fitness · motivation

When do you work out?

My very strong preference is to work out early in the morning. Exercise first, write after.

But I’ve long been aware that it might not be optimal. If you have to choose between sleep and exercise, from a health point of view, sleep wins hands down. It’s not even a contest. (Note to self: blog about why this is so later.)

I’m an early riser by long habit though and once I’m up, I’m up. I sleep and wake up as if I have an on/off switch. And usually I’m in bed early and get enough sleep.

Just last night my partner stopped by our bed and noted he was going downstairs for while but first he’d sit and read and watch me fall asleep. “It’s not like it takes very long,” he said. And it’s true. I do use an alarm clock but often I wake before it goes off and I’m not a user/abuser of the snooze button. (His alarm, on the other hand, is set so that to turn it off you need to do math problems on the ‘challenging’ setting.) But I’m digressing.

My point is that I do my best workouts early in the day.

This isn’t good though when your races are in the evening. I know that you ought to train, some of the time at least, at the same time as you race. And very few races are held at 6 am.

In Australia it was worse because I didn’t have a car and I had to ride to the point where training was held, usually a good 20 km out of town. And I’m old enough to like coffee and a real breakfast before I leave the house. So to make 6 am training I set a 430 am alarm. It’s called Stupid O’Clock in my pull down alarm menu. The photo above is from one of those early morning rides, love watching the sun rise as I bike.

I’ve also trained in the evening. Not because I like to but it’s when things were scheduled. All of my running clinics were evening affairs, ditto track training at the velodrome, ditto masters swimming, ditto Aikido, now rowing. The only one of those that I can right to sleep after is swimming. Something about cold water and  warm jammies.

But now there’s research that says both times are wrong and that afternoon is best.

Why Afternoon May Be the Best Time to Exercise by Gretchen Reynolds:

“The heart, the liver, the brain — all are controlled by an endogenous circadian rhythm,” says Christopher Colwell, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles’s Brain Research Institute, who led a series of new experiments on how exercise affects the body’s internal clock. The studies were conducted in mice, but the findings suggest that exercise does affect our circadian rhythms, and the effect may be most beneficial if the exercise is undertaken midday.

I posted the Reynolds’ story to Facebook and a friend shared a link about chronobiology, a burgeoning research area. Timing is Everything: Modern life is 24-7, but there may be negative consequences to defying our body’s internal clock by Cynthia Macdonald.

While there may be 24 hours fitness centres in most cities, probably the majority of us should stay away from exercise after early evening.

Though there are outliers of course. After coming home from the Canadian Society for Women in Philosophy where I encountered for the first time the word “chrononormativity” I’ve been thinking about time and the judgements we make about those who keep unusual schedules. I’m also a parent of sleepy teenagers who struggle to make their internal clocks match the beat of adult, working life.

Sleep and schedules are often on my mind. Not sure if I’ll ever become an afternoon exerciser though.

Are there times of day that you like best for exercise? Any times you avoid?

5 thoughts on “When do you work out?

  1. Early evenings for me or late afternoon depending on my personal training appointments. I have in the past trained early morning but can’t say I really enjoyed it…but that’s just me..

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  2. I’ve heard that the best time to engage in resistance training at least is after you’ve had two complete meals, including adequate protein. So it probably depends on your sleeping schedule and your eating schedule. If you work out really late at night and it causes you to lose sleep, I would at least think that could cause real problems. Adequate sleep is imperative. So – as long as you get good sleep and work out after at least two full meals, I think you should be fine. Whether there is any difference for cardio training, I haven’t a clue.

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  3. I find I perform better at bootcamp (lots of strength based activity) in the early morning, but better at running in the late morning/early afternoon. If only I could win the lottery so I had the flexibility to workout when my body wants too. Alas, work, kids and family schedules often dictate when I can get my fit on.

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  4. I usually go for early mornings, not because I prefer to work out then but because if I don’t, there is a higher probability of my workout getting pushed aside. Now that I am on leave and have a more flexible schedule, I tend to schedule my runs, cardio, or yoga for either late morning, mid-afternoon, or (in the case of yoga) sometimes at 5. Resistance training is still at 6 a.m., but I only do that because I go with my partner who has a less flexible schedule. If I had nothing else to take into account, I would probably do it around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, when I feel stronger. I do not like to compromise on sleep either.

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