Some athletes crank out an early workout before dawn before their day kicks into high gear. Others hit the gym or the track at lunchtime, and some wait until after work to get in a session. And while there’s been a lot of talk about when to eat to maximize your fitness, researchers are only recently coming up with answers to the big question: what is the best time to work out?
A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity looked at 88 people who exercised five days per week over the course of 10 months. Researchers reviews participants’ exercise schedules and divided them into groups based on when they worked out. When comparing athletes who worked out before noon to those who exercised between 3 and 7 p.m, they found people who exercised in the morning lost significantly more weight than those who exercised later in the day.
What is the Best Time to Work Out?
Some studies find morning workouts may be better in terms of getting you to move more throughout the day improving blood pressure and sleep. Other research suggests workouts later in the day may help build more strength and enhance performance because your body temperature is warmer and may have quicker reaction times. Grain of salt here: The results of studies like these are complicated—sleep, nutrition, hormones and varied fitness goals all affect what is the best time to work out, based on a particular person.
What’s clear is that consistency is key, no matter when you exercise, says Erik Willis, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who lead the study of early and late exercisers. “You need to find something you enjoy doing, and do it consistently,” he says. “Exercising in the morning might be good for weight loss, but exercising any time is excellent.” Read on for how to build consistency in your workout routine any time of day.
6 Tips to Find Consistency In Your Fitness Routine
1. Daybreak or Sunset, A Little Prep Goes a Long Way
Whether you’re working out with the sun rise, or hitting the gym at lunch or after work, planning ahead makes it easier to stick with—and get the most out of—your training. For early workouts, get your clothes and anything else you need—water, nutrition, music—ready the night before, so that you’ll be ready to go when you wake up. Willis does strength training and stationary biking after work, and he makes sure to bring the right clothes with him so that he doesn’t have to make any detours on the way to the gym. And he suggests scheduling workouts on the same days each week so you don't have to think about whether or not to exercise—you just do it.
Willis also plans ahead by loading up workout apps in advance or creating his own program to keep his workouts from being repetitive. The Spartan Get Fit Fast program offers a free training routine that maps out four weeks of workouts you can do almost anywhere, as well as targeted programs aimed at different OCR goals.
Related: How to Get Ready for a Spartan Race
2. Turn Down the Intensity at Bedtime
Workouts any time of day can give you both the physical and mental benefits you need. However, Spartan SGX Coach Yancy Culp cautions against doing a strenuous workout, such as a HIIT session, right before bedtime. “It’s not the end of the world if you find yourself getting in a workout then,” Culp says, but it can mess with your body’s ability to wind down and get a good night’s sleep. Instead, late evening can be a good time to bring in other aspects of your training like meditation or myofascial release with a foam roller.
3. Buddy Up to Stay Motivated
Have trouble getting up when your alarm goes off (or end up heading toward happy hour instead of after-work training)? Finding a workout buddy or a team can help keep you honest with some “gracious peer pressure,” Culp says. Many Spartan teams have Facebook groups by location throughout the country that can help you find training partners. Culp’s online training programs offer a Facebook group for athletes for support and encouragement no matter where you are.
4. Don’t Sit on Your Laurels
Sometimes motivation—and consistent workouts—can drop off during the recovery days after your most recent race. “The moment your last race is over, you need to spend a little money and put another race on the calendar,” Culp says. (Need a little boost around the holidays? Check out the 2020 Spartan Race schedule here.)
5. No Time is a Good Time? Think Again.
What do you do on those days where morning, noon and night are already packed? Fit in a workout during little break windows throughout the day, and you won’t feel like you’ve lost ground. Culp has a free online workout that can be done in a cubicle in less than 10 minutes. (He does it in slacks, a button-down, and work shoes, so you can, too.) Or try our Spartan full-body bodyweight workout video that blasts through endurance and strength-building moves in just 10 minutes.
6. Structure Your Workouts—and Your Life—for Long-Term Satisfaction
Whatever time works best for you to work out, your goal should be to look back at your experience at the end of the day/week/year and feel good about it, Culp says. The workout itself matters much less than the overall quality of your life. Most athletes have families, work and other commitments that matter to them. “Maintaining healthy relationships and work-life balance has to be first. Then you mesh in that ‘selfish’ time,” Culp says. “Really and truly, it turns out not to be selfish, because everyone around you benefits.”