Best Time to Train

Q: What is the best time to train?

A: First and foremost, when you can! However, research on circadian rhythms (your body's internal clock) indicate that the summation of several important (anabolic) hormones peak at 3 and 11 hours upon awakening. What does that mean in plain english? Well, according to science, if you wake up at 6:00 am, you are at your strongest at 9:00 am and 5:00 pm. And, according to Olympic Strength Coach Charles Poliquin*, your joints (specifically, the synovial fluid that lubricates your joints) require about 3 hours to reach an optimal level of warmth which will help improve performance while decreasing the likelihood of injury. Also, some people require a meal before training (remember to allow at least 1 hour for digestion) to maintain adequate energy levels throughout their workout particularly in the morning; others don't. However, there is a difference between ideal conditions and reality!

Reality dictates that we train when we can regardless of what time it is. The important part is to get your workout in. Today's lifestyle is quite busy and hectic. Many people have a tendency to jeopardize their workouts later in the day because other priorities get in the way. For these individuals, I suggest working out first thing in the morning and getting it out of the way. Actually, some authorities believe that training first thing in the morning on an empty stomach will facilitate weight loss. Greg Landry is an Exercise Physiologist who highly recommends exercise in the morning for the following reasons:

  • 90% of people exercise consistently in the morning
  • elevates metabolism and makes you feel energized all day long
  • helps to regulate appetite
  • makes it easier to wake up; hormones and metabolism elevate while you sleep to prepare your body for exercise
  • mental acuity is increased for 4-10 hours after exercise

While others believe that you should train at night because your strength will be higher since you have eaten during the day and energy levels should be elevated. Although, I would caution late night workouts as they may adversely affect sleep.

According to the opinion of Dr. Ann de Wees Allen, a Board Certified Doctor of Naturopathy, the above question should be rephrased: Are you a morning or night person? It's really that simple. She believes that we respond better during certain periods of the day and those are the times that we should train. As stated above, this reflects our circadian rhythm - something that we are born with and cannot change. Subsequently, there will be times during the day that we are the strongest. This does not happen by chance. You must recognize those times and use them to your advantage. So, the answer, in her opinion, will have a big impact on your performance. Does it mean that you can't workout at other times? No! But, it is a good idea to train at the same time each workout if possible - your body will naturally adjust to that time and prepare itself. If you are forced to change your workout time ,though, to accommodate your schedule, then allow 3 weeks for your body to get used to the new time (especially if you are unaccustomed to training first thing in the morning.) It usually takes about 3 weeks to form a habit. Whatever you decide ... just make sure to train!

*Poliquin, C. "Question Of Strength." Golden, CO: Muscle Media 2000, Inc. December, 1996. (pg. 58)

[This Q&A piece was printed in part in the April 2001 issue of Flare Magazine.]