I’ve been cheating on you.
The truth is, I thought you had to be strict about the way you worked out and when…. that part I still stand by.
Where I changed my mind, is that it’s one-size-fits-all and that time is always the morning for everybody. Let me be clear; I still believe in accountability, I still believe in consistency, orthodoxy, and discipline in the time you work out. I also still believe morning is the best time for most people, but I’m living proof that there is a small, but significant minority of people where that orthodoxy doesn’t work, and I want you to do what works, because I want you to exercise.
My workout time had consistently been 6am-7am for six years, and then I moved from Washington, D.C. to Northern California last fall. I came up against a few unexpected challenges, and quickly realized I needed to address them right away, or my workout would suffer. For me, most of the people I work with like my editor, publicist, marketing team, etc. all live on the east coast. With the three-hour time difference, I perpetually found myself feeling anxious when I woke up at 5:00 am, as if before I even started my day I was behind the 8-Ball because it was already 8 o’clock in the morning for those that I work with. While having my morning coffee and getting ready for the gym, I would quickly look at email only to find that my inbox was already full.
I felt my stress levels increase before I even worked out, which is not ideal or healthy. My stress became worse as soon as I left the gym, checking my inbox via my smartphone and seeing that by 7am (already 10am now on the east coast) my inbox was overflowing with time-sensitive emails and “things-to-do”. This developed into a problem because my entire day was now being controlled by email and other people’s needs. I also no longer enjoyed my work out, because instead of being focused, I was worried about the number of emails I would find in my inbox as soon as I finished.
My six-year routine was falling apart. Instead of cooking breakfast when I got home and taking a quick shower, I was rushing home to jump on my computer (I work from home), answer critical email, return phone calls, etc. What I found was that by 10am PDT (three hrs. later) I was still sitting at my desk in my gym clothes (gross), and starving because I hadn’t yet had breakfast following my workout. For me, I had to make a change.
To address my issue, I began going to the 5pm class instead, because by then it was 8pm on the east coast and after the close of business. I stopped feeling like I was behind, I was focused again at the gym, my stress level dramatically decreased, and my productivity level increased back to what I was used to and most comfortable with. This change was not easy and it took a few months to feel “normal”, but instead of going with the flow and trying to do everything just to suit everyone else (at my expense), I made the necessary changes so I could be in control again of my time and workout.
Let me be clear, I still believe in consistency, and I still believe in being strict with yourself. Where I believe in being flexible is to accommodate your changing circumstances, but that flexibility should not extend to a change from day-to-day because that is asking for trouble, and is hard to escape from. A routine is just that, a sequence of actions regularly followed, a fixed program. In my case, I changed the time, but not the workout. And even though I changed the time on my calendar, it never changed from being a recurring item at the same time five days a week. Sticking to your routine is the best plan for success. Don’t be afraid to find what works for you, but always remain consistent.
So, why is working out in the morning still considered the best time?
First of all, you’ll get your workout done and over with before you even start your day. That means you’ll begin your day with endorphins, and a good feeling knowing you accomplished something before 9 a.m. that some people won’t accomplish all day. And that’s a huge ego boost. Furthermore, you won’t have to worry about working out later in the afternoon or evening. This can be a reprieve, leaving time for cooking dinner, socializing with family or friends, and simply unwinding after a long day.
If you’re inclined to blow off Spinning class after a hectic day at work, remind yourself that you’re the kind of person who honors her/his commitments, end of story. Working out has to be an appointment that you keep with yourself, because the easiest appointments to break are the appointments that we make with ourselves. We would feel a lot worse if we were breaking an appointment with our buddy, because you can’t cancel on your buddy. Right?!
The Case for Sweating in the Afternoon, or Night
While it certainly seems like the morning is an ideal time to work out, fitting in exercise in the afternoon or after hours has its proven perks. Planning on an evening workout may mean you get some extra shuteye in the morning. But there are other benefits, too!
One study found that your body’s ability to perform peaks in the afternoon. Your body temperature increases throughout the day, optimizing your muscle function and strength, enzyme activity, and endurance for performance. In the afternoon and evening, your reaction time is at its quickest, which is important for exercises like high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or speed work on the treadmill.
While some may caution individuals about how working out at night can disrupt your sleep, one study even found that those who lifted weights in the evening got better quality sleep and slept for longer than those who did the same workout in the morning.
So, what time is best? While the science and studies seem contradictory, one thing is clear: Working out is important, no matter what time of day you do it.
What really matters is that you find a time of day that works for you and that fits your schedule, and then stick to it. By keeping your workout regimen consistent at the same time every day, you could be making greater training gains. And isn’t that what really matters?
For one month only, I’m giving away a FREE CHAPTER of my new book, called “Go From Stressed to Strong” and I’m excited to share it with busy professionals who are ready to master their health. Get it here.