Saving Your Workout for Daylight
By Nicole Flanagan
If you ever make it to the gym before the sun comes up you will notice that there are just as many, if not more, people working out at 5am as there are at 5pm. For some people, working out in the morning is like having a cup of coffee, for others the thought of getting out of bed any earlier than sun-up, well, isn’t a thought at all. For others it is simply timing and lifestyle fit that designate a workout time. I have wondered if there really is a better time to work out, as I have always thought that morning workouts were the best. For me getting up and getting my workout done early means that I have the rest of the day and don’t have the workout hanging in the back of my mind. Not like chasing a toddler is a sedentary job but sometimes come the end of the day I am just too exhausted to go for a run. I choose to work out early in the morning because it is convenient, I have the time to myself and it gives me a little bit of peace in my mind before everyone else in my house gets up. I did a little bit of research on the best time to work out and what I found was interesting.
Dr. Phyllis Zee of Northwestern University has a different opinion about when the ideal time to exercise is. She claims that the best time to work out is in the late afternoon. The reason for that is your muscle strength is at its peak. She also states that someone would be less likely to have an injury because it’s also a time when people are most awake and alert. The science behind Zee’s idea has to do with the delicate rhythms of the brain called circadian rhythms. According to Zee, circadian rhythms explain why working out later in the day might be more productive and beneficial. One of the things that circadian rhythms do is to determine when your best performance time is – your ability to perform changes throughout 24 hours. Circadian rhythms operate like an internal clock in the body. Neuron signals are fired out by the hypothalamus [a region of the brain], controlling sleep patterns, blood pressure, even our moods. Circadian rhythms also control body temperature, a key element of a more productive workout. According to Zee, by the afternoon, body temperature is between one and two degrees warmer than in the morning, making muscles in the body more supple, and lowering the risk of injury.
While I do not disagree with what this Dr. has to say I also read that a person can actually train their circadian rhythms to work the way that best suits their lifestyle. There is some evidence that people who consistently wake up early and head to the gym can actually train their bodies to be more prepared for exercise earlier in the day. The ability to adjust your rhythms is important for athletes training for a specific event. The idea is to train at the same time of day that the event will occur. Studies show that your ability to maintain exercise intensity will adapt to your training time. Therefore, if you do your marathon training in the morning, you may perform better on race day (marathons typically start in the morning). But if you train in the evening, a morning race day may leave you feeling weaker and slower. There is also individual ability; some people are just naturally morning people. They have no trouble exercising first thing in the morning. Others don’t get moving so quickly and are more likely to feel like exercising later in the day. If you have such an obvious preference it’s pretty easy to decide what sort of exercise schedule you might stick with. The interesting thing is that research shows that no matter when you think you are better able to exercise, almost all of us are, in fact, physically stronger and have more endurance in the late afternoon.
Whether research proves which time is better there is still the fact that some athletes only have a certain amount of time to get things done during the day. Many of us are balancing work and family and everything in between and there is just no time later in the day. While exercise in the afternoon may be more beneficial from a physiological standpoint, I can say from my own experience that morning exercisers are more likely to stick to their workout than afternoon exercisers. The good news is that you get to decide the best time for you to exercise based upon your personal goals, schedule and lifestyle. Ideally, you will pick a time that you are able to stick with consistently and make part of your daily or weekly schedule. When it comes to a good exercise routine, consistency is the key to being successful no matter what your goals may be.