I’ve been working out ever since I was a teenager, and I’ve exercised at all manner of different times as my life and schedule changes. The question is whether there is an optimal time to exercise.
First – the best time to exercise is when you feel at your strongest and most energised. Obviously.
For most of the population that is going to be early to late afternoon. But the problem with this is that most of us are working at this time. Another reason that the 9-5 is an outdated and stupid model but that’s a whole other topic.
So the second best time to exercise is when you feel your strongest and most energised AND can fit it into your schedule.
Before we determine the best time to workout, we need to define how many hours per week you are going to commit to exercise.
Resistance training and cardio are both important as most of you reading this are looking to get in better shape to feel confident and be healthy.
My standard rule for most of the women I work with is 3-5 times per week exercise plan for 30-60 minutes. Long enough to warm up, work out, cool down and get on with the rest of your day.
You want to make sure you are doing a mixture of weights and cardio, not one or the other. The best split is either 60 – 40% roughly either way or 50 – 50.
For example if you commit to exercise 3 times per week then that would be either two resistance training sessions to one cardio session or one resistance training session to two cardio sessions. You need BOTH.
So here are the times when it’s best to exercise depending on your personal preference and lifestyle.
Early morning (4-7 AM)
This is for the super-duper early morning person that naturally wakes up very early and wants to get their workout done before the day begins. I have only ever taught fitness classes in this time frame and have never worked out this early because my body doesn’t naturally wake up at this time.
If you are someone that wakes up this early then I say go for it if you feel good. However you shouldn’t be working out at this time if you are forcing yourself to wake up and sacrificing sleep.
Sleep is more important to your overall health and weight loss results long-term than having to beast your way through an early morning gym session or boot camp. I’d rather you workout for 15 minutes at your lunch break than break a sleep cycle for just a workout.
Morning (7-9 AM)
This is the time to train if you want to get your session in before work. I followed this pattern back in 2016 and 2019 as I didn’t want to have to go to the gym at busier periods of the day which I’ll come onto in just a bit.
It also reduces the chance of skipping your workout later in the day as your stress levels build and responsibilities take over making you more tired. But you may not want to workout right before work, especially if you need to shower and get changed which I know takes an age for you ladies.
Late morning (9 – 12)
If you don’t work a typical 9 – 5 wok pattern this is another option for you. Upside is that this is one of the quietest times to get a session in for gyms, and you can get a lot of important tasks done before you workout and use this as a time to come away from your responsibilities.
The issue with this time is that as mentioned, it’s only great if you don’t work 9 – 5. It’s not great if you work late night shifts either because this will be the time you are sleeping.
Afternoon (12 – 5)
As I mentioned before this is the best time to workout hands down. You’re awake enough to feel energised to exercise. You likely have already had 1-2 meals to help fuel your workout. If you’re clever you would have cleaned out the most important tasks of your day and won’t have a busy to-do-list waiting for you. And there is some evidence to suggest this is the time we are most likely to be at our strongest and fittest in the day.
As with the late morning time frame it’s going to be work dependent. If you aren’t allowed to sneak away for a workout you’ll have to find another suitable time.
Post-work (5 – 7)
The time of the day that is probably most the popular time to exercise and for good reason. Most people have finished work so the most obvious solution is to either head straight to the gym or plonk your bits down as soon as you get in and start working out. get their workouts done before dinner.
Sadly, because this time frame is so popular it means that gyms are packed. If you workout from home this isn’t a problem for you. You also risk having lower energy levels, especially if you’ve had a busy day.
Late evening (7 – Midnight)
Some people try and beat the post-work rush at the gym or getting a session in after the kids are in bed by delaying their workouts until later on into the evening, usually after 7:00 pm.
The problem with this time frame is that it can be difficult to navigate dinner plans and most people feel tired around this time. The longer you wait in the day the harder it is to get motivated to do the work. It’s almost easier to exercise in a busier gym and get an average session in or do it before dinner because any workout is better than no workout.
Another big problem is sleep. The closer to bedtime you workout the harder it is to unwind and relax and you can negatively affect your recovery.
I’m surprised that not more people pick this time frame. Having worked in gyms this is usually a quiet period. If you workout 5 times per week you could do 3 weekday sessions and get 2 in on the weekends. And because you likely don’t have work you can be done and dusted all before 9:00 am.
The biggest downside of weekend workouts is having plans that interrupt your workouts. Family, friends and trips out can all derail a weekend workout.
The most important principle is to get a session in. So if that means having to juggle around a few things or get a session in early don’t be afraid to prioritise your health and body confidence goals.