It’s an age-old question, yet one many of us ask ourselves every day: should I work out in the morning or evening? With so much conflicting information out there, we caught up with the fitness experts to set the record straight and finally discover the best time of day to exercise…
Before we get started, it’s important to note that there is no strict right or wrong when it comes to fitness. At the end of the day, you should exercise when you want to, and when it feels best for your body. Alongside listening to our bodies, the time we choose to exercise is also often dictated by our busy schedules. Many of us are forced to weave short bursts of exercise in wherever we can – often between shifts at work, manic school runs and endless household chores.
All of this is simply to say: don’t put further pressure on yourself to exercise at a certain time of day if it doesn’t work for you, your body or your life. Rather than a hard-and-fast-rulebook, use the expert advice in this article to gently guide you as you plan out your weekly workout schedule.
So, whether you’re wondering if you should work out in the morning or evening, or you’re clueless when it comes to the impact of exercise on your sleeping habits, read on for all the answers you need…
Meet the experts:
- Sarah Campus, personal trainer and founder of LDN MUMS FITNESS
- Aysha Bell, yoga, meditation and wellness expert
- Morning routine ideas to start your day right
- Wake up and go: 8-minute morning workout plan
- How to make treadmill running less boring
What is the best time of the day to exercise?
According to our experts, the morning is usually the best time of day to exercise. As Sarah explains: ‘Getting a workout done first thing in the morning is often the best option – you’ll have less excuses, feel less sluggish and be more energised. You’ll also have less water on board. Plus, a morning workout gives you energy for the day ahead, kickstarts your metabolism and boosts your performance.’
However, this certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule. As Aysha adds: ‘The best time of day to exercise really depends on what you are trying to achieve. For example, someone wanting to lose weight or burn fat would benefit from a morning workout, especially on an empty stomach. Early morning exercise will also benefit you mentally, as it promotes alertness and gets our endorphins going. Plus, a productive start to the day will leave you with a positive mindset.’
On the other hand, if you often find yourself experiencing an afternoon slump, then an afternoon workout could be in the cards for you. ‘Afternoon workouts are an amazing way to boost energy levels and refocus the brain – even a walk can have these benefits,’ Aysha explains.
Is it better to work out in the morning or evening to gain muscle?
If you want to gain muscle, it’s usually better to exercise in the evening. Why? ‘An evening workout is the most effective way to gain muscle, because the body tends to be weaker in the morning and increases its strength throughout the day,’ Aysha explains. ‘So, if building lean muscle is the aim, early evening is the best time to work out.’
Sarah agrees: ‘There are definitely benefits to working out in the evening to gain muscle, as your muscles gradually strengthen throughout the day and tend to peak in strength during the early evening. However, a morning workout can sometimes be better for strength training, as you will be a lot more energised and less tired.’
Whatever your goals, it’s important to listen to your body. As Sarah explains: ‘We all have our own goals and body types, so it’s advised to seek professional advice and find what works best for you.’
Is it better to work out in the morning or evening for weight loss?
If you’re hoping to burn excess fat and reach a healthier weight for your body type, our experts recommend working out in the morning. ‘This is because your cortisol and growth hormone levels are elevated in the morning, both of which are related to our metabolism,’ Aysha explains. ‘When working out in the morning, you’re more likely to draw your energy from your fat reserves, thus helping you to burn fat and lose excess weight.’
The benefits don’t end there. ‘Research suggests that women burn more fat when exercising in the mornings as they feel more energised, their performance is increased, and they will experience improved blood pressure – all of which contribute to healthy weight loss. Plus, after getting active in the morning, we are more likely to make healthier nutrition choices throughout the day,’ Sarah adds.
What is the best time of day to exercise for improved sleep?
If you want to sleep better, you might think going for a run before bed will help. However, it could actually do the opposite. ‘Exercise releases endorphins and boosts your energy levels, which will make you feel more awake. So, if you were to train in the evenings, you would feel more awake when you want to be winding down,’ Sarah explains. ‘Morning is the best time of day to exercise for improved sleep. As well as helping you fall asleep faster, it can also improve the quality of your sleep too.’
But what sort of exercises should you be doing in the morning to promote better sleep? And is evening exercise completely off the cards? ‘High intensity exercises or a strong yoga practice should be kept for morning workouts – think power yoga, running, dynamic vinyasa, hot yoga or weightlifting,’ Aysha explains. ‘When it comes to evening workouts, stick to lower intensity exercises and yoga flows to help your body wind down and promote peaceful sleep.’
How soon after waking up should I work out?
So, according to our experts, it seems like the morning is the best time of day to work out – generally speaking. But does this mean you should be jumping straight out of bed and into your activewear? Our experts think not. ‘It is advised to give yourself 30-60 minutes of awake time before exercising,’ Sarah tells us.
When it comes to the exact time of day you start your workout, it’s important to listen to your body, as Aysha demonstrates: ‘I personally practice yoga an hour after I have woken up – this totally sets me up for the day. Some say exercising 30 minutes after waking is okay, while others say it is best to wait a little longer.’
If you do want to start working out in the morning, it’s crucial to bear in mind how dehydrated we can become during the night. ‘The most important advice around starting an early morning workout routine is to make sure you drink plenty of water. Aim for between one pint to one litre when you wake up. Replacing the liquids you lose in the night – before you start to lose more through exercise – is vital,’ Aysha warns.
Best exercises to do in the morning, afternoon and evening
If you’re wondering which types of exercise work best at different times of the day, Dean Hodgkin, personal trainer and head of programming at global fitness and wellness community app, TRUCONNECT (£24.99 annually), is here to offer some advice.
‘It is often said that the best time of day to work out is, quite simply, whenever you can.’ Hodgkin explains. ‘Although this is unequivocally true, there’s an additional dimension to consider that could hold the key to whether you achieve your fitness goals or not – there’s a link between what type of workout you do and when you do it that could lead to optimal gains.’
Follow Hodgkin’s tips to maximise your workout performance, whatever the time of day.
Early morning: mobilising moves
‘After a night of slumber, it’s a good idea to opt for a mobilising workout to stretch your body and get moving. Think: mind-body exercise such as yoga or Pilates. At this time of the day, your cortisol level is higher, making you more alert and able to truly immerse yourself in being present in the moment. This, in turn, will help you to get the most from these mindful practices.
‘This type of workout is for everyone as well, and the benefits can be profound. It’s something we’ve considered when crafting programmes such as Bodybalance on the Truconnect app, which will not only improve movement, but also headspace. From simple yoga moves, to Pilates and breathing techniques, there are even elements of t’ai chi, which I’d recommend to get your day off to a flying start.’
Morning: cardio workout
‘Women’s bodies respond differently to exercise at different times of the day. However, fat- burning potential is at its optimum in the morning, so a cardio session within this window could be beneficial, if this is your goal. For maximum benefit, choose a full-body circuit or go for a swim.’
Lunchtime: HIIT exercise
‘Since most of us have limited time in our lunch break, we need something quick but effective. There is no better format than high-intensity interval training (HIIT). A bonus of HIIT is that your metabolic rate stays high for much longer afterwards compared to other workouts. This means you can ride the “afternoon slump” and remain productive for the remainder of the day.
‘This workout could take as little as 10 minutes as well. “Snackable workouts” are a trend we’ve noticed more and more demand for (as seen within personal trainer Andy Cannon’s Rogue fitness programme on Truconnect). Short bursts can deliver results, and this mentality should help you realise, with every part of the day, there is an opportunity to simply get moving.”
Afternoon: strength session
‘Due to our increased body temperature at this time of the day, our anaerobic performance peaks. So, it is the ideal time for maximising strength gains, particularly in the upper body. Even from the comforts of your own home, simple strength exercises such as push-ups, burpees and step-ups would all help with strength building.’
Early evening: skilled activities
‘You might expect to wind down in the evening. However, exercise at this time of the day can have a very positive effect on your mental health. For many, stress can build up throughout the working day, and so combat-based workouts can be the ideal vehicle to get that release. Those which introduce a skill-based or technical element, such as Faye Edwards’ F.I.T Box programme On Truconnect, can also help shift the focus away from worries or concerns built up through the day – transitioning through the basics of combat-style moves, before building each one up to a full-body combination, could provide just the distraction to stop the mind festering away.’
Late evening: mindful practice
‘Time to chill out and lay the foundation for a good night’s sleep, to ensure you recover fully. Meditation or any form of mindful exercises are recommended here. Anything to relax both the body and the mind are advised before you go to bed, to fully recharge and get ready to attack the day again tomorrow.’
What is the best time of day to exercise?
In general, working out in the morning, around 30-60 minutes after waking up, is the best time of day to exercise, according to our experts. However, it’s important to listen to your body and think about your personal fitness goals when scheduling in your weekly workouts. Different workouts are also suited to different times of the day.
For example, morning workouts are especially effective for cardio or healthy weight loss, while afternoon or evening workouts are better for muscle gain, as our muscles become stronger throughout the day. Skill-based activities and mindful practices are also suited to the evening, to nurture your mental health after a long day. On the other hand, an afternoon workout might suit you best if you find your energy slumping around 3pm. Try working out at different times throughout the day and see what works best for you!