For those of you that have just read the title of this article and thought to yourself “never” – hopefully I am able to provide a little more detail to the debate than that.

But first, a question or two: are you an individual that bounces out of bed when your alarm clock sounds and heads straight for the gym, using exercise as a way to start your day? Or do you prefer to complete your day at work before attending the gym on the way home, using exercise as a means of unwinding after a long, demanding day at the office?

This debate has been ongoing for a lengthy period of time and there are arguments both for and against optimal training times. This article aims to consider some of the research regarding this topic to see if a definitive answer can be found, so that for those of you that are lucky enough to be able to pick and choose when you workout, you can optimise your gains.

The Optimal Time To Exercise

So what does research into this topic suggest? Investigations monitoring numerous bodily and exercise variables have provided results detailing the best time to exercise falls between 4-6pm.

During this time period, research has shown that an individual’s internal mechanisms such as bodily circadian rhythms, lung functioning, hormonal and temperature levels to name but a few are all at their optimum. This in turn allows the following to be achieved:

  • Increments in strength and anaerobic performance by up to 5%.
  • Increments in endurance performance by up to 4%.

A reduction in the potential of sustaining a musculoskeletal injury when comparisons are drawn against morning training sessions has also been hypothesised. The reasons for this are that muscular temperature, flexibility and strength are all considered optimal during this time frame, therefore significantly reducing the potential for injury.

Adjusting Your Body Clock

As previously mentioned, it is important to recognise that many individuals, including myself, are often restricted in terms of when they can actually exercise. Although research does suggest an optimal training time, due to either work, family or social life commitments, this time period is simply not suitable.

Does this mean that exercising at any other time outside of the optimal training times will ultimately result in lacklustre sessions filled with doom and gloom? The answer, of course, is not at all! Research is obviously hypothesising that numerous training benefits can be achieved by exercising in the afternoon.

However, for those individuals who simply cannot train during these time intervals, you will be happy to know that further research has also shown that an individual’s bodily circadian rhythms, which ultimately determine body temperature, hormonal levels etc can be adjusted and reset over a period of time.

So although afternoon training may be optimal, in theory, if you get into a set schedule and routine with your eating, training and sleeping patterns then you can shift your body clock accordingly to suit your needs and still achieve optimal results at different times of the day.

Final Word

If you are able to workout in the afternoon but have been training haphazardly at random times for whatever reason, it is potentially worth altering your training times to see if you can achieve further gains during the stated optimal training time.

However, if your work, family and social life often dictate when you can and cannot complete exercise, the next best thing is to create a stable schedule and routine where your eating, training and sleeping patterns remain consistent throughout.

After all, if we all trained at the gym between 4-6pm, it would be an absolute nightmare to park in the car park, let alone get on the equipment.

Now it is time for your view:

  • Do you have set training times and routines/splits that you stick to like clockwork each week?
  • Have you noticed a difference in energy levels, strength and the like between morning and afternoon training?
  • Do you prefer morning or afternoon training sessions?
  • How do you counteract the effect of a busy lifestyle on your training times?

Let us know in the comments section below…