January 07, 2010

The Best Time Of Day To Exercise

Rise and shine! It's time to get moving!
Photo: Robert S. Donovan

I am a slug by nature and would spend most of my time ordering about my man servants (I’m talking to you, Hugh Jackman!) to take on my most menial tasks were money not a consideration. However, it is. In spite of, or because of, this slug-like mentality, I have achieved some notoriety as a world class procrastinator and excuse maker. And yet this behavior flies in the face of my workout routine which I do as early in the day as possible because I know if I don’t, it just won’t get done. Sure, I can be a night owl with the best of them but that doesn’t extend to when I exercise. For me, I need to get it done early so I don’t have to think about it anymore and because my after-dinner energy level drops lower than the necklines of the Fox News female bunnies anchors (meant in the nicest possible way but ladies, please, leave something to the imagination).

Given that we’ve all come to the conclusion that exercise is good, is there one best time of the day to exercise or can it vary with the individual? I know in my case I feel more invigorated for the rest of the day and my time seems generally more productive if I’ve exercised first thing. But there’s actually some science behind in terms of results and physiology. This article cites a study of overweight women aged 50 to 75 which found that the ladies who exercised consistently in the morning fared better than those who exercised at night. The difference in the results came down to how well they slept at night. Nighttime exercise seems to disrupt our internal body clock or circadian rhythm which causes the sleep disruption. If your sleep is light or disrupted, certain hormones in the body that control appetite get stimulated. Okay, usually stimulation is a good thing but not in this case. More fitful sleep will keep those appetite hormones in check.

There are some other factors to consider in terms of figuring out the best time of day to exercise.

MORNINGS: In most of the articles I read, it appeared that better workout habits were formed when done in the morning. Most people who regularly exercise do so early in their day and carry that invigorated feeling with them for hours more. You also get that boost to your metabolism first thing which helps to burn more calories earlier in the day. Also, when you tackle exercise first thing in the morning, there is a much lower chance of interruptions or distractions interfering with your workout. Babies and children might still be asleep (God willing), the phone hasn’t started ringing and the messy business of life in general hasn’t reared its ugly head yet and thrown a monkey wrench into your best laid plans. And you can always accommodate your extra workout time by waking up earlier.

I'm really not a morning person -
until after that first cup of catnip.
Photo: intoBooks

There is some downside to morning workouts. Your body’s temperature is at its lowest a few hours before waking so you don’t always feel so rarin’ to go. There’s also the fact that your muscles are stiff and cold and need to be warmed up before engaging in exercise (a good habit to develop anyway). And, you just might not be a morning person. I had my share of roommates who fit into this category and it was not pretty. If your inclination is to avoid waking up early at any cost then morning workout aren’t for you. Don’t try to force the issue or your workouts will be flaming out real soon.

LUNCH/BREAK TIME: So maybe you’re the type of person who needs a few hours to wake up before you count yourself among the living. A case can be made for mid-day workouts too. It is a great time to break up the stresses of the day by exercising at lunch time, and you have a good chance of finding a partner from work or school to team up with and help keep you honest and accountable to the routine. You can temper your appetite or snack habit with a workout. Your body temperature and hormone levels are higher than the morning and the improved blood flow from the exercise will help sustain your mental acuity for the remainder of the day (if you’re lucky enough to have work that requires that sort of thing).

The downside about afternoon workouts is that distractions and interruptions are more likely to creep in. There’s always the chance of that last minute conference call or having to run a sick child over to the doctor’s office to throw you off track. You also might not be able to fit in exercise AND lunch into the time allotted. Lung function is also at its worst around noon and while that not might make a big difference with a regular workout, you could feel it with a strenuous one.

Physiologically speaking, this looks like a pretty good time to be active: Your body temperature and hormone levels peak at 6PM so exercise done 3 hours earlier or later than that is best for building endurance and muscle. Your muscles are warm and flexible and your lung function is best between 4-5pm. With all these factors working in your favor, you might be able to work out harder and faster at this time of day. As with exercise anytime, it helps to relieve the stresses of the day. Also, working out before eating dinner is a good way to help limit how much you have.

The downside with exercising this late in the day are all the distractions that could impinge on your workout. Continued interruptions might leave you feeling frustrated and too willing to avoid exercising altogether.

A future nighttime player
Photo: efleming

This time of day shares the same pros as the afternoon workouts but have a few additional cons to consider. There will still be the danger of being interrupted from your workout but the biggest thing to keep in mind is allowing yourself 1to 3 hours to unwind after a workout so as not to have your sleep affected. Losing sleep is going to work counter to your weight loss goals, as discussed above. If this is a problem for you, consider working out earlier in the day.

Mornings: In the summer, temperatures and smog are at their lowest levels.
Afternoons: In the winter, the temperatures reach their peak around 2-3pm.
Evenings: Be sure to wear reflective clothing.

The bottom line is that what really counts is that you exercise to begin with; no matter the time of day

What time of day do you exercise? And why is that the best time for you?


  1. I am a morning workerouter.
    while I always have been---my definition of morning has totally shifted since we had our daughter.

    (I used to think working out at 8 was am...now Im DONE by 6 :))

    for me it isnt at all that Im an early riser (I am now by necessity but am NOT upandreadytogogogogo) but that I internally begin to unwind (no matter what I do) around 5p.

    Im good to go for more work or mama'ing---but working out just never seemed to happen when I left it to the pm.

    sorry for the disjointed rambles.
    off to workout :)

  2. I know I'd be useless when it comes to working out in the evening... or even in the afternoon. If it hasn't happened by noon, it's just not going to happen.

  3. personally I like late morning, lunchtime or early afternoon. the evening leaves too much room for distraction. the morning is just too difficult for me physically and mentally.

    but, the most important thing i've learnt on this fitness journey, is not the time of day by the body clock (we are not professional athletes most of us, we dont truly need peak performance, we just need to do it), but when it is convenient and most likely to happen.

  4. The best time of the day for me to workout is in the afternoon. It's the time when I'm awake, I'm in a good mood, it keeps me awake for the rest of the evening and helps me to get a good night sleep.

    BUT, the distractions are terrible. Trying to fit it in takes a lot of commitment, and honestly, there are a lot of times when I just slack off.

  5. I'm with you. Getting up at 4am sucks, but the "I didn't get my workout in" hanging over me sucks harder.

  6. An awful lot of people seem to prefer the morning...but I just can't do it. I've had entire well-meaning workout intentions die because I tried to force them to happen in the morning. Two weeks seems to be about the longest I can stick with an AM workout before I start turning off the alarm and going back to sleep instead of getting up to workout. My best gal-pal (and former roommate - for 6 years - so she knows me WELL) finally asked me, "Why do you keep trying to force yourself to exercise in the morning when you know that you can barely get up early enough to get to work on time? Just do it in the afternoon; otherwise you're setting yourself up to fail every time."

    Huh. Wise woman. So getting it out of the way first thing would be awesome schedule-wise, it just doesn't work for me. I have managed to rearrange my morning schedule to start getting to work at 8:30 so that I can leave at 5:00 and make 5:30 classes at the gym, which mostly seems to work out pretty well for me.

  7. I'm still trying to retrain my body to get to sleep before 10 so that I can get my workouts in before 6am. Truthfully, I hate a morning workout and need 1/2 hour to wake/coffee/warm-up before starting, but the rest of the day isn't ideal, so that's what I'm working on.

  8. Mornings are the best time of day for me. I started the habit of setting my alarm many years ago to give myself quiet time before the kids got up. While I started this to journal write, it has recently become the time to exercise both my mind and body...

  9. Definitely a morning exerciser here! I was talking to a surgical colleague about how we both feel so alert and ready to go when we do surgery in the AM. Our rule is doctor awake, patient asleep. Our running in the morning supports this goal :-)

  10. I can do more and enjoy the workout more in the afternoon, but have more chances of actually doing it in the am. I have yet to find the balance (given my loath of working out right after getting up).

  11. For me it's usually be 6-7 pm because that is the time that works best for me. Good to know that physiologically it is a good time of day as well!

    I used to do lunch time workouts and I loved it. I loved the change of scenery and break in my day. It was also a good stress reducer and a time to clear my mind. But it's true that sometimes work would get in the way.

    I did try morning workouts for about 6 months, even though I am most definitely not a morning person. I hated getting up early, and it was making me cranky (even though I went to bed earlier to accommodate) so I took that as a sign that morning workouts are not for me.

  12. I'd like to be a morning exerciser, but it just doesn't work for me. I'm another one who can barely get to work on time--I don't have a very good track record with sticking with morning workouts, and when I do manage them I'm always horribly nauseous the whole time, regardless of what/if I've eaten.

    Ideally I'd work out somewhere between 10 and 2, but with a complete lack of showers at work, that isn't an option. So at this point I'm an evening exerciser. I get home most nights around 5:30 and dinner's usually ready between 6 and 6:30. I usually get started somewhere between 7:30 and 8:30--enough after dinner I'm not going to make myself sick, but hopefully with enough time to calm down before bed.

  13. I am such a morning exerciser now that I'll see someone running in the afternoon or evening and think: blecchh, how is that even possible?

    Yet for years when I had office jobs I'd alternate between early morning, noon, and evening workouts depending on classes & commutes, etc, and I did just fine! Not sure I could do that again, but then it's amazing how you adapt when you have to.

    But for me now, I'm in the "mornings or it ain't happenin" crowd. But I usually exercise after I've been up for a few hours--haven't done the 6 a.m. workouts for quite awhile.

  14. I'm a morning girl myself for all of the reasons you mentioned in your own take on the subject. It's just too easy to make excuses-and I don't want to have to take a second shower!

  15. I tend to exercise around 5:30 p.m. I'm not really a morning person (and I don't have a lot of energy early a.m.) so I head to the gym immediately after work.

    On the weekends, I do exercise a tad bit earlier.

  16. I'm a whenever-it-fits-in kinda gal. It varies by day and mood.


  17. There's something to be said for first-thing-in-the-morning workouts. Sometimes you can convince yourself that you're just having a bad dream and will wake up soon...

  18. I don't know about the carrying the energy the rest of the day part but I workout in the morning. My reason is more like if I don't just get up and do it then I will find too many excuses to NOT do it.
    Plus, I'm half asleep when I start it anyway so I don't even notice I'm doing anything.

  19. I'm very much a morning workout person, I just need to get it done, off my plate and out of my to do list. I tried doing an additional afternoon walk for a while and I was successful maybe 40% of the time, the rest of the time I made excuses or something came up up that didn't leave me the time I needed . Of course morning for me is 7:30 not 5 :P. But even being unemployed at the moment I still get up every morning to exercise.

  20. I'm apparently that rare middle of the day exerciser. It gives me time to get some work done -usually the more menial tasks. And if late enough- noon - 2pm- it is the slowest time in the gym.

    I set the intention of dealing with one problem while I'm gone - park it in the back of brain. While I'm driving home the solution often comes to me full force. So the workout is part of work.

    Working out in the evening? I cannot imagine doing so. I apparently need to know it's daylight to move.

  21. I split my workout times - M/W are at 8am (which is awfully early in the cold winter but is fine in the spring/summer); Tuesdays I workout from 4 - 5 pm. I *think* I'm more energetic during that workout, and I definitely eat a light dinner because of working out so close to that time, but when it's not so freakin' cold, I usually have the pep after the M/W morning workouts to run errands, vacuum - you know, all the necessities!

  22. I used to try to work out in the morning, and it just kind of drained me, rather than give me energy, probably because I have to get up at the ass-crack of dawn to do so,and quite frankly, my sleep is more important to me that exercise.

    So, now I work out in the early evening, right after work and get home about 6:30 at night. I have energy to do the things I need to do at home, and winding down is still pretty easy. Although it appears as though I'm the only one.....

  23. 5 a.m.! I have 3 children under 7. I work full time outside of home. I don't have the time in the evening to do it. So I get up, run or do a DVD of circuit training, yoga or pilates, and I am done for the day.

    I take the stairs and walk to my parking lot (which is 1/2 mile from work). I try to be as active throughout my day despite already having worked out. If I miss a workout in the morning and desperately feel like I need to do something, I will get to it after putting the kids to bed at 7:30 p.m.; otherwise, I am done and proud.

  24. I love to work out in the morning but sometimes I have to go in the afternoon for swimming because that's when it's the quietest and I can get a lane to myself. Evenings? Not so much. Although I am pretty good about working out during my daughter's dance class IF I don't have to drive another child somewhere. yep, the dance class and the gym are in the same place!

  25. I would love to be a morning "workerouter", but with a work start time of 7:00 to 7:30 and being a high maintenance girl, its a no go on work days, so I'm all about the after work (which sucks in January, BTW!). Weekends, I usually hit the gym about 9:00 am or if I'm running outside in the winter, a little later to let it warm up.

  26. If I don't do it in the morning, I will not do it at all. This neccessitates getting up at 5 am, but I'd rather get it over with then risk making excuses at the end of a long work day.

    Plus, the gym is less crowded at 5:30 in the morning than after work. Especially now, when all the Resolution people are everywhere.

  27. The earlier the better for me. I am a morning person, but the advent of kids made my mornings even earlier. The more hours that pass before I get a workout in, the less likely it is to happen at all.

  28. Hey! Keep those hands off Hugh. He's mine, I tell you, mine!

    mwahahahaha, or a reasonably convincing facsimile of a maniacal laugh

  29. I work out whenever I have the time, lol!
    Tuesday mornings I go to a 6 AM yoga class. Wednesday evenings I teach a 7:30 PM Pilates class. If my sleep is disrupted, it's usually because of one of my kids, not because of working out at night. (Can I blame them for all the weight I've gained over the past few years? Please?!)
    I actually enjoy working out most in the evening. I find it calms me down after a long day. And sometimes my kids will join me. Or at least sir on my stomach while I do ab work.

  30. Merry, those pecs are big enough to share. You take one side, I'll take the other. We'll meet in the middle.

  31. I really prefer to get my runs in in the mornings, but in the winter I've been switching over to the afternoons, mainly because the sun doesn't rise until 7:30-ish now (too late for me to run 1-2 hours and not get fired for perpetual tardiness), and I really don't fancy running in 2 degree weather in the dark. I'm also convinced that if I run in the afternoons, there must be SOME residual heat from the day, right?

    The main problem I've found with running in the afternoons is that then I have all day to make up excuses. And it usually only takes me a couple of hours to come up with one. When I run in the mornings I'm usually out the door before my mind is awake enough to object.

    Another problem is all the food in my stomach. I find that I run better with just a banana, but obviously you can't subsist on only banana until 5-ish.

    long winded answer to make the point that I hate winter!

  32. If I don't do it first thing, without fail life gets in the way and I never get it done.

    That being said, I'm a night owl. It's rough getting going at 5 am. Especially after some time off. I'd love to workout in the evening like I did when I was single. Now the kids take up that time.

  33. Mornings would be great. I am such a morning person! My idea of a good New Year's Eve is bed at 9, then wake up and take a bike ride when everyone else is still sleeping it off.

    But...I can't do the same stuff in the early morning I can do easily later in the day. My bike has a power meter so I can track pretty accurately, and if I do an intensity session at 6AM, my heart rate will be about 10 bpm higher than it would if I did the same exercise mid-day or later. I assume that means I have less chance to improve strength early in the day.

    Things that don't involve high heart rates are nice in the morning - yoga, weights, rest-week-level rides & runs.

  34. I work out in the morning most days though sometimes I get an extra workout at lunchtime. I wake up at 4:30am do get it all done before work.

  35. I believe in morning exercise.

    I once heard someone refer to this as "earning your breakfast."

  36. It totally depends on what kind of exercising. I hate strength training! and if I didn't do it first thing in the morning, I wouldn't do it. I love cardio/elliptical and usually do that in the late evening about 8:30 after the kids go to bed. I could do it in the morning, but would wake the kids then and don't want to do that.

    My time of exercise has changed across the board. It may be time to do some more P90X DVD's and I have to do those in the early morning, 4:30am or I don't do them.

  37. I'm a mix. I tend to do weights in the morning before work (my gym is in the same building). I may fit in the odd short run at lunch time, otherwise I like to run after work. My body doesn't really do morning runs that well. I mix it up with my spin classes depending on what time my favourite instructors are teaching, so that can be anything from 6.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. It's not unusual for me to work out twice in one day - weights in the morning, for example, and a run after work.

  38. I'm a mix. I tend to do weights in the morning before work (my gym is in the same building). I may fit in the odd short run at lunch time, otherwise I like to run after work. My body doesn't really do morning runs that well. I mix it up with my spin classes depending on what time my favourite instructors are teaching, so that can be anything from 6.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. It's not unusual for me to work out twice in one day - weights in the morning, for example, and a run after work.

  39. You can create a workout reference from any exercise video on Youtube at www.Vidinotes.com.

  40. Last year I went to the gym after work. For some reason, I just no longer have that kind of energy at the end of the day. I've switched to the mornings and it was the best thing I could have done. I get more done and I feel great all day.

  41. Um, I work out at ...*mumble mumble*... I was just reading somewhere about working out in the evening vs. the morning, and now I can't remember which they said was best, so I just didn't work out at all...heheh...

    So thanks for the info!

  42. I am most likely to work out if I attend the 1-hour classes at the gym after work and then make exercise my first priority when I get up on the weekends. On weekday mornings I am too sleepy to accomplish anything, and weekend afternoons are spent doing things that are more mentally than physically challenging!

  43. Last year, I finally got the hang of morning workouts. I did pretty much every training run before work, getting up as early as 7:45 to do it sometimes (I'm lucky, I can be into my work 5 mins away as late as 10). I generally groan about being roused before 8:30 though. This is also me being WAY more of a morning person than I ever have in my life. Yeah, I know.

    However, I just can't do the gym in the mornings. And now it's freezing when I get up and that doesn't make me want to do ANYTHING, I feel like I'm one step away from an injury walking to the bathroom, my muscles are so cold. So I am a die hard after-worker right now. I really liked the get-up-and-run-outside or weights mornings at home, so I'll be back to them in the spring. At least alternating - I don't do mornings every day.

    It's cool to know that my lung function is best when I'm working out usually - I know I push my running pace much better in the evenings, and that's another reason why.

  44. I've tried mornings. I hate them. The few times I've managed to drag myself out of bed in order to get a workout done before 7 AM (which is when I need to get in the shower to get ready for work) I have cold sweats the entire time. Blech.

    I'm marginally better on weekends and can sometimes get a run done before 9AM.

    Otherwise, I'm an after work kinda gal. And occasionally a run at lunch time with some work buddies.

  45. Each night I vow to run right after breakfast. Then the next day, well, I have all day to run, so I'll go after lunch...which then becomes I'll go before it gets dark. And then of course, it gets dark outside, and I can't possibly run in the dark... and this cycle continues -- it's been 3weeks now!

  46. Check it out if you like being fit:


    Another resource for you to take!

  47. Not a Morning Person. My best time for exercise is late afternoon. When things get busy and I try to fit in a few minutes on the stationary bike before bedtime, however, at least half the time I find that I sleep better than usual.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  48. Oh how I wish I were a morning person. I'd get up early, do some yoga, spend an hour at the gym, eat breakfast, do some work, read the news, catch up on my blogs, ponder the meaning of life ... all BEFORE I got to work.

    Of course, I'm always so tired in the morning it's a wonder I shower daily. So, yeah, workouts definitely happen after work but before dinner.

  49. Just like you Gigi, I have to workout in the morning or it won't get done at all. I've heard the different times to workout for many different reasons but to me it all boils down to individual schedule, energy and motivation. As long as you get the job done and done correctly, it shouldn't matter whether it's 3:00 p.m. or 3:00 a.m.

  50. I am a morn person.. or some would say middle of the night too! :-)

    To me, the best time to exercise in the time when you will do it. WE can read all the studies in the world & I love all that stuff & your research, BUT if we will not be able to sustain that time long term, then just do it when you feel best as they say.

    Some like the morn, others hate it But one thing good about the morn is if you do it first, you will not let anything else get in the way later on like meetings, family, or just being tired.

    BUT, again. it always comes back to when you will do it & what feels best for you.

  51. Morning... I enjoy getting up and getting it over with and knowing that it's done and if by the if by fat chance I can fit more in, than so be it!!

  52. I love 5 pm workouts during the week. I go straight from work to the gym, or else it won't happen. On the weekends I like to workout around 1 pm and spend extra time doing weights. If my lunch break was long enough, and I didn't sweat buckets of water every time I workout, I would probably workout during lunch. Whenever I try a morning workout schedule I end up crashing around 3 pm. Since I have one of those rare brain-engaging jobs, I kinda need it to function until 5 pm! Plus dragging myself out of bed for exercise just is not going to happen!

  53. I like working out in the morning. I used to think it was a psychological thing but doing so does make me feel waaay better throughout the whole day. However, cardio workout in the evening helps me fall asleep. So I sometimes exercise in the evening.

  54. I am definitely a person who has to work out first thing in the morning. I think it all began when I was a sophomore in college and started going to the gym regularly... the gym in the evenings seemed more like a fashion show and meat market than anything else and it made me SUPER uncomfortable.

    I was embarrassed to be there there and mortified that I would run into somebody I knew, which looking back seems like a funny fear to have. And all the cute guys were there at that time. So, I became a morning gym rat with the old people and professors! And it just stuck.

    But I love getting it out of the way and feeling accomplished for the rest of the day.

  55. I have tried the morning thing and it was a COMPLETE disaster. I just don't have the enery whatsoever. For me, the best time is right after work so about 5 pm. I feel awake and alert and ready for some *me* time. Also I LOVE getting in a great workout before dinner. I'm so much more aware of my intake once I've had an awesome workout. I often hear that morning is the best time for exercise so it was nice to read this for a change!

  56. I used to be a guy who worked out in the evenings after work. In the past few months I've started doing regular morning workouts. Short but effective ones.

    I find that on days in which I work out, I get more work done, I have more energy, and I eat less calories overall.

    I highly recommend morning workouts

  57. I am not a morning person by far (You can definitely call me a night owl)but I have kids now so I cant be anymore. Since I was forced to get up early I decided to doing my walking,I am glad I did because it gives me tons of energy.

  58. Strength maximizes in the mid afternoon. If the workout is heavy weight training, morning isn't the best time for that activity. It's more suited to lower intensity cardio, especially outdoors.


Thanks for commenting, Cranky Fitness readers are the BEST!

Subscribe to comments via RSS

(Note: Older Comment Threads Are Moderated)