One of the most frequent questions I’m asked?
“When should I train?” or “When is the best time to workout?”
Like so many other questions I field, is:
Sorry to be vague though, so I’m going to give you some individualization options, that you can optimize to find the right time of day for you.
Late afternoon and early evening seem ideal given hormone structures and the recovery process, BUT… could potentially keep some people up and make you more likely to skip the gym after a long day of work.
Remember that finding what works for you is more important than ‘best possible scenario…’
1) Are you a Lark, Hummingbird or a Night Owl?
Meaning when are you most productive? Are you up late at night and dread getting up in the morning? Or are you in bed before 9:30 and up before 6 AM?
If you’re a lark, you’re 1 in 10 people and you like getting up and getting at the day, usually very early, think 5 AM even. You do your best work earlier in the morning, express feelings of being wide awake upon waking and probably feel tired by 8-9 PM.
If you’re a night owl, you’re 2 in 10 people who dread getting up in the morning, frequently sleep in past 10 AM, stay up until 2-3 AM. You do your best work often late at night, express feelings of being wide awake later in the day, and can frequently have insomnia-like-tendencies.
The other 70% of the population are called hummingbirds, in that they express patterns of behavior most like the circadian rhythm behaviors I’m going to describe in Part 2.
You can be a hummingbird with lark or owl tendencies too, meaning you prefer to stay up late and sleep later, or you prefer to get up earlier and go to bed earlier, but not at the extremes like pure larks and owls would.
Getting ‘exercise’ out of the way is a surefire way to make it a priority in the day, much like your boss encourages you to get your most important tasks under your belt as soon as possible in the day.
It will also most likely put you in a better mood for the rest of the day, making you more productive, energized and effective.
If you find yourself tired and cranky in the morning, like the seemingly majority of the population, well then you might fall into the 5 PM rush (the busiest time at the gym, by far…).
If you’re like me, you hate working out when the gym is packed. People often tell me they skip the 5 PM to go later, or sometimes they’ll skip workouts — the latter is obviously not good if you’re trying to create a physical change.
I can empathize with people about the additional stress of trying to find an open locker, finding open pieces of equipment, and generally avoiding crowds in a busy commercial gym.
This is probably one of the biggest deterring factors of many people in regards to fitness.
However, please keep in mind that consistency is perhaps one of the most important requirements of hitting your weight loss objectives, so we can’t just accept defeat there.
2) Work Situation
If you hate the 5 PM gym rush, then you may be able to take a look at your current work situation.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with doctors, lawyers, office workers, restauranteurs, shift workers, night workers, early morning workers, and everything in between.
Your work situation can play a big role on the time of day you choose to workout.
For instance, I’m at a gym most of the day, most days of the week. That’s a pretty low barrier of resistance for me not to get some physical exercise in, pretty much daily.
If however, you’re a shift worker, you may be lucky enough to miss that 5 PM rush.
It’s been my experience that 8 hour shift workers, usually start earlier in the day and finish earlier so they can hit the gym at 3 or 4, or they work afternoons and can go to the gym late (if they like) or get up at 9 or 10 and hit the gym — even if you’re a night owl, this seems far easier than a 7 AM workout.
Likewise, 12 hour shifts usually go 7 to 7, and while you may not want to workout after 12 hours of work, when you have to go back in to work in another 12 hours but that option is there at a relatively less busy gym time.
It might make sense to hit the gym on the last 12 shift of a cycle, get a good sleep, then hit the gym again harder on your days off.
Typically 12 hour shift workers, get a lot of days off during the week, so you could also make plans to get more training in on your days off, optimized to your shift cycle.
Work hours in the traditional setting are getting more and more flexible too.
As things like ROWE, flextime, and telecommuting become more popular, you may be able to get away from the office for an hour or an hour and a half at less busy gym times.
Maybe you can work from home one or two days a week, or maybe you can go into work for 4 hours, hit the gym, then finish your work from home later that night after the kids are in bed and you feel productive again — many people experience an increase in body temperature peaking at around 8 PM, when body temperature is high, we tend to be able to focus more easily and thus are generally more productive.
If you’re sneaking out for a long lunch, you may have noticed it is still a fairly busy time.
Maybe it’s ideal for you eat something, and head to the gym at 2 or 3 — this is a time of day for most people where our circadian rhythm lowers our body temperature, making us feel slightly lethargic and unproductive anyway, so you might as well exercise a little to try and curb that, and make physical use of a mentally unproductive time; you can tell your boss I said that — or go a little earlier at 10 AM or 11 AM, also quiet times at most gyms.
Many people I’ve worked with assume they are locked in a set work schedule, but as one of my clients famously tells me all the time:
“You never know until you ask.”
Many people avoid the potential conflict (or rejection) of asking to do some work from home, take a longer lunch break, take a longer coffee break in the morning or afternoon.
There is however, almost always some simple compromise you can make with your employer, and it’s been my experience that employers are generally more than happy to offer you something that will enhance your productivity, focus, energy and consequently quality of work.
You need to pitch it to them as such, and start small. The worst they can say is ‘no.’
Also published on Medium.