| October 28, 2021
By Trevor Mah
Read time: 6 min.
You either exercise in the AM or the PM, but those 12 hour windows are quite wide. To simplify the potential benefits and issues based on when you train, I’ll break this down to simply morning/early afternoon and evening/late-night (4PM onwards). There is much research out there on circadian rhythms, peak hormone times, meal timing, and so on, but it tends to get too complicated for something that is an “either or” situation. There is a difference between daytime vs nighttime training.
Note that this is written in mind for those who are awake during the day and sleep at night. If you are a shift worker of any sort, take consideration of the environmental factors mentioned below and your own habits throughout the day.
The early bird gets the worm. That of course has nothing to do with exercise, but older people like to say it. It’s very common to see the older crowd at the gym for a few reasons. What’s the takeaway? Well, if you have the flexibility to train in the morning, you are able to get it done early in your day. Whether you workout alone at home, or go to a gym, that means there is less deliberation when it comes to exercise after a long day of work, school, or anything else you do. This way, the thought of having to workout does not weigh on you throughout your day. For beginners, habit forming is essential and it’s quite common to have anxiety about going to the gym. Even for people who have been working out for a long time, it’s easy to mentally talk yourself out of working out based on a bad mood. Not to mention that after a good workout, you’ll feel more awake to start to your day.
The morning/early day option generally means less people at the gym too. For those who may have current self-confidence issues, this allows for less people to be around them (but trust me, no one is really looking at you the way you think). Regardless, this also means a less busy time and more space to exercise. A cramped and busy gym can be hectic, and sometimes you may not be able to use what you want. One thing to note is that in my experience, this time during the weekends or holidays are actually more busy. Why? As mentioned earlier, because of the flexibility some people have in their schedules.
Once you are consistent with your morning routine, it’s usually not a problem. But there are times when your schedule does get broken. Life happens, you either sleep too late, have kids, get sick, etc. Because of this, forcing yourself to adhere to a morning routine just because that’s when you workout can contribute to a poor exercise session. This is more of an amplified mental drawback that I have seen, but similar to benefit #1, this seems to weigh even more heavily on those who are used to early day workouts. Once you start missing one, then it becomes more susceptible to the next and so on until you no longer become a morning person. Of course, there are many ways to combat this based on lifestyle adjustments though.
Diet can be an issue if you happen to be training on an empty stomach (if it’s first thing in the morning). Fasted training is another topic altogether, but be aware that there are people who may not be able to keep up with certain intense workouts without any food.
Read More: Pre/Post Workout Foods
Depending on where you are in the world, another reason can be daylight. For example, daylight savings time is great when the sun is shining bright in the morning. Not only does it provide you with Vitamin D, but generally people will feel more awake and get a better start to the day. Sunshine has been linked to happiness in research in the past after all. But when daylight saving time ends, then it certainly can be more difficult when waking up in the darkness.
The most common time of day for exercise or hitting the gym is the early evening time around 4-6:30PM. There have been studies out there that do show peak hormone responses around this time. That means it’s the best time to hop aboard the gains-train if you are looking to lift. Of course, studies like these are never truly conclusive enough to be applicable to everyone though. Either way, working out later means you’ve likely been awake for a while, had some meals, and are generally just ready to go. No morning grogginess to deal with, you may have had some caffeine, and are just ready to crush it. Or perhaps you’ve had a tough day, and this is your stress relief in a very beneficial way. Whatever you want to let go from whatever happened in your day, you can leave it all out with some gym therapy.
You eventually do have to stop at some point, but generally speaking you likely have less restriction on your workouts if you do start later in the day. Your work is finished, and all you have left in the day after your workout is to just head home, eat, and relax. Working out is literally the last (physically) stressful thing you have to do, so you can give it your all. This is assuming that there are no significantly important tasks left for the rest of your day. If you are a really late night exerciser, you will also benefit from the freedom of a less busy gym as well.
Timing is important for this drawback, but if you are someone who works out close to your bedtime, then you may have a hard time falling asleep. Despite spending a lot of energy, working out for many people leaves them energized when they are done. Not to mention the residual effect from any pre-workout/caffeine that may have been taken can still linger and keep you awake. On that note, that is why it is important to also include a proper cooldown in your session so that your body knows to calm itself down. Essentially, this is the same as taking your body off of the fight or flight mode.
A busy gym can be a nightmare for some people. Not having the space to do what you want, equipment being used that you need, and feeling too cramped, it can be tough sometimes to get your work done. As mentioned before, this can be problematic for some people who may be self-conscious. Of course, one easy way to deal with this is going in with a plan (and some contingencies) to know what you are doing and keeping your guess work to a minimum. Hiring a trainer can also help as it is part of their job to navigate these hours.
Read More: Is My Coach Right For Me?
It is worth noting that some people do love the social environment. Whether you have gym friends you see regularly (at any time of day for that matter), or if you feed off the energy from others trying to improve themselves, this aspect cannot be underestimated either.
There are more reasons that may fall under the pros and cons, but if you are wondering about why working out during the day or night is better, it truly is subjective. There are definitely considerations that can potentially help or hinder you, but at the end of the day consistency will always win out. Even if you are sporadic with your schedule and train at all times during the week, your body will eventually always find a way to adjust.
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