Freytag: When’s the Best Time to Work Out and Why It’s OK to Break the Rules

Editor’s note: This is the second in the series of Chris Freytag blog posts for her four-week “30-Day Get Fit Challenge.” For Chris’ workouts, visit the SUCCESS store for more. Sign up to have posts sent directly to your email.

One of the most common questions I receive when it comes to an exercise routine is, “Is there a BEST time to work out?” I know many swear by starting their day with exercise and many others use physical activity as a way to wind down from the stress of a hectic workday.

There was an interesting article in The New York Times over a year ago that I bookmarked about this subject. The article, titled, “The Claim: Morning Is the Best Time to Exercise,” validated my opinion—any time of day beats no exercise at all. The author reports that science has proven working out between 4 and 7 p.m. is a slightly better time for physical performance than morning, based on hormones. The article explains “the body’s temperature and hormone levels peak in late afternoon, making muscles more flexible and producing the best ratio of testosterone (the muscle-building hormone) to cortisol (the hormone that does the reverse).”

However, the article goes on to say that the advantages of an afternoon workout are slight and that the human body can adapt to working out at any time of the day. That being said, I must once again stand on my soapbox and say, a calorie burned at 6 a.m. is the same calorie burned at 6 p.m. The key is to work out whenever you have time, any time of day, any day of the week. I remind my clients all the time that when it comes to exercise, you have to break some rules to get your workout done.

Now, there are rules we follow for exercise because they make sense and keep us healthy and safe. For example, we have heart rate training zones to guide us so we burn fat and don’t overdo it. We have strength training rules that tell us how often to lift, how much and how to do the moves safely. We have guidelines for stretching to reduce injury and muscle soreness. But every so often, when we read exercise rules and guidelines in the media, we end up feeling defeated if they don’t exactly fit in with our lives, needs and goals. Take a look at how you exercise now. Are you that person who’s silenced by inaction because you can’t do it perfectly according to the rules?

I love morning exercise; for me, a workout at 5:30 a.m. is the ying to my yang. I grab a quick cup of coffee and a banana as I head out the door to the gym and get it done before I start the workday. But when I find a client who absolutely won’t go for morning workouts, then I suggest another time of day. You may find that what works for you is a little different than what you might have read, or heard on TV. I’m not knocking fitness experts because I am one! I’m just asking you to remember to be true to yourself and bend the rules to fit in your lifestyle so you actually do something, rather than nothing.

On the flip side, when I’m training an athlete or someone who is working toward a serious goal like a marathon, then rules and schedules are absolutely important to their outcome. You can’t run a marathon at your potential without following a well-mapped program. But if you are that person trying to  just lose a few pounds, feel better, have more energy and stop being cranky—then BEND THE RULES to work for you, not against you. The best time of day is the time you will be able to complete a workout consistently over time.

Week One Call to Action
Cross training Tip: Mix in two 20-minute, full-body strength training sessions on non-consecutive days. Do multi muscle group exercises to stimulate your mind and get more done in less time.

Chris says: Often runners are afraid that extra muscle mass will slow them down but it can be quite the opposite. A buff upper body looks great and helps you perform lots of your daily activities. Even better, a strong lower body can help increase your power, which in turn can increase you speed. Doing squats and lunges can help prevent injury as well. All of the connective tissues, including ligaments and tendons, are made stronger. This will help avoid strains, sprains that can derail your running.

Food tip: Eat a snack 30 minutes to 1 hour before you run/walk. Try for a small snack of 100-200 calories. Aim for healthy carbs to reload your glucose stores such as a banana and a tablespoon of peanut butter, or some grapes and a granola bar. (If you are an early morning runner and don’t have time, than at least munch down a half of a banana to replenish glucose.)

Chris says: Remember body fat burns in a flame of glucose so if your glucose tanks are spent, you’re fat burning capability is hindered. Runners often can’t lose weight, because they are eating too much fat and protein instead of the carbohydrates needed efficiently burn up the fat.

Share your cross-training regimes with others by leaving a comment:


Chris Freytag has dedicated her adult life to motivating people to lead healthier lives. A contributing editor to Prevention magazine, she's also written two books, Shortcuts to Big Weight Loss, and her latest, 2-Week Total Body Turnaround. She also has appeared on NBC's Today show and MSNBC's Weekend Update.

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