Is it Better to Exercise Before or After Work?
We settle the AM vs. PM workout debate once and for all.
Early birds and night owls have been at war since the dawn of time. But here’s one battle we can end right now: There is no best time of day to workout. It’s truly a matter of personal preference. Morning and evening workouts each provide their own pros, so whether you’re a morning or a night gym-goer, you can still reap all the benefits fitness has to offer.
The best time to work out is when it works best for you. Like any exercise routine, the one you can stick with consistently is always going to be the option you should choose. If you’re an early bird who’s energized and revved up to leap out of bed, throw on your workout clothes and running shoes, then an AM workout is most definitely for you since you have the mood and energy levels to support it. If you’re a night owl who would prefer to sleep ‘til noon, then you may not have the energy to give a morning workout your all and would be better suited for hitting the gym after you clock out for the day.
That said, think about your schedule, too. Do you find yourself regularly getting stuck at work in the evenings and late-canceling your spin class? If yes, then you’ll probably be better off forcing yourself to work out in the morning when you have fewer distractions to get in the way. As you can see, lifestyle and personal considerations come into play when choosing the best workout time for you. The point is to find the right timing that gives your body the best chance at performing optimally—and maintaining consistency. With that in mind, read on to decide which is better for you.
WORKING OUT BEFORE WORK
PROS: One of the benefits of working out before most people are awake is that they can’t distract you. It’s typically easier to stick to morning workouts simply because there are fewer things vying for your attention. Plus, an early morning workout can have a positive ripple effect on the rest of your day. A recent study found that when study subjects engaged in 30-minute walks on a treadmill in the morning, they reported better attention, focus, memory, and decision-making throughout the day. You’re also more likely to burn more fat and make better food choices throughout the day, too. A small 2015 study tracked how the body burned fat when participants worked out at different times of day. Their findings: The 24-hour fat burn (oxidation) was highest after a morning workout compared to later times.
CONS: You’re not the only morning bird out there. Gyms can get crowded during 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. when people try to fit in a workout before work. You might find yourself waiting longer to use certain machines or have a harder time getting into your favorite fitness classes. Also, if you’re the type to sleep through your alarm, you may increase your chances of skipping workouts if you try to go in the morning. Forcing yourself into a routine that isn’t enjoyable for you means you’re less likely to stick with it in the long run.
WORKING OUT AFTER WORK
PROS: While it may seem like morning workouts have an edge, there are still many pros to fitting in a sweat session whenever you can—and that includes after work, too. By not forcing yourself to work out in the morning, you can ease into your day. For night owls this can be particularly beneficial because you’re working with your unique body clock instead of against it. You’re also setting yourself up to have a better, more productive day because you’ll feel more alert and less sluggish than if you had pushed yourself to wake before it felt natural. The best workout is one you can stick to. If you’re more consistent with evening workouts, then don’t switch things up. In fact, a 2019 study in the journal Obesity compared morning and evening exercisers to see who were better at keeping off weight they had previously lost. And guess what? It didn’t make a difference when they worked out. Nearly 52 percent of the study subjects who successfully maintained their weight loss worked out in the evenings. The only thing that mattered is that they kept the time of day they exercised mostly consistent.
CONS: A good workout can do wonders for your mood after a long stressful day, but societal pressures—meeting up with friends for a drink or crashing on the couch with Netflix—can make it easy to blow off a workout in favor of other tempting stress-relievers. Plus, long workdays or late-into-the-evening emails from your boss can keep you pushing back your workout until it never happens. You also need to take stock of your sleep habits. Some evening workouts can get you so energized that you may have a harder time falling asleep.
BOTTOM LINE: Whether you’re up early or stay up late, fit in fitness when it works for you.