Is it Better to Work Out in the Morning or Afternoon?

The Pros and Cons to Building the Best Workout Schedule That Fits Your Lifestyle

The other day I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine who is an early riser. She enjoys waking up early, going for a run, and having a nice breakfast before heading to work in the morning. Her alarm is set for five AM every morning to accommodate for her morning routine, which occasionally includes a yoga class or some quality time in the gym instead of on a run. Naturally, as a night owl myself, I was curious to know if there were really any real benefits to going to the gym so early in the morning because, really, why else would someone want to wake up so early in the morning?! I was surprised to learn a few great pros and cons to both cases. Take a look.

Pros for the Morning Workout

1. You gain an energy boost for the rest of your day.—By priming your body early in the morning, your body has the entire day to burn fat. The post-burn feeling from an effective workout is essential for folks who are looking to lose weight as the calorie burn works best when you are awake and active. This can be less effective for people who tend to work out during the evenings, as they have less time to utilize as much of the post-burn effects before they hit the hay.

2. There is a higher chance you will be consistent with your workout.—Depending on your commitment to consistency, working out in the mornings helps maintain a regular habit while afternoon and evening workouts tend to conflict with schedules and social activities. These demands and temptations are much easier to convince you to skip a workout than if you already got it over and done with at six AM.

3. It will be easier for you to sleep at night.—While some will find it just as easy to sleep after an afternoon workout, researchers at the Appalachian University state that "those who exercised at seven AM experienced about a ten percent reduction in blood pressure that carried through the remainder of the day. They also had about a 25 percent dip in blood pressure at night, slept longer, and had more beneficial sleep cycles than when they exercised at other times of the day."

Cons for the Morning Workout

1. It’s, well, early.—For those of us who are consistent snooze-button-pushers, morning workouts are hard work! (Just getting out of bed, I mean.) Early mornings can be difficult to schedule around a 9-5, as well. Another reason why the gym is usually pretty packed at four PM in the afternoon.

2. More stretching is required.—Because your body is just waking up, your muscles need to be nudged a little bit more to ensure that they are prepared to take on the pressure you are about to drop onto them. This is also a good reason why strength and weight training should be reserved for afternoon or evening workouts, unless you are able to spend a little bit of extra time to stretch properly before working out.

3. Muscle strength is the weakest in the mornings.—A study published in the Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise Journal observed men in their 20s and how the time of day affected their muscular performance. They determined that muscle strength was maximized during afternoon and evening hours, primarily when faster movement was involved. 

Pros for the Afternoon Workout

1. Your body is less prone to injuries.—As you go about your day, your body will automatically align with your daily use of your muscles, meaning you will not be required to stretch as much when you prepare to go into a heavy lift session. Your body will already be prime and ready to go!

2. You can put the stress of your day into your workout.—
This is also proven to be a great way to get the most out of your workout, as you have already been through a long day, and working out after a stressful day can be very mentally rewarding. Not to mention there is no time constraint to be anywhere after your workout, therefore you can stretch longer and truly take your time with your workout.

3. Exercising when your body temperature is the lowest, which is typically later in the day, results in improved performance and increased power.—
A study done at the Clinical Research Center of the University of Chicago found that blood samples from a series of men tested throughout the day doing strenuous exercise showed that levels of endocrine hormones (cortisol and thyrotropin) significantly increased in the men who worked out at night.

Cons for the Afternoon Workout

1. There is a higher probability of schedule interference.—It's safe to say that happy hour and a night out with friends can be tempting, at best. Missing your workout due to schedule availability seems to affect both morning and afternoon preferences, but as consistency is a key factor in successfully achieving fitness goals, this one is a pretty big one.

2. Evening workouts can affect your sleep patterns.—WebMD states that as long as there are two to three hours in between your workout and when you go to sleep, you should have no problem sleeping. As long as you ensure you watch the clock and schedule yourself accordingly, this con may not affect you.

3. Gym crowds.—Especially from Monday to Friday, gyms are usually busier as the work day winds down and the gym classes start up. 

The Conclusion

For the most part, exercise experts seems to agree that, whether your preference is for morning or evening workouts, both are effective as long as you can stay consistent in your schedule. If you find that you are having trouble deciding which method is best for you, try working out in the morning one day and switch it up to the evening the next. Another great way to decide is to see if you are having issues that can be solved by leaning more towards one option (ie: if you are having trouble sleeping, perhaps a morning workout would be better for you). Even if your schedule varies from season to season, as long as you stay consistent, you will prime yourself for the most success. 

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