capable of doing?
The same goes for your post workout meal. Let’s say you want to train late at night. Are you capable of staying up even later to eat your post workout meal? And are you comfortable with eating what is typically one of your BIGGEST meals of the day right before bed? Some people are, some people aren’t.
Not to mention, for some people, exercising earlier in the day leads to better diet adherence through the remainder of the day. For others, it makes no difference at all. Just another thing worth taking into account.
Factor #5: Partners & Trainers
Do you have a preferred training partner who is only available to train with you at a certain time of the day? Do you have a trainer or coach working with you who can only schedule you in at a specific time as well? In either of these cases, you have another important factor to consider.
Factor #6: Adaptation
While most of us only work out to look, feel and just generally BE awesome, some people work out for the sole purpose of improving their performance at a specific sport or competitive activity. In cases like these, there’s an additional factor to consider: adaptation. Let me give you an example…
Let’s say that your sport or competition typically takes place in the morning hours. Now let’s say that you typically train for it at night. When the time comes to put that training to use, you’ll probably find that your performance sucks because you’re just not used to performing this early.
For this reason, if you’re going to be competing at something at a certain time of the day, it would probably be best if you regularly trained for that activity at that same time so you can adapt and physically and mentally allow yourself to get accustomed to performing at that time.
Factor #7: Myths, Science & Recommendations
And finally, let’s take all of the factors we just discussed and pretend they don’t actually exist. Let’s instead pretend that the only factor we need to consider is what other people are recommending based on their own experience, scientific research and silly myths.
Now, is there any legitimate and proven BEST time to work out that has any REAL physiological benefits and will, in and of itself, yield better results than every other time of the day?
As far as I can tell… probably not. And in terms of a significant difference, I’d say definitely not.
The truth is, if you use the same workout routine with the same diet and put forth the same effort and consistency with all else being equal, the time of day you work out at really doesn’t matter at all. It’s these other factors that make or break your results. You just need to train at whatever times makes you most likely to get them right.
But I Once Read That This Time Is Better Than That Time!
Of course, you’ve probably heard otherwise. For example, you might think that morning exercise magically allows you to burn fat better or faster. Now, in terms of the morning (or really ANY time of the day) itself providing some sort of magical training benefit, that’s bullshit.
Where this myth comes from is the idea that fasted training has some type of benefit, and first thing in the morning just so happens to be when most people are in that “fasted state.” However, this isn’t a requirement. As the intermittent fasting crowd has proven, you can be in a fasted state any time of the day. So the potential benefits here have nothing to do with the time you work out and everything to do with what you’ve eaten (or not eaten) in the period of time before it.
As for whether or not fasted training has any benefit, that’s a separate topic for another day (short answer: any potential benefits aren’t anywhere near significant enough to warrant going out of your way to train fasted, especially if you have no real interest or desire to do so).
And that leaves us with science and various recommendations. If you look around long enough, you’ll see evidence that training 3 hours after waking up is best for maximal strength and power, or 11 hours after waking is when performance reaches peak levels, or that heavy spinal loading first thing in the morning is dangerous and should be avoided, or that motor learning is better in the morning, or that we reach our ideal body temperature for exercise in the late afternoon/early evening, or that your joints are this and your circadian rhythms are that and blah blah blah.
Basically, you can find reasons for why damn near every single hour of the day is somehow better or worse than the hour before and after it. Is there any truth to any of it? Maybe. But what it really proves is that there isn’t actually an absolute best time to exercise.
Truth is, the human body is pretty damn smart and efficient. It can and will adapt to the environment you create. So if you consistently exercise at a certain time, your body will adapt and that will likely become your “best” time to exercise even if it initially wasn’t.
So… What Time Is Best?
Remember my super simple answer from before? Whenever. Well, after everything we just discussed, I can now give you the WAY more detailed answer to this question: Whenever is best for you.
Honestly, there is no better answer than that.
When Do I Work Out?
As for me personally, at some point over the last 12 years I’ve probably trained at every hour of the day that my gym is actually open at, and I can’t say I’ve noticed any significant difference in terms of performance or results.
I started out training at night (anywhere between 8pm and 10pm) my first 2-3 years and would often be there as they announced they were closing. This was BY FAR the worst time to be there in terms of crowdedness, and being forced to wait around like an idiot between every set and exercise was torture.
Not to mention, the caliber of people working out at night is, shall we say, extra high on the scale of douchebaggery. If you’ve ever trained at a typical public gym at night, I’m sure you know what I mean.
After that I trained in the mornings for a long time. The gym is WAY less crowded, and I found the caliber of people training at this time was probably as good as it gets. The downside of course was that I was waking up as early as 5:30am to get these benefits. And while I also loved that my work out got done before many people even woke up to start their day, the earlier wake-up time and earlier bedtime it warrants (which by the way didn’t always go as planned) became a little too annoying after a few years.
Since then, I’ve been working out at the same time I do right now, which is somewhere between 10:00am-1pm depending on exactly what time I get there. For me, this is kinda the best of both worlds. I can go to bed/wake up at a less-torturous time, avoid the night time crowd/douche factor, and the gym is still fairly empty and quiet.
It seems to be this magical time when the morning people have left but the afternoon people aren’t really there yet. It also fits perfectly with my schedule, my training and dietary preferences, and I just happen to like it, period.
But, that’s just me. What about you?
Poll: When Do You Work Out?
What time of the day do you work out? Morning, afternoon, night? Somewhere in between? Any specific reason why? Let’s hear it in the comments below…