With more time at home during the quarantine, we’re more organized, active, and productive as ever. Or at least we’re trying to be.

This quarantine has led thousands of people to engage in a new norm with their daily schedule. Some people have nothing but time, with nothing to do but watch Tiger King at home while they plan to return to work one day (and no judgment if this resonates with you). Others may be making themselves more busy by engaging in side projects or working on honing a craft as their normal schedule has lightened. Some people may have had more work dumped on their plate since COVID-19 due to changing job environments. Whatever our day-to-day looks like right now, we still need to find time for things that are beneficial for our health, such as eating well, staying active, and connecting with friends and loved ones as much as possible.

To help you with at least one of those pillars and decrease your stress, for the past few weeks I’ve created a few at-home bodyweight programs to help guide you in an exercise practice during this quarantine. My intention is to release a free bodyweight workout program (link) every week during this lockdown so that we can continue to control our physical health to the best of our abilities. Movement is medicine, and we need all we can get at the moment (within reason).

An interesting topic I wanted to touch on this week was whether your exercise practice could have different implications for your body depending on what time of day you decide to exercise. Some early birds love to get the sweat worm in the morning, while others like to hit the gym later in the day to de-stress after a long day of work or school. Especially during the quarantine, we want to squeeze our movement practice into our daily schedule as best as we can, but is there a specific time of day that’s better for us to exercise and better for our health?   

Yun Seo and colleagues in 2013 conducted a review of multiple studies that looked into different implications of exercise in the morning versus in the afternoon. They reviewed articles that covered different types of training (aerobic, anaerobic, and resistance training) and found that these different modes of training had mixed results at best. For aerobic exercise, anaerobic exercise, and resistance training, there were at least a few studies in each category that supported doing exercises in the morning versus in the afternoon and vice-versa. In terms of measuring variables such as muscle strength, cardiac output, and VO2max from exercise during different times of day, multiple bodies of research show conflicting evidence as well(Yun Seo et al, 2013).

Equally interesting is that exercising at different times of day may not have a definitive influence on our hormonal levels as well. The main hormones in our body that play a large role in our body’s physiology during exercise have their own daily cycles (known as diurnal patterns). For the most part, hormones like testosterone, growth hormone, and cortisol tend to naturally elevate at night or in the morning and then slowly decrease as the day progresses (not accounting for a brief hormonal surge you may have following exercise or after a stressful situation). Catecholamines, hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine that are more prevalent in your fight-or-flight response, tend to naturally rise as the day progresses to allow the body deal with common daily stressors (CSCS textbook). Even with this natural hormonal balance that occurs in our body on a daily basis, not much research has shown how exercise at a specific time of day significantly affects the rhythm of natural hormonal release, or even increases in a hormonal response that may warrant an increase in muscle size or power (Yun Seo et al, 2013).

 So, the short answer to our previous question is: No. As of right now, the research shows there does not seem to be a better time of day to exercise and reap more benefits. However, an individual’s exercise routine during a certain time of day is going to affect them differently compared to the person next to them. For example, for most people I know, exercising in the evening leads to a higher likelihood of insomnia that same night after working out. Using myself as an example, weirdly enough I feel that working out at night allows my body to sleep more soundly that same night. This might seem odd but I use this comparison to share with clients and friends that, put simply, everyone’s body is different and everybody reacts to exercise differently.

The truth is, there are potential benefits from working out in the morning AND working out in the evening. In the morning, exercise may be your opportunity to jumpstart your metabolism, kickstart your energy levels and build momentum into your busy day. In the evening, exercise may grant you an hour of freedom to de-stress after a long day of work, be something that you can look forward to during the day, and/or be a reason to sleep in a little that morning before work or school. Ultimately, everyone may differ in their response to exercising at certain times of day because our body’s physiological response may be a product of our age, sex, training background, how long we exercise that day, our current mood, etc.

So, while there may not be a definitive time of day (as of now) that is labeled as the best time to exercise, we know that having the opportunity to move at all is a massive win. Everyone is different, but a little self-experimentation may be warranted to find out what time of day works best for your movement practice. While the research may vary, I believe the best time to do your workout is when you can most consistently workout amidst your personal schedule. Doing so will give your body the opportunity to feel well from exercise and allow you to take more control of your day.

Enjoy the week!

Nati Schnitman

CSCS

References

Haff G, Triplett T. (2016) Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. National Strength and Conditioning Association. 4th edition, pp 74-84.

Yun Seo, D; Lee, S; Kim, N; Soo Ko, K; Doo Rhee, B; Joo Park, B; Han, J. Morning and Evening Exercise. Integrative Medicine Research. (2013) 139-144.