We’ve found that the peak times in our gyms fall between 7.30am-9am and 5.30pm-8pm. Many people prefer to do their training during these hours, but are they really the best times to exercise?
To find out, we asked people around the UK to tell us their favourite times to exercise, and why. We've also offered our top tips on how to have the most efficient workout, no matter what time you find yourself getting your sweat on.
When do Britons prefer to workout?
A survey conducted by Fitness First showed that 53% of the public opt to exercise in the evening, after they have finished work, college, university or whatever their daily routine entails.
However, we found that one in three people (33%) would rather get their bodies moving at the crack of dawn.
If we start to break the data down, we can see clear generational differences. Generally, the results showed that the over-55s were the most likely to set their alarms for an early-morning exercise session, whereas the 18 to 24-year-old age group were the most likely to choose an evening workout.
But now to address the great big elephant in the room: do you get better results by working out at a particular time of the day?
We’ve weighed up the benefits for you…
The case for exercising in the morning...
As a busy personal trainer, Carly Tierney has to squeeze her own workouts in whenever she can.
That said, if given the choice she’d opt for a morning exercise session. This creates a “healthy domino effect” that sets her up for the rest of the day.
“A morning workout jump-starts your metabolism in the same way that eating breakfast does. The thermal effect of exercise (or activity) lasts for at least four hours after a workout, which increases the total calorie expenditure throughout the day,” Carly commented.
“In the eight to 12 hours prior to waking, your body was in sleep mode and in a process of regeneration. Sleep is the time for the body to repair damage (workouts cause microscopic tears in your muscle fibres). Food is also digested and converted into glucose. In the morning, you're using a fresh, repaired body.”
A study conducted by US-based Appalachian State University found that a 7am workout can help to lower a person’s blood pressure by 10% and also help them to get a better night’s sleep (you can read our recent blog post for some brilliant sleeping tips).
Benefits of an early-morning workout:
• Energises you for the rest of the day
• Ramps up your metabolism (you’ll continue to burn calories throughout the day)
• Lowers your blood pressure
• Less likely to miss workouts due to schedule clashes
• The gym tends to be quieter - as we’ve already stated, most people still workout in the evening
Carly’s expert tips for an effective morning workout:
1. It may be early, but make sure you eat and hydrate pre and post-workout.
2. Get enough sleep - you can't consistently train early in the morning whilst smashing late nights and missing breakfast.
3. Protein shakes are awesome for busy early-morning gym-goers who eat on the run.
Not everybody can bear the thought of dragging themselves out of bed at 6am, but if you don’t mind the early alarm you’ll find that starting your day with a workout can be hugely beneficial.
The case for exercising at night…
As this article from Medical Daily suggests, those who are specifically targeting muscle growth might be better served working out later in the day. Further research is needed before we can say this for sure, but it’s generally thought that your muscles are at their strongest later in the day.
Aside from the all-important gains, a lot of people like to hit the gym later on so they can unload all of the stress that they’ve built up throughout the day.
Carly told us: “What works for a person who gets enough rest every night and has enough ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) and muscle glycogen stored up won't work for the person whose last meal was at 4pm the previous day and went to bed after midnight.
“An early-morning workout may wear you out for the rest of the day, especially if you didn't get the recuperative sleep you needed. That groggy feeling in the morning will have you leaning toward an evening workout.”
Benefits of an afternoon/evening workout:
• You’ve got more time to properly fuel your body throughout the day
• Great stress buster
• Keeps you on the straight and narrow - rather than hitting the pub at 7pm, hit the gym instead
• More sociable - your pals are more likely to join you for an after-work session than a 6am one
• Greater accountability - the gym is busier and there are more people there to spur you on
• You can spend longer in bed!
Carly’s expert tips for an effective evening workout:
1. Get a high-carb snack before your workout – fruit, a bagel or some nuts will do the trick.
2. Take some supplements to give you an extra boost (you can read more about the pros and cons of certain additives here).
3. Have a black coffee before you hit the gym.
What about lunchtime workouts? Are they effective?
To throw a massive spanner into the works, there is in fact a third way of fitting a workout into your schedule.
Around 15% of the respondents to our survey said they prefer to squeeze an exercise session into their lunch break. While this is a great time saver, can you really complete an effective workout in such a short timeframe?
Carly thinks it’s possible, but you need to be a bit more organised.
“Try to have a snack one hour before training and don't train on a full or empty stomach. Perhaps something like rice cakes and peanut butter or honey. If you're stuck for time, make sure that your workout is intense and effective. Go into the gym with a plan, reduce your rest periods, increase your weights, try HIIT training and keep things varied and interesting. It's often the quality not the quantity of the workout that gets results,” she added.
HIIT workouts are highly popular at the moment, as they ensure that busy people can get an intense session under their belts without spending hours in the gym. You can get a few useful workouts from this post.