Have you ever wondered whether there is an optimal time to work out? Is morning better than night? Is afternoon better than either of those? Do you burn more calories when your stomach is empty after a good night’s sleep or after a well-balanced lunch?
The reality is that whether you are burning calories or building strength, movement is movement, and the time of day you work out does not change these factors. The real issue to look at is when are YOU most effective? When do you get the most out of and have the most energy to put into your workout?
If you have trouble dragging yourself out of bed at 5 a.m. to get to the gym by 6 so you can get to work by 8, then maybe you should try a 6 p.m. date with the squat rack.
Everyone has their own distinct biological clock, and while our work day generally confines us to an 8-to-5 schedule, what you do before or after is a more individualized choice. Ask yourself the following questions to get a better idea of your body’s optimal workout time:
Which of the following workouts creates a feeling of rejuvenation - early morning, lunch time, late afternoon or evening? Do you look forward to beating the sunrise to the gym or is it like pulling teeth to drag yourself out of bed an extra hour early? Have you tried early morning workouts? If so, were you able to be alert enough to focus on your training, or does your workout become a blur that is difficult to remember until you get to the office and have that first cup of java?
If you haven’t tried early morning workouts, think of one or two reasons why you haven’t given them a chance. Most importantly, are you awake enough during your workout to frequently adjust your intensity and push your body to adapt to new workloads?
Similarly, lunch-time workouts can be a great mid-day pick-me-up. Here are a few things to watch for when you choose to hit the gym instead of the salad bar. Can you get your full workout in and get back to work still feeling revitalized? Or, does the time factor stress you out even more? When you work out at lunch, do you still have time to eat a healthy meal at a reasonable pace - i.e., you aren’t inhaling your lunch when you return to the office so you can make it to a 1:30 meeting.
If you have been working out in the afternoon or early evening, can you get to the gym easily without a lot of commuter stress? Can you relax and reroute your thinking out of the office and into your workout by the time you get to the gym, or do you spend your time in yoga class still trying to solve a client problem or database error? Does missing rush-hour traffic and getting home a little later remove or create stress for you? Do you have enough energy at the end of the day for a challenging run or swim?
There is no absolute right or wrong answer, and what is best for you may even change over time. If you decide you want to try a new workout time, be sure to allow yourself enough of a trial period to really evaluate your effectiveness. Two weeks should give you an adequate adjustment period to determine whether you are more or less functional on the new schedule.
If you already know which workout time works best for you and gives you optimal results, you can utilize the remaining options for variety and flexibility.
Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment; it can keep your workouts interesting and keep you motivated.