Let’s face it - getting into the habit of training is a difficult task. Even more difficult is training on set days and times, consistently. Balancing your career, personal relationships, and social life can make you feel like you’re constantly being pulled in a million different directions. That’s why it is vitally important to pick set days and times to train if you want to ensure consistency. Most trainers worth listening to will tell you that more than anything else, consistency with your training is the most important key to success and results. If you have made room in your calendar each week for training sessions, this can prevent yourself from falling into the common trap of allowing your workouts to fall to the bottom of your to-do list.
Sometimes your work schedule almost completely dictates when you have time to try and squeeze in your workouts. If you work a typical 9-5, you must either train early in the morning, quickly during your lunch break, or later in the evening.
Understanding that not all work schedules are the same, you must also take into account when you typically have the most energy and feel the most ready to exert yourself physically. Some people are wide awake and ready to take on the world at 5:00 AM, while others are definitely night owls. While there are many factors at play when it comes to deciding when to train, here are some considerations for opting for AM training sessions.
1. Life is a lot less likely to get in the way.
Ask yourself: How many times have you woken up in the morning with your gym time set in your calendar for after work or on the way home from work? Now ask yourself: How many times have your well-intentioned plans been thwarted by your boss asking you to stay longer to finish a project, your friends asking you to come out with them after work, or the exhaustion from a long day at work turning your desire to get a good workout into a stronger desire to just go home, shower, and relax?
It’s all too common; I know from personal experience, as well as working with numerous clients with demanding jobs. By training in the morning, you help prevent other things like work from interfering. The earlier in the day you are able to get your workout in, the less likely you are to have other things come up, and thus are more likely to stick to it regularly. Not only that, but the mental distractions and anxiety that can build up over the course of a long day can also negatively impact your performance in the gym even if you do make it there.
Working out in the morning helps you to build consistency with your training by avoiding interferences, and it also optimizes your ability to train harder and with better focus.
2. Your Nervous System is Usually More Primed for Motor Learning
Building on the point I made above, I’ve noticed far better focus and performance in most people I’ve trained during the morning than later in the evening or after work (myself included).
While I haven’t encountered any scientific studies that support why this may be, I believe that the brain may have an easier time learning and implementing new motor skills in the morning. What science does tell us is that adequate sleep is imperative for motor learning. Knowing this, it makes sense to infer that being well rested translates to better performance.
Every single client I’ve ever trained, I’ve made it a habit to start sessions with the following question: “How are you feeling?” I want to know whether or not you are sore, stressed, and fatigued, or are energetic, focused, and ready to go! This is an important question to ask yourself as well. Countless times I’ve had clients sluggishly stagger into the gym in the evening after a long day of work completely wiped out. Far less often have I had clients stagger into the gym in the morning with that same demeanor.
3. It allows you to take advantage of higher levels of performance-enhancing hormones, specifically testosterone.
Two of the major players in the anabolism-catabolism dichotomy are testosterone and cortisol. It helps to take advantage of how these hormones fluctuate in response to exercise, and also how they affect performance during training. It is a much more complex relationship between the two than “testosterone is good; cortisol is bad.” In general, however, higher testosterone levels will give you an edge with your training.
It is well understood that testosterone levels are typically higher in the morning than in the evening for both males and females. Testosterone is one of the most important hormones for increasing performance in the weight room, on the track, or on the field. Training in the morning helps us to take advantage of these elevated levels of testosterone to be able to push harder and for longer than we perhaps would if we trained later in the day. It is also well understood that cortisol levels rise with stress. As the day goes on and life stressors add up, our cortisol levels may rise along with it.
Most performance enhancing drugs are synthetic derivatives of testosterone. That alone should tell you how important natural testosterone is for performance both in the gym — and in bed! Take advantage of this, and train when your testosterone levels are the highest. Simply put, you are more likely to perform better in the morning than at night from a hormonal standpoint.
4. It helps to Form Better Sleeping Habits
Training too late into the evening can adversely affect your ability to fall asleep. This is primarily because of how the autonomic nervous system (ANS) works. To oversimplify it, the ANS is a constantly fluctuating balance between the sympathetic (think “fight or flight”) and parasympathetic nervous system (think rest & digest).
Just like when we work long hours into the night and accumulate stress and fatigue, we become trapped in an overstimulated, sympathetic state. When we are revved up like that, heart rate increases, blood vessels dilate, more blood is pumping through your body, and you are more alert and energetic. This is an important survival mechanism, and also serves to help us accomplish some amazing things.
However, a very common issue in today’s society is the fact that most people are overstressed and have struggles with the ensuing anxiety; they are basically TOO sympathetic all the time. This becomes the case when we have a hard time down regulating, and don’t give ourselves a chance to rest and relax. Balancing the intensity with peace and calm is extremely important, particularly for recovery from intense training.
In order to get results from your training, you need to optimize your sleep. You can do everything else right, but if your sleep is off, your results will suffer dramatically. By training earlier in the day, you will not only allow yourself more time in the evening to relax, but you will also allow a better window for evening meal(s). Eating late at night, much like training, can sometimes adversely affect your ability to sleep. One important bullet point in regards to optimizing your sleep is that you need your body temperature to decrease. Eating later in the evening, by way of the thermic effect of food (TEF), raises your body temperature higher than normal and often affects your ability to fall asleep. I can attest to this personally.
I realize that not everyone’s schedule allows them to train during the morning, or even early afternoon. That being said, it is perfectly fine to train at other times of day if that works better for you and your schedule. These are several important benefits to consider when thinking about your training schedule. If you can train in the morning, then you should train in the morning. If you can’t, then just do the best you can.