I studied 1,198 gym-goers to determine their preferred time of the day to workout.
In this article, you’ll learn the favoured times of the day that people workout and their reasons why.
Additionally, I also wish to discuss numerous scientific exercise-related studies which provide a “best” or optimal” time of the day to workout.
Let’s start with a quick breakdown of the results.
- 530 people (44.24% of those studied) worked out in the early morning.
- 82 people (6.84%) worked out mid-morning.
- 64 people (5.34%) worked out at lunchtime.
- 132 people (11.02%) worked out mid-afternoon.
- 274 people (22.87%) worked out in the early evening.
- 62 people (5.18%) worked out at night time.
- 54 people (4.51% worked out very late at night.
Table of Contents
What Did I Do to Determine When People Workout?
I conducted what I guess is known as an “observational survey”.
Therefore, the question had already been asked, so I simply collated the information I found from various sources.
I spend a lot of time in online fitness communities typically to get an idea of the struggles that people have with exercise and fitness.
So, this seemed like the perfect way to gather the information I required.
Admittedly, the vast majority of information I pooled came from the first 3 platforms.
It seems as though T-Nation and Starting Strength members haven’t discussed when they prefer to workout as much as the other platforms.
But still, I worked my way through a total of 62 different conversations, forum threads and discussions, and what follows is the “feedback” from 1.198 regular gym-goers.
So, let’s look at the results in closer detail now.
What Time of Day Do You Workout? The Results
I’ve split the time of day into 7 different categories.
My reason for doing this is that out of the 1,198 “respondents” while many gave a specific time, a fair few simply gave a particular time of day.
So, I’ve had to do some guesswork based on the information provided.
For this survey I have concluded that the times are approximately as follows:
- Early Morning – 5am to 8am
- Mid-Morning – 9am to 12pm
- Lunch Time – 12pm to 2 pm
- Mid-Afternoon – 2pm to 4pm
- Early Evening – 4pm to 8pm
- Night Time – 8pm to 11pm
- Late Night – 11pm – 4am
As you can see, the vast majority of gym-goers, 530 out of 1,198, preferred to workout in the early morning hours.
This is 44.24% of all those surveyed.
Next, we have the early evening crowd, which shows that 274 out of 1,198 (22.87%) preferred this time.
So, this accounts for approximately two-thirds of those surveyed.
We also have 132 people or 11.02% who like to workout between 2pm and 4pm.
Finally, the lowest percentages take up the other times of the day, and realistically are nowhere near as many as the other times of the day.
Reasons For Working Out at a Particular Time of the Day
Firstly, a common theme among respondents was that they didn’t have a particular time of the day that they preferred to exercise, but simply that they worked out when it felt right for them.
I must say that I totally agree with this.
While it’s great to know what others are doing, you should always do what feels best for you.
In other words, you know your body better than anyone else, so if you’re half asleep first thing in the morning, and you feel that this would affect the intensity of your workout, there’s no need to follow the crowd.
That being said, the most obvious reason for the two most popular workout times of the day comes down to work or school/college commitments.
Basically, it appears that the majority of people like to workout before they go to work or straight after work (or school/college).
Obviously, this makes a great deal of sense and also explains why 9am to 4pm are among the quieter times in the gym.
Furthermore, if you’re working or schooling during these hours you probably wouldn’t want to disturb your sleep patterns by working out late evening, night time, or even really late at night.
Now, let’s see exactly what people had to say about their preferred time of the day to workout.
“Morning For Me”
I would hazard a guess that this is quite a popular choice of workout time, and this is proven from the case study.
Basically, most of us are looking to train around work, school, or college.
So, the vast majority of the day, let’s say from 9am to 5pm is out of the question.
Therefore, this person hits the gym within 35-45 minutes of waking up.
I must admit that this is my preferred method of working out too.
What I did find quite interesting, and something that I can wholeheartedly agree with, is that if this person misses their morning workout then they hit the gym at 5pm immediately after work.
So, there’s no going home, as they feel they will “get hit with various distractions and a lack of motivation.
I totally get this.
Back in the days when I used to train after work I actually had to carry my gym bag around with me for the entire day.
Then I’d get the train to my home town and I could either take a right-turn as I come out of the station to the gym or take a left-turn and go home.
I can guarantee that if I turned left and went home, 99 times out of 100 I would not grab my gym bag and go and get a workout.
It’s my mind taking over and telling me, “that’s it I’m home now and I can’t be bothered to leave again”.
“I’ve Been Working Out in the Morning For Decades”
Here’s another couple of morning workout fans.
As the first person mentions they’ve been working out in the morning for a long time now and they find it sets them up for the day.
I concur, there’s nothing better for my daily motivation and productivity than getting an early morning workout in.
In fact, on the occasional day where I skip my morning workout I generally find that I don’t appear to have such a good working day and my mind is prone to wandering.
I guess this is a great example of the mind-body connection.
Once more, this respondent speaks of lacking motivation and finding excuses to not hit the gym in the evening because they’ve “had a tough day at work”.
This makes sense to me, and I know from personal experience that many of my after work workouts required a great deal of willpower from me just to get through the front doors at the gym.
The second person here also likes to workout in the morning.
However, they feel that they are able to train for longer in the morning, plus it fits in well with their work schedule.
This person has also mentioned that Thursday’s are a bit of a struggle, as this is their high-intensity day, so fitting breakfast in an adequate time before their workout can be a struggle.
This I found interesting because a lot of the early morning gym-goers typically train fasted (myself included).
“Hard to Gain in Mornings”
Now, I must say that I was a little confused by this respondent and I don’t think there is much evidence to back up these claims.
Basically, this person is saying that if you go to the gym first thing in the morning you will be in a fasted state and therefore you won’t have the energy to train or the required nutrients to build muscle.
Hmm, nope, I don’t see it.
Sure, eating an hour or so before your workout will obviously provide some “fuel”.
However, there are many people who follow intermittent fasting and still manage to train and produce great gains and overall results.
Furthermore, there will always be some glycogen left over in your system to “fuel your workout” as long as you had an evening meal.
Okay, I’ll agree that if you’re going to strength train and go extremely heavy, potentially try to hit a few PRs, it makes sense to have had a decent-sized breakfast and then wait an hour or two before training.
That being said, training in a fasted state should never inhibit muscle growth.
Plus, it also makes sense to eat immediately following your workout, which is typically what most early morning trainees do anyway.
I will say that this person has redeemed themselves somewhat by saying that you should just pick a workout time and stay consistent with it.
By doing this it’s almost as though your mind and body is prepared as you approach your regular workout time.
“I Can Lift Heavier in the Evening”
Now, this is an interesting take by this person, who feels that they are stronger and can lift heavier in the evening.
However, there is no mention of food intake, fasted-state, etc. But, simply that they feel as though they can’t lift as much in the morning.
That being said, this person has also stated that they have gained a lot of weight (and not all muscle) through their stronger and heavier evening sessions.
Now, the reason I find this fascinating is because there is scientific evidence which may or may not verify the reason for this.
Unfortunately, I’m unaware whether this person is male or female, but workout times can make a difference.
Certain scientific studies state that women typically burn more fat and have improved blood pressure from working out in the mornings.
However, men have better blood pressure and fat burning potential from working out in the evening.
Furthermore, there is actually something to feeling stronger in the evening than the morning.
I shall cover this in much greater detail in a later section.
“I Work in a Gym”
Next, we have someone who works in a gym.
Now, I would say from my own experience, and through other personal trainers and gym staff that I know, it’s generally about fitting in a workout whenever you can.
That being said, the quieter times in the gym are usually after the crowds have left in the early morning or before they arrive in the early evening.
However, once more, this personal trainer has spoken about “needing a full day’s nutrition” in order to perform at optimal levels.
Now, don’t get me wrong, and I have alluded to this myself, certainly types of training will always be better when you’re properly fuelled.
But, post-workout nutrition is just as important for recovery and growth.
And it sounds to me as though this individual doesn’t eat at all after their workout (of course, this is an assumption and I could be completely wrong).
Finally, they have mentioned that working out late on the day is a great way to “get those annoyances out of me”.
We’ve all been there and no doubt I’m not the only one to spend 20 minutes doing bag work (boxing) while imagining a difficult colleague’s face.
But, yes agreed, exercise is a great stress reliever, although this is regardless of when you perform your workout.
“Midday, It Helps to Avoid the Crowds”
This individual has stated that they work from home, and therefore can essentially go to the gym any time they please.
However, they choose to split up their working day by training in the middle of the day.
I actually found that a lot of people also did this even if they were working outside of home.
Okay, they typically had a gym at work or one extremely nearby.
I have actually tried this myself and I found it did feel quite good.
For me, it was a way to get over the “afternoon slump” that most of us endure, as it provided me with more motivation to be productive in the afternoons.
I also like the fact that this person sticks to afternoon workouts at the weekend, which fits around when his child is napping.
LOL, I’ve been there my friend, and just getting a workout in when my kids were young felt like a huge accomplishment.
“I’ve Changed My Life Around”
How’s this for dedication?
This individual has stated that they’ve completely changed their life around and it appears as though they love it.
So, they workout at 5.30am before having breakfast and a shower.
Then, they ride a bike 10 miles to work, complete their working day, and then ride the bike 10 miles back home.
I think this in itself shows the beauty of creating a habit that works for you and then remaining consistent.
Whereas, this may appear extreme to some, this person has trained both their mind and body to exercise in this way on a daily basis.
Well done, great job!
Working Out More Than Once a Day
Then again, there were those who actually split their workouts, namely doing cardio in the morning and then lifting weights in the evening.
This is fantastic if you have the time, although this is still possible even with limited time availability.
You could essentially do 20 minutes cardio in the morning and perhaps a 25-30 minute weights session in the evening.
However, I think one of my favourite comments came from the following member at Reddit.
This is probably the ideal way to workout.
There’s actually been a lot of research into this and it has been proven that short workouts throughout the day are just as effective as one longer session.
In fact, it can actually be a much better way to train for many of us.
This is especially true if you spend most of your day sitting at a desk, typically in front of a computer screen.
It will also make you more productive during your work day.
Working at a computer for a number of hours is known to be mentally draining, and far too often we spend our time “being busy” as opposed to actually working.
So, a quick 10-minute workout will provide a fresh burst of energy, both physically and mentally.
One thing I will say is that if you do wish to split your workouts up throughout the day, this is probably better suited to conditioning and cardio work.
Sure, you can perform resistance exercises for strength or hypertrophy, but this largely depends on what equipment you have available.
I mean it’s highly unlikely that you’d visit the gym 3-4 times a day just to perform a 10-minute workout each time.
Then again, even doing something like 5×5 for heavy squats is going to take longer than 10 minutes.
Simply taking an adequate rest of 3 minutes between sets is going to take over the 10-minute mark.
Plus, let’s not forget that a 5×5 workout means that you’ll be training with a high percentage of your one-rep max.
This in itself could be quite exhausting and may leave you fatigued for later additional workouts.
That being said, I see nothing wrong with perhaps doing a quick strength workout in the gym and then performing some bodyweight or kettlebell work at different times of the day.
I would say that if you’ve done this type of training before, try it for a week or two and see how you feel.
I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Testosterone Levels & Working Out
I found that a number of people appeared to workout when they felt their testosterone levels were at their highest peak.
Here’s one such respondent.
However, in truth, this concept is actually misguided, plus the times quoted are also incorrect.
Okay, so there is definitely a relationship between testosterone and muscle growth, as testosterone is an anabolic hormone.
But, testosterone is simply one part of the puzzle when it comes to size and strength gains and there are other hormones which are also responsible for muscle growth.
That being said, working out when your testosterone levels are at their peak really won’t make a great deal of difference.
Granted, low testosterone levels can and likely will affect your energy levels, which in turn means that your workout probably won’t be as intense as you would hope.
However, I’m talking about permanently low levels of testosterone here.
Basically, those with “normal” testosterone levels will find that it doesn’t fluctuate enough to worry about the potential impact it’s going to have on your workout.
Therefore, saying that it’s better to workout when testosterone levels are high, as I’ve mentioned, is misguided.
Furthermore, testosterone levels typically peak at around 7am to 10am and then decrease throughout the day.
Testosterone levels will generally be at their lowest at around 8pm, although they rise again during the night.
In other words, testosterone levels are usually at their highest when you first get out of bed and again when you go to sleep.
On the flip side of the coin, certain forms of exercise can also increase testosterone levels.
However, this isn’t as much as you’d possibly imagine, and it doesn’t last that long either.
Furthermore, it’s only certain forms of exercise that will provide this boost.
That being said, it’s important to realise that exercise releases both anabolic (build and grow) and catabolic (break down) hormones.
So realistically, working out in line with testosterone peaks and troughs won’t make a great deal of difference.
“Late Night Workout – Should I Eat?”
Here’s the main issue that late night trainees had, namely should they eat following their workout or not.
I will also say that it surprised me to find that there were so many people who chose to train so late.
Admittedly, I appreciate that we all have different schedules and probably sleep patterns too.
I mean, I have had the same sleep schedule for more years than I care to remember, 10pm – 6am, so working out late at night will take some getting used to for me.
However, to answer this question, yes you should be eating following your workout.
Clearly, this doesn’t have to be a great deal, but just like training at any other time of the day, it’s important to get some protein, carbs, and healthy fats into you following a workout.
Plus, forget everything you hear about fat gaining potential from eating late at night.
Firstly, as long as your total daily consumption falls into your optimal calorie intake, while adhering to your preferred macro-split, you’re fine.
Simply put, overeating or a poor macro-split is what typically leads to weight and fat gain.
Furthermore, it’s true that our metabolism slows down later in the day, but this is more to do with your circadian rhythms (your sleep-wake cycle).
So, if your body is “trained” to sleep from 4am to 12pm then your metabolism will react differently to say mine.
And let’s not forget that this late night workout is also likely to fire up your metabolism anyway.
The only real issue I have with training at this time of night (apart from my current sleep cycle) is that you’ll require some time for your mind and body to “calm down” before you sleep.
And don’t forget that sleep is one of the most essential factors in muscle growth, strength gains, weight or fat loss.
So, if you are someone who is working out in the middle of the night I would suggest that you allow at least a couple of hours following your workout before you go to sleep.
Well That Made Me Laugh!
And finally, someone who probably has made some great points, although I spent most of my timelaughing at this response, great honesty, LOL.
Okay, we’ve seen what others have to say about their preferred working out times, now let’s see what science says.
Is There a “Best Time of Day” to Workout?
I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of us train when our schedule permits us to.
However, there just happens to be an “optimal time to train” during the day.
There have been various scientific studies which have concluded a similar time of the day as being the “best” time to train.
That being said, these studies are limited in the information they provide mainly due to the number of participants.
But, when multiple studies appear to draw the same conclusions there’s usually something to it.
Firstly, we have a 2016 study conducted by Maria Kuusma and then published by the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.
The study took 72 trained men and split them into two groups.
The first group trained at 8am and the second group trained at 6pm over a period of 24 weeks.
It was found that the evening training group experienced approximately 30% greater muscle growth over this period.
Furthermore, although not as significant, strength gains were slightly improved in the evening group too.
And to be honest, these results have been reproduced across a number of studies.
The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research conducted a similar study on 16 men in 2009.
The participants were once again split into two groups with 7 men training at 8am and 9 men at 6pm for a period of 10 weeks.
As the study was conducted over a shorter period of 10 weeks the results weren’t as substantial.
However, the evening training group once more experienced slightly greater gains that the morning training group.
Interestingly, Tim Scheet’s 2009 study of 16 bodybuilders revealed another benefit of evening training.
The bodybuilders were split into two groups of 8 with the first group training before 10am and the second group training after 6pm.
Not only did the evening training group experience greater muscle growth, but they also saw greater fat loss.
From these various studies it has been concluded that the optimal time to train is between 3pm and 9pm.
Why is This the Best Time to Train?
Once these studies determined the optimal training time some of them also wanted to discover why this was the case.
In truth, there are many theories, but one appears to hold more credence than any others.
There are 3 reasons that 3pm to 9pm is viewed as the best time to train:
Firstly, you’re likely to be more hydrated.
Most of us awake ever so slightly dehydrated, which is completely natural.
However, we’ll increase our water intake as the day progresses.
Secondly, the body is more fuelled with glycogen, which is what the body uses as its main energy source for exercise.
So, the fact is that you have probably consumed the majority of your daily calories by the time you train, thus meaning that you’re likely to have more energy.
Finally, your core temperature is at its highest later in the day, especially in the evening.
However, this will differ for some people depending on their sleep cycle.
But, once more, it is estimated that most of us have our highest core temperature from 3pm-9m.
And there is evidence that core temperature is linked to exercise performance.
So, most of us are actually at our strongest and physically perform at our best when our core temperature is at its highest.
Factors to Consider
Now, these studies and countless hours of research are all well-and-good, but not everything is as clear cut.
So, there are other factors to consider.
Firstly, as I’ve mentioned a few times now, most of us train as and when we can.
Therefore, you can’t always completely change things and then start working out at some time between 3pm-9pm.
A prime example of this is if you work in a physically demanding job.
You would be better off working out in the morning before your shift starts, or during your lunch hour if you have a particularly early start.
Both of these options will be far better than working out after your shift as you’re likely to be less fatigued earlier in the day.
Something else which none of these studies take into consideration is that most gyms are at their busiest in the evenings.
Okay, this isn’t evidenced by my observational survey, although this is merely 1,189 people out of potentially billions of regular gym-goers.
However, I would hazard a guess (which IS evidenced by the survey) that many people will go to the gym in the early evening simply because this is after their work day.
While some might be aware that this is the “optimal time to train”, most people are just fitting in with their work, home, and life schedule.
But, the fact that gyms are typically busier in the evening can lead to a couple of issues.
Firstly, you may have to wait longer for equipment.
As an example, if a large group is crowded around the bench press area you may be waiting a good 10-20 minutes for “your turn”.
Then again, you may decide to adjust your workout based on the equipment that is available to you.
So, even though you’re still exercising, the additional wait times or having to change things up could actually negate the benefits of an evening workout.
Can’t Train Between 3pm and 9pm? How to Make Morning Workouts More Effective
Now, I understand that many of you simply can’t train at the “optimal time” and that’s fine.
There are actually things you can do to minmize the potential reduction in morning performance.
And once more, there is research and scientific evidence to back this up.
The first thing is to ingest caffeine prior to your morning workout.
This 2012 study supports the fact that caffeine ingestion prior to a morning workout raises neuromuscular readings and strength comparable to evening levels.
So, you can of course drink strong coffee prior to your morning workout, or if you take pre-workout these are typically loaded with caffeine.
The only issue here is that you will eventually build up a caffeine tolerance, which means the same amount of caffeine will sooner or later not have as great an effect.
Next, is to ensure that you’re adequately warmed up.
In fact, I would actually suggest that you warm up for longer in the mornings than you usually would.
Don’t forget that there is a clear relationship between higher core temperatures and improved physical performance.
Finally, there are many studies which indicate having a consistent workout time, even in the morning, will minimize any potential reduction in performance (associated with not training at the “optimal time”).
In other words, find a workout time that works for you and then stick with it.
Key Learning Points
- 1,198 gym-goers were “surveyed” and the vast majority, 530 and 274, trained early morning or early evening respectively.
- It appears that most people were simply trying to fit in their training before they went to work or after they’d finished work.
- Many of the morning gym-goers felt that working out early set them up for the day, and would therefore have a more productive working day.
- Those who trained in the early evening found that it can be a great stress reliever following a tough day at work.
- People who had the day to themselves, e.g. work from home, preferred to train without the crowds, so this typically meant mid-morning, lunch time, or mid-afternoon workouts.
- The main issue that those who worked out late or in the middle of the night was whether they should eat following their workout. The simple answer is yes, although you should allow yourself at least 2 hours after your session before going to sleep.
- Working in line with testosterone peaks won’t make any difference, as the peaks and troughs are negligible. That being said, permanently low testosterone levels will definitely affect energy and potential muscle growth.
- According to science, the “optimal” or “best” time to workout is between 3pm-9pm. Most gym-goers will experience greater muscle growth, strength gains, and fat loss training at these times.
- The main reasons for the 3pm-9pm peak is that you’re likely to be better hydrated, your body is fuelled with more glycogen, and your core temperature will be higher.
- It is possible to replicate the “best time of the day to workout” in the morning. You can achieve this through ingesting caffeine prior to your workout, warming up for a longer period, and sticking to a consistent workout time.
So, there you have it, an observational case study of regular gym-goers, plus scientific research into the best time of the day to workout.
What about you, when do you workout?
Is this you’re preference or would you rather train at a different time of the day?
Please feel free to leave a comment below.
And if you enjoyed this article please feel free to share, tweet, pin, etc. It’s much appreciated.
Finally, while I’m on the subject of workout times make sure you check out my article about why gyms are so busy on Mondays.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.