Early birds can never seem to say enough about the joys of morning exercise. Like we get it, you’re super awake right now. But if you’re not a morning person, waking up an extra hour and a half earlier sounds not only like torture, but also physically impossible. So is it just a matter of personal preference, or are there physical and psychological benefits to exercising at a particular time of day?
Most of the fitness coaches I spoke with told me that it truly does depend on the individual. “There is no hard and fast research that says either morning or night exercise is better,” says personal trainer Maurice Williams. “However, there are certainly benefits to doing either depending on the person.” Personal trainer Lee Pickering advises that “it’s really up to you to know when your body is most capable of an effective workout.”
[Related: What Super Successful People Do for Exercise]
On whether working out in the morning magically revs up your metabolism, Demmy James, a strength and conditioning specialist says, “Working out at any time improves your metabolic rate to a certain extent. Receiving that metabolic boost during the morning or the evening will not make a difference when it comes to caloric expenditure or body composition adjustments. The most important takeaway is that folks should be focused on exercising in general and worry less about the time of day. Metabolic adaptations will occur regardless of whether the sun is rising or setting.”
But there are pros and cons specific to early bird exercisers and night owl gym enthusiasts. Read on:
Pros of Morning Exercise
1. You’ll feel more energized.
“You will probably have more energy in the morning,” says personal trainer Henry Halse. “Depending on how stressful your job is, both physically and mentally, working all day and then going in to the gym may be unrealistic. If you find that you can never muster up the energy to work out at night, try working out in the morning before work. That way you won’t have used up all of your energy and your workouts will likely be less of a drag.”
2. You can burn fat fast.
“If you work out in the morning before eating or after eating just a protein bar, you will get greater results [in terms of burning fat],” says PLYOGA Fitness founder and CEO Stephanie Lauren. “American diets are high in sugar. Your body will attack sugar first and then go after fat during a workout. If you work out in the morning, the ability of your body to attack fat over sugar is greater because you haven’t consumed most sugars yet at this point.”
3. There’s also the psychological boost.
“The psychological benefits of morning workouts are paramount,” Lauren says. “You clear your mind and give yourself positive energy for the entire day. Most Fortune 500 CEOs workout in the morning for this reason.”
Con of Morning Exercise: Increased Risk of Injury
“A more thorough warm up will be needed in the morning, especially if you’ll be using resistance training exercises where you’re bending,” says fitness and nutrition coach Sean Flanagan. Dr. Jason Miller also expressed concern over the lower back for morning exercisers. “While we sleep, our discs swell with water, making them extra fluffy and more adapt to herniate or ‘slip’ if performing high spinal compression exercises like the back squat or repeated spinal flexion exercises like rowing (if not performed properly). It takes about an hour or so for those discs to get back to normal. So for the early exerciser who likes to hit the weights hard, getting up even earlier to ensure spinal health is important.”
Pros of Evening Exercise
1. You’re more physically prepared.
“Assuming you’re not working out so late that you’re tired, your nervous system will be more ready for a great workout than in the morning,” Flanagan says. “In addition, you’ll likely have more food in your system. All this contributes to the potential to use heavier weights and do more repetitions, which will lead to more calories burned during and after the session.”
2. It allows for lengthier sessions.
James cites the potential for lengthier workouts as a physical and social benefit of evening exercise, with “longer warm ups, greater rest periods to allow for substrate replenishment, time to decompress, de-stress, and socialize with training partners.”
3. It’s safer for power and strength workouts.
Many of the fitness experts I interviewed agree that explosive exercises—like power cleans or squats—should be performed in the evening. “Doing that type of work in the morning is not as effective or potentially as safe as in the evening,” Miller says.
Con of Evening Exercise: Potential Sleep Disruption
“Exercise, like any other stressor, increases cortisol levels. Cortisol revs your body up—raises blood pressure, increases alertness, etc,” says pharmacist Brandon Allen. “Exercising in the evening makes your cortisol spike at a time when your cortisol levels should be declining. This can interfere with sleep patterns.”
Again, while it’s good to keep these things in mind, we’ll let the words of life and wellness coach Danielle Faust be the last word: “Whatever time you can work out is the best time to work out.”
Photo: Justin Case / Getty Images