Let’s make something very clear from the jump, shall we?
Whatever time you can find during your day to work out – take it.
It’s one thing to have a discussion about what’s optimal, and when your mood and returns will be peaked – but it’s another thing entirely to have a practical decision about actually getting to the gym and doing the work.
Working out in the morning.
This is my preference and the preference of most of my clients.
Working out in the morning doesn’t give you a chance to talk yourself out of training. When I was a teacher, I’d be looking forward to my evening session, and by the time we made it to lunch I was looking for excuses not to go. I’d spend the afternoon in a battle of should I/shouldn’t I? Total waste of mental energy.
For lots of people, working out might be the biggest barrier in their day. It might make them nervous to go, they may need some confidence to attend. If you’ve done the hardest thing in your day first, the rest of your day will be easier. If you’re a little nervous about the gym, the earlier you go, the quieter it is.
My 6am squad say that they’ve done the hardest part of their day and are home and showering by a little after 7am. Imagine rocking up to work knowing that you’ve done the hardest thing you said you were going to do already, and after work all your evening is your own. Pyjamas by 6pm? Yes please.
You will probably be training fasted – having eaten nothing yet that morning. This isn’t a problem, but if you’ve been training in the evening and now you’re trying out the mornings, you might need to adjust your expectations, especially with regard to strength.
Besides, once your feet are on the floor, you feel okay. Sure, that alarm is a little early but the boost to your productivity and mental focus for the rest of the day is worth it.
Working out in the evening.
If you just can’t bring yourself to train first thing, and you can only make it after work, you’ve got some benefits too.
You’ll have had a chance to properly wake up – and be well fuelled, on at least one and possibly two meals. That means you’re likely to be stronger, and more alert than the morning folks.
The gym is busier, often with instructor led classes at this time. This is a great opportunity to socialise with friends, get a trusted spotter, or even make the most of your membership with a group fitness class.
Evening workouts are usually a little less rushed – you’re not clock watching to get to work. You can take your time, and plan your post work out meal around your training – a really practical benefit.
There’s something quite cosy about getting showered after the gym, putting your sweaty kit in the wash and getting straight into pyjamas. I am mildly preoccupied with pyjamas.
However, exercising in the evening can mean a later night getting to bed. I always felt energised after a workout, and so I might go to sleep later if training after 6pm.
There’s research to support the idea of intentionally timing your most important behaviours. If this interests you, Daniel H. Pink wrote an excellent book, “When” about this, which discusses how highly important tasks shouldn’t be left until the afternoon as mood as well as cognitive function dips. There’s another book called “Eat That Frog” by Brain Tracy about tackling the most challenging aspects of your day straight away, and not waiting or warming up to them with other, lower value tasks.
To conclude; get your work out done. When you do it is less important than the fact that you’ve done it. Morning and evening people are likely to disagree about when the “best” time to workout is. Try both and see what works better for your lifestyle.