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Should I Be Working Out at the Same Time Every Day?

Is fitness like sleep — it doesn’t matter what time I go to bed, so long as I go to bed at the same time each night?

To whatever extent that I wielded any control over my fitness fate, I always opted to exercise in the evening. In my eyes, it was a logical extension of either the workday or the school day. 

Not to mention, it also gave me an opportunity to develop acquaintanceships with some of the other regular gym attendees and staff members who would be present in the gym at the time. My familiarity with my favorite gyms during those hours developed so intimately that working out at a different time of day, surrounded by different club employees and fellow trainees would have been tantamount to training in a different gym altogether.

Does it matter if I train at the same time every day?

Maybe. But probably not for the reasons you think it might.

The clearest benefit to training at the same time each day is because it’s a valuable habit to shape. If you know that the time period between 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. is non-negotiably reserved for your workouts, you’re more predisposed to fulfill your training obligations and set yourself up for long-term health success. 

In essence, if you cement your training regimen into your calendar as if it’s a daily duty, it’s more likely to get accomplished.

But will I gain more muscle or stamina if I train at the same time each day?

I can understand why you might think the answer to this question would be “yes,” but let’s think it through logically. If I run at a high school track regularly at 6 a.m. every day and conclude at 7 a.m., I’ve allotted myself a 23-hour rest period. If another runner jogs  next to me during my early morning training sessions, and then returns to the exact same track at 6 p.m. to run sprints for an additional hour each day, they’re out training me each day at an hourly rate of two to one.

With all other variables being equal, who do you think is going to make gains in strength and speed more quickly? The person who’s training for two hours each day, of course. Certainly, the law of diminishing returns kicks in eventually; a person who trains eight hours per day isn’t necessarily going to get stronger or faster than the person training for five. However, as long as adequate rest time is factored into the broader training equation, it’s far more important to ensure that you train for the prescribed amount of time each day than it is to dwell on the precise time of the training, as if a one-hour shift here or there might dampen the effectiveness of your training.

I exercise better during the evening as opposed to the morning, though!

That may be, but there’s probably something else at play here.

Depending on what your workouts consist of, your ability to perform optimally may have more to do with environmental factors than with anything connected to your intrinsic biology. If you regularly run in the afternoons or evenings, but then squeeze in a morning run that leaves you wallowing in misery, you may think the difficulty was owed to a loss of recovery time, or your body’s inability to make a quick adaptation to your sudden schedule change. In reality, it may be a simple matter of you being accustomed to the natural advantages of afternoon or evening training, when your body has naturally reached its optimal core temperature, and also achieved peak levels of flexibility and alertness. Therefore, when you ran in the morning for the first time ever, you were handicapping yourself without realizing it.  

Once again, this is one of those instances where you should only be asking the question if every other element of your training and nutrition regimen is flawless. If you’re a coach responsible for training Olympians, and you’ve methodically regulated the daily training schedule down to the second while you simultaneously ration out food portions by the ounce, then maybe an hour here or there might make a difference. On the other hand, if your only goals are waistline management and muscle maintenance, ensuring that you get your training in at all should be your primary objective. 

It’s far better to get your workouts completed as early as you can than it is to delay them because of the perception that late-night workouts are somehow better for you. If circumstances arise that cause you to cancel your evening workout, you’ll be left with the realization that a workout at an irregular hour is infinitely more beneficial to your body than a workout that never occurred. 

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