Morning? Afternoon? Evening? Does it even matter?
Credit: GETTY IMAGES/STEPHANIEFREY
It’s a debate that never seems to get settled: Is it better to exercise in the morning or at night?
The research is certainly mixed. Lara Carlson, Ph.D., associate professor of applied exercise science at the University of New England says that many studies favour the morning. “There’s research that has looked at people engaging in the morning versus afternoon exercise, and those who exercise in the morning have lower blood pressure throughout the day and get better sleep,” she says.
That said, other studies show that people may have more power and strength during early evening workouts. A study published in the Journal Of Sports Sciences found that between 4 and 8 p.m. participants’ grip strength, vertical jump, and even reaction time were at their best compared to other times of day.
But when it really comes down to it, the answer is pretty simple: The best time to work out is whenever you can do it.
The busy moms, bosses, and athletes you’ll find here have perfected not only the sweat schedule that works for them, but also the motivation to keep it consistent. They’re not immune to feeling “meh”—they just have some tricks in their back pockets for getting out the door, whether it’s the first or very last thing they do.
1. Just do something.
There are definitely perks from sweating in the a.m. “Morning exercisers tend to have better adherence in the long run,” says Stephen Ball, Ph.D., a professor of exercise physiology and nutrition at the University of Missouri. “Life usually doesn’t get in the way as much at this time.”
Starting with a healthy choice can also have a snowball effect throughout the day. Household too hectic to scoot out to the gym in the morning? Set your alarm just 10 or 15 minutes earlier and do a few simple stretches or body-weight moves by your bed.
2. Start before you’re ready.
3. Get out ASAP.
“The longer you dillydally after you wake up, the easier it is to talk yourself out of your workout,” says Sellers. She keeps breakfast short and sweet: a graham cracker and a big glass of water. (Full breakfast comes post-run.) Laying out everything you’ll need the night before can help you go from bed to gym in minutes.
4. Make it meaningful.
Ashley Kimmel, a project manager and a Ph.D. student in Philadelphia, runs with Back on My Feet, an organization that combats homelessness through running. The feel-good vibes from volunteering before work give her a boost before the day even starts and keep her from hitting the snooze button over and over…and over again.
5. Buddy up.
Kimmel loves the accountability of a run group to help pull her out of bed in the morning. But you can score it with a long-distance friend too. Share your fitness goals, and ask for help in keeping on track. “My coach and I talk on the phone once or twice a week, and I never want to let him down and say I skipped a workout,” says Sellers.
6. Pencil it in.
Evening exercise can blast stress before bed (hello, happy hour!), but last-minute dinner invites can be an endorphin buzzkill. Michelle Cheng is a regular at 8 p.m. Tone House classes; she books them a week ahead, then lets her friends know. “I set expectations. They don’t ask me to hang out at those times, and I don’t get FOMO.”
7. Adjust mealtime
“When I have late workouts, I tend to shift my lunch later—to around two o’clock or so—and make sure to have a snack, like a granola bar, on me before class,” says Cheng. Another option: Sometimes she’ll grab a takeout dinner and have a small portion of it before the workout, then eat the rest after she finishes her sweat sesh.
8. Use your commute.
Make your workout your method of transportation. That’s how Jennifer Indig, who works at a think tank in New York City, fits in her daily workouts: She runs home from work. “It kills two birds with one stone,” she says. “I get home, and I knock out my exercise at the same time.” (Plus, when you finish, you enjoy the comfort of your own shower!)
9. Aim for less.
Indig sticks to her routine—even when she’s dragging—with a counterintuitive trick: She gives herself the option to go a shorter distance than originally planned. “I’ll tell myself that I can hop on the train if I need to,” she says. “The first couple of miles are always tough, but once I’m in a groove, I’m motivated to keep going.”
10. Wind down
An evening workout can leave you uplifted too. “I’m more likely to keep making healthy choices, like grabbing a can of LaCroix instead of a glass of wine,” says Indig. “It gives me more energy to play with my little ones too.” Use that boost to fuel better rest: Make some tea, do a face mask, foam-roll, or journal.
By Kristin Canning and Hayley Shapley
This article first appeared in Women’s Health Mag.