What are the benefits of training in the morning vs evening?

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been tinkering back into tri life recently, upping the variety, and doing more high intensity sessions across the 3 sports, rather than supplementing hard bike rides with easy commutes – as one would when training one discipline only.

Strangely, I’ve found the increase in short, sweet, hard sessions – more 3-5minute intervals and 100m reps than 2hr easy rides – has led to me to get back on the ‘morning training’ train.

I’ve always followed a routine of ‘hard in the morning’ and ‘easy in the evening’. Scientifically, this isn’t too smart. Studies have shown that the  majority of people can dig deeper in the evening – with higher vo2 capacity, higher body temperature, and heart rates reaching numbers closer to their maximum.

Despite all this, many athletes still choose the early hours to get training – which made me wonder – what are the pros and cons?

Morning Training

alarm-clock-400x265

Pros:

  • The happy ‘runners high’ pumps through your bloodstream for the rest of the day
  • Races often start in the morning – so in the vein of training specifically, AM sessions seem smart
  • Nothing can get in the way, really – except perhaps traffic on the way to the gym (not likely at 6am). Evidence suggests people who train in the morning are more consistent.
  • Empty streets, quiet country lanes and abandoned treadmills – it’s all much quieter at this time of day
  • Fat burning if you do it before breakfast (I don’t – always eat first)
  • Studies have shown people who train early make better food choices in the day – I’d question this…
  • You get all day to walk off and stretch out sore muscles, rather than plunging into bed and facing the consequences in the morning
  • It’s a trade off – 1 hour less time in bed vs a lovely 3 hours or so free evening chilling out feeling guilt free (unless it’s a double day)

Cons:

  • Racing to work. I usually get to work at about 8.30…  I can’t turbo/run at home (traffic), so instead go to the gym. By the time it’s open, I’ve got 75mins max to train, then about 2.5mins to have a shower, get dressed, get in the car. I sometimes end up wearing tights that don’t match etc.
  • Your body temperature is cooler at this time – muscles are stiffer

Evening Training

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Pros:

  • Less rushed – there is a good amount of time to stretch afterwards
  • Body temperature is at its highest in early eve
  • Collapsing onto the sofa afterwards feels amazing
  • Group sessions – club TTs, club swims – usually happen in the evening, and company means competition
  • Fewer evening snacks has got to be good
  • Performance increase:

Studies are varied, and the %s will slip and slide, but most suggest performance is greater in the evening. The the source I looked at revealed in one sample of 20 athletes:

> Endurance was greater – time to exhaustion 20%
> vo2 capacity  was on average 4% higher
> Anaerobic capacity was 7% higher
> Heart rate was  more elevated

Cons:

  • Get home, eat, pass out, wake up, start again. No time for evenings in, and getting other jobs done.
  • More can ‘go wrong’ – getting held up at work, feeling tired after a long day
  • Sometimes struggle to sleep after a hard session, especially if a group
  • It’s hard to get into an evening session, stresses of the day need to be forgotten over a long warm up
  • Personally, I’ll spend all day thinking about it – which means I’m ‘ready’, but is distracting

From my “extensive” research, it looks to be that performance is greater in the evening. The body is ready to go, you just need to wade through the sluggish feelings of resentment and excuses that sometimes present themselves after a day at work. A scientist would probably conclude then that training should take place in the early hours of the evening. 

However – I’m not a scientist, I’m a human, and in my mind nothing beats consistency, and nothing beats WANTING to train. Bringing emotions into the matter, nothing beats feeling unbeatable all day – that’s why  I’d rather get it all out before 8.30am. Anything can happen over a day at work – and I’d like to get mine kick started with a puddle of sweat and a beating heart. 

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There are 3 comments

  1. taplatt

    I’m a natural morning exerciser and prefer it, despite the supposed physical benefits of training in the evening. I find the cons of evening exercise a bigger challenge than the cons of morning training. Ultimately, it’s person-specific and I think people should just do what takes them the least activation energy!

  2. michellearthurs

    Totally agree. I just wish my gym opened at 6.30am like me old one (owned by same company), not 7am like the new one… means I can only really do an hour session when I’d often like to do 75min/90min – and I never stretch properly!

  3. Henrique

    A morning exerciser myself. I like to see the rising sun and I got to spend my evenings with my wife and daughter. The only problem is getting out of bed with your warm, tender wife laying there…

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