Some people swear by their early-morning workouts, others much prefer to exercise in the evenings. Of course, it all depends on what suits you best, but what do the scientists think?
There are many theories on the optimum time to work out, but we’ve had a broad look at when certain types of exercise might be performed for the best results.
First things first. If you’ve exercised, congratulations. Great going, regardless of what time you decided to do it. These are merely guidelines to help you maximise the benefits of your session. It is also important to heed Andy Lane’s warning. The professor of sport science at University of Wolverhampton says: “What is lacking are well-controlled studies on large samples. It seems some people can adapt their performance to be good in the morning or late in the evening.”
In short, no two bodies are the same, so there are no hard and fast rules on the timing of your daily exercise routine, but here are some ideas.
When’s best: Morning
There are various benefits to heaving yourself out of bed for an early-morning run. Researchers at Appalachian State University found that 7am is the best time to go for a jog if you want to reduce your blood pressure and get a better night’s sleep.
One of the main benefits of running in the morning is weight loss. This is because running will kick-start your metabolism, helping your body burn more calories throughout the day.
There’s also a psychological effect that morning exercisers will be aware of: You’ll head to work feeling far more alert and hopefully less stressed about the day ahead. There’s also that smug feeling of knowing you’ve nailed a workout before your colleagues have even reached for their first coffee.
When’s best: Early evening
“Research into what time is best to exercise has been examined by considering circadian rhythms; the idea is that the human body clock has an optimum time for peak performance just as night time signals sleep,” explains Lane. For weights, it would seem the optimum time is early evening.
For men in particular, testosterone and cortisone levels are found to be strongest in the early evening, meaning their muscle strength is at its strongest. One study found that those who lifted weights in the evening increased their muscle mass more than those who trained in the morning.
However, the difference was not significant and Lane notes that research into this subject has yielded mixed results. This is a less scientific point but definitely valid: If you’ve had a stressful day and then lift weights, chances are, you’re going to feel better.
Swimming and cycling
When’s best: Afternoon or evening
Studies have found high-intensity exercise (like cycling) works better when your body temperature is higher and your joints have loosened up. This means your performance is likely to be better during a 6pm ride than one at 6am.
Swimming, cycling and running work many of the same major muscle groups, so there is little difference as regards when it is best to perform any one of them. But again, much like running, if weight loss is your aim, you might be swayed towards a morning session.
When’s best: Morning
Many yogis prefer a morning session but this is predominantly for mental, rather than physical, reasons.
If you’ve only done one yoga class, chances are you did the sun salutation sequence of poses, which is specifically geared towards greeting the beginning of the day. Practising yoga as soon as you rise helps you dedicate yourself to yoga with a clear mind, before the day’s stresses get in the way.
Yoga teacher Emma Lever advocates a morning session. “Yoga is best practised first thing in the morning,” she says. “Connecting with the body through the breath helps us find an inner stillness and clarity, keeping us grounded and centred as we go about our busy lives.”
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