Morning vs. evening work out is a dilemma for many sports and fitness enthusiasts. It has been solidly established over the years that I am not a morning person. From school to getting to work later , I had to drag myself –or have someone else drag me- out of bed. Practically on a daily basis. It wasn’t just compulsory activities that made it nearly impossible for me to get up early. It just wasn’t fun even when I did it to enjoy a hobby.
When I first started playing tennis, I was in Jakarta, Indonesia on a work assignment. Luckily, the temperature in that part of the world can reach 40 degrees C (over 100 F) as early as 9am. No one really does any sort of strenuous activity outdoors, before sunset. OK, locals probably do it, but it didn’t seem like a healthy option for me. I practiced late in the evening and it was the perfect way to end the day on a good note and blow off some steam.
As my tennis training got more intense over the years, I realized I had to add a new fitness regimen to my schedule. Some sort of exercise that would make me strong and fit enough to play tennis at a higher level. And that is how I started Crossfit. Now, I won’t go into the debate of whether Crossfit can or cannot help you play better tennis. Not in this post. But I will share a few things from my experience on the pros and cons of morning vs. evening workout.
Pros and cons of morning workout
Having a full-time job, I had to try and work out early in the morning to improve my fitness levels for tennis. For about 6 months, I woke up 2 hours before work, in order to hit the gym for my Crossfit session. For someone who is an early bird by nature, perhaps there is nothing to debate here. But for someone like me, who rarely sleeps at a reasonable time, this was a difficult test. And here’s what I found out regarding those early morning training sessions.
Pros of a morning workout
- You are more likely to make exercising a habit with a morning workout. When the alarm goes off and you have to get up, there are no excuses such as having had a long day or something more fun coming up last minute to tempt you to skip exercising. You get up and do it and soon it becomes part of your daily routine.
- Less people work out in the morning, so there’s more peace and more space at the gym. Particularly in Crossfit boxes, where things can get incredibly loud and crowded in the evenings, a morning session can be more productive and rewarding. Less forced social interaction too.
- Sleep gets better overtime if you work out in the morning. Partly because you make it to bed early since you have to wake up early (never happened to me for more than 2 consecutive nights). Even if that’s not the case, by the time you get to bed after a full, highly energized day it’s easier to fall asleep. At least when compared to being pumped up by an evening work out. That did work for me.
- Working out on an empty stomach feels great, if you can pull it off. I’d usually even skip the morning coffee before hitting the gym, so that my brain would still be in the most relaxed state possible. That helped focus 100% on the workout and let my body take control throughout, without any thoughts or stress interfering until I was done.
- The post workout endorphins and all those other wonderful hormones help you start the day in a good mood. The euphoria you experience after a good workout is definitely a better companion getting to work than the usual morning crankiness.
Cons of a morning workout
- During those 6 months that I regularly exercised in the morning, I felt incredibly tired by 3-4 pm. Even if I had a good breakfast and rehydrated properly during the day, I simply ran out of energy. When you have to be at work until 7 or 8pm, that can be a big problem. And that was the main deal-breaker for me.
- Getting up early, knowing what I’d have to go through at the morning Crossfit class, was a daily challenge. Going from a completely relaxed post-sleep state to such a strenuous session was a daily shock to my body. It felt great afterwards, but it was a battle to get there.
- Pain is a necessary evil when you put your body through intense physical activity on a daily basis. But I was in more pain overall when I was pushing through my morning workout routine. Muscles that have stayed relatively still throughout the night need a very careful and thorough warm up in the morning. Even so, when you have to sit at a desk for most of the rest of the day, recuperation and rehabilitation of those muscles doesn’t come naturally.
Pros and cons of an evening workout
Although I’ve come across more advocates for morning workout sessions, there are still plenty who believe it’s better to exercise in the evening. In reality, the difference in effectiveness seems to be negligible for the recreational athlete. In any case, here are the pros and cons of working out in the evenings and why I’ve decided this is the way to go for me.
Pros of an evening workout
- One of the best things about working out in the evening is that you get to end the day on a positive note. Releasing any tension that has built up during the day and blowing off steam simply feels great.
- Your body is better prepared for a strenuous workout when it has been moving throughout the day. The muscles are warmer and your body feels more flexible if it has been –even moderately- active during the day.
- My eating patterns are better when I work out in the evening. Many people say that morning workouts help them eat a better breakfast. Athough that may be true, I found myself skipping meals when I started the day with a rich post-workout breakfast. Knowing that I have to hit the gym after work helps me spread my meals and snacks throughout the day, to make sure I’m ready for it.
- Not sure what the scientific approach is, but my body seems to recuperate better when I can relax and shut down after a tough workout. With an evening workout you have plenty of time for a long bath, instead of a quick shower before work. There’s even time to get a massage or ice all those body parts that need some help to rehab.
- For a night owl like myself, getting to snooze in the morning is essential for my well being. Knowing I can get a little more sleep before I get to work is a big deal and helps shape a less stressful day.
Cons of an evening workout
- The most challenging issue with exercising in the evening for me is the post workout cravings. As much as I try to avoid late night snacking, it’s tough to fight back the urge to devour tons of carbs around midnight.
- After an intense evening workout you’re more likely to be restless around bedtime. I make sure to have at least 2 hours to relax before hitting the sack, but it’s still harder for me to sleep. And this goes for both evening tennis practice and gym workouts alike.
- Gyms in general and Crossfit boxes in particular are super crowded in the evenings. I’m talking about 10 times more people compared to morning classes. Tired and stressed folks who have had a tough day at work and desperately need to blow off steam. Gym equipment is more difficult to find and so is focus and peace of mind.
- Socializing gets hit hard when most of your evenings are booked for exercise and training. It takes great discipline to reject after-work drinks so as to stick to your training routine. And a couple of beers after a strong workout usually negates the whole point of exercising hard.
There has been lots of scientific research that shows why it’s better to exercise in the morning or in the evening. Diving into the concept of the “circadian rhythm” might be important for professional athletes and their training schedules. But for us mortals, it all comes down to personal preference.
With all the stress that burdens us for most of the day, when to work out should be an easy decision and a rewarding activity. So as long as you can set aside an hour or two for getting fitter and improving your health, whether it is in the morning or evening is a minor detail and depends on your long-term goals. And you can always mix and match when it comes to morning vs. evening workout. Personally, I’m sticking with the evening workout that better serves my needs, helps me improve my tennis and enjoy life a little bit more.
See also: The fear of losing in sports and life.