What is the best time to exercise?

There is a question often asked that is worth exploring. What is the best time of day to workout? Perhaps a better question to ask is what time of day does your body best respond to exercise?

Let’s address the first question. What time is the best time of day to workout? It all depends on you, your schedule, peak energy and in some cases, your age. If you are an early morning person and make it to the gym, you see a good cross-section of people working out. If you have ever done a late night workout, you see a much younger crowd full of late-night energy to bust out their fitness regimen.

The bottom line to which time of day is a preference defined based on a person-specific set of likes, energy levels and motivations. But what time of day does your physical body get the most significant benefit from exercise?

Here we are with what should be a simple question to answer based on science right? Not so much, our bodies are very complex, with everything from age, hormone levels and gender, each creating a set of variables making a simple explanation as to what time of day is optimal to exercise difficult.

First, let’s get one aspect out of the way. Routine and consistency is your friend when it comes to setting up a highly beneficial exercise regimen regardless of time of day. Our bodies are very good at repetition and adaptation to physical exercise. So good in fact that doing the same training the same way at the same time of day over time will result in a plateau and stalled fitness development. Something to keep in mind.

The next piece of the puzzle is hormones; testosterone is highest in the morning. Testosterone plays a part in both men and women, so the idea that testosterone is at it’s peak in the morning would suggest leveraging an AM workout would be best, but perhaps not. Cortisol is also at it’s peak in the morning which may be counterproductive for some people.

But wait, our bodies are just getting started in the morning, so we are not at peak performance with oxygen uptake and cold muscles. Your core body temperature consistently increases throughout the day, as does your muscle strength and endurance, usually hitting it’s peak in the afternoon.

So you can see this question of optimizing a time of day that has the best benefit for the body is tricky. All of this leads us to a different mindset on how to best set up our weekly exercise regimen.

Here is where we need to shift our workout strategies based on research and in-depth studies. Our bodies respond well to mild and moderate cardiovascular exercises in the morning. Studies have also found our bodies react best to physical resistance exercise due to core body temperature along with optimal oxygen uptake in the afternoons. Due to our circadian rhythms and sleep cycle, there is little payback for cardio or resistance training after the sun goes down so late night workouts may, in fact, hurt your progress.

Taking the two best times of the day, morning for cardio and resistance training after 3 p.m., to maximize positive results for your body seems to make sense. Now the trick to all this is re-jiggering your lifestyle and schedule around splitting your cardiovascular workouts separately from your resistance training. Can you manage such a split within a busy schedule? It’s hard to say. One thing is sure, if you want to maximize your fitness, it will take dedication, hard work and commitment to a schedule.

Here are a few things to consider:

Morning Cardio

w Cardio first thing in the morning prior to eating has some big benefits. Coming out of sleep, your body is in a fasted state which when coupled with exercise will increase fat oxidation and higher rate of lipolysis which means you are breaking down fat more efficiently to fuel your morning cardio.

w Once a morning cardio schedule is established, some find it easier to get a consistent cardio workout regimen developed. Since research clearly shows more benefit from these morning regimens, they will give you the most bang for your efforts.

w Starting your day with a mild to moderate cardio workout will clear your head and set your day up for a more favorable outcome. Morning cardio certainly gives the benefit of better cognitive function due to blood flow and elevated heart rate.

Late Afternoon Resistance Training

w Starting an afternoon resistance training regimen seems to be the optimal time to work your musculature system. Both muscle strength and muscle endurance tend to peak after midday.

w During the late afternoon, your body temperature is usually at it’s peak and your muscles are more flexible, making for better form and reduced chance of injury.

w Studies have found the body does well in the afternoon during resistance training in spiking testosterone. There seems to be tangible scientific evidence that resistance training gives you a needed hormone boost in the late afternoon. This boost is helpful in muscle development for both men and women.

w Resistance training does well when well fed. Assuming you had breakfast after your cardio and a small lunch by late afternoon, your body has the needed fuel for a great workout.

w Finally, late afternoon resistance training is a great way to lose stress from the day and set yourself up for better sleep. The endorphins from exercise help your body wind down for rest and repair. As long as you allow two or more hours between workout and bedtime, it should not effect your ability to sleep.

It seems the best practice for optimal benefit from exercise is to split your cardio into mornings and resistance training into late afternoon.

Now you need to figure out how to build your lifestyle and schedule around this two prong approach.


Judd Jones is a certified primal health coach and fitness consultant. He can be reached at jjones@cdapress.com www.jhanawellness.com.


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