James Krieger, a published scientist, says that after reviewing all the research, for beginners it doesn’t really matter if they lift weights in the morning, afternoon, or evening.
He did say that there may be a slight edge to afternoon training for advanced lifters. (pay-wall review)
Menno Henselmans, a published scientist, also found that the afternoon is generally the best time for those trying to optimize their strength gains since it works best with your body’s circadian rhythm. Ideally, the workout would happen at least 6 hours after you wake up.
But these are small details. An optimal time of day workout is something only someone who’s been training diligently for years would need to consider.
When getting into working out, what matters is not what time you work out, but rather:
- that you’re exercising at all
- your consistency
Consistency in working out will always trump small details like the optimal time to work out.
And research seems to be showing that the longer you train at a particular time, the better you’ll get at it. So even if you can only lift in the morning, and you lose a tiny bit of optimal strength, your body will continue to get better at it over time. (study, study)
So, to help your consistency, you should pick a time that works best for your energy, lifestyle, family, work, and preferences.
What time works best for you?
Does the morning work better for you? Great. Just spend a few more minutes warming up, and eat something light with a bit of protein.
Something you might want to try is having a black coffee, a banana, and a workout shake to sip on as you lift weights.
If the afternoon works best for you, your body temperature will already be warmed up, and you’d have already eaten a substantial meal with a hearty amount of protein a couple of hours before. You’re pretty set to lift.
If the evening works best, try keeping the end of your exercise at least one hour away from when you sleep. So if you go to bed at 11 pm, make sure your workout is finished before 10 pm. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but there is new evidence that working out will influence your circadian rhythm such as when you feel perky and when you feel sleepy (specifically changing your melatonin production, 2018 review). Too much is unknown at this point, which is why you’ll need to do some trial and error to see what feels best for you until the science is more established.
Our experience coaching others + my take
Stressful job? Try working out in the morning or at lunch if possible
Many people work a stressful job with a commute, and by the time they get home, they are too tired to motivate themselves to lift heavy weights.
For those guys, sometimes by going to bed a little earlier, waking up a little earlier, and working out in the morning when they’re still fresh will allow them to get their workout in. It’s true that they might feel a little more tired by the time they arrive at work, but there are lots of other factors that will help them to work well still (social pressure to perform, environmental cues to stay focused, etc.) Also, as they get used to working out, their body will become tougher and better able to handle the workouts, and so that issue of being a bit tired at work should go away.
My favourite time to work out
Over the past nine years, I’ve tried working out at pretty much every type of time, from as early as 5:30 am sessions to as late as 9 pm sessions. In the morning, I find it difficult to get out of bed early enough before work (especially living in Toronto, a high-latitude city, where the early morning is often pitch black over the year). And depending on how taxing my lifting session felt, I did notice it negatively affecting my focus while working at home. (However, doing cardio in the morning didn’t seem to hurt my focus for the day.)
And working out too late at night, I found it more challenging to have the motivation to get off the couch and exercise when I felt like relaxing after a long day. On top of that, late-night gym sessions made me feel hot and a little too restless while in bed.
Right now, my favourite time to lift weights is around 2–4 pm. I wake up around 6:30 am, my family and I get ready for the day, I do some mobility warm-ups and jumping jacks to perk up, get a solid day of work in, then I lift weights while sipping on a workout shake, then after that our family begins to cook dinner.
The final word:
Keep it simple and do your workout when it works best for you. It’ll take some trial and error to figure it out, and that’s okay.
And if you’re a beginner and want to get started with working out, check out our free beginner’s workout here (there’s one for men and one for women)
So, what do you think? Have you found a good time that works best for your lifestyle?