I don't know what's worse: the alarm blaring at 5 a.m., filling me with workout dread, or the anxiety that tends to creep in at the end of the day when I've failed to squeeze in some exercise. I love working out, but sometimes it's so hard to find that sweet spot in the day to get it done. Plus, there's a lot of debate about what time of day is most effective, and everyone seems to have a different opinion. Do I have to work out first thing in the morning, like so many fitness enthusiasts suggest, to get it checked off and over with before the day gets busy? Or is it OK to exercise during that burst of energy I get in the evenings? The more digging you do, the more it seems like there's no right answer — and in fact, that might be true.
I went straight to the experts, and their thoughts may surprise you. Both morning workouts and evening workouts have their pros and cons, and we'll get into all of them ahead, but the biggest thing to remember is that working out is beneficial whenever or wherever you do it, whether that's in the morning, over your lunch break, or right before dinner.
Is It Better to Work Out in the Morning or at Night?
There really isn't one time that's best for people to work out. It all depends on your preferences and habits.
Morgan Rees, an ACE-certified personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and health coach in Los Angeles, says the best time of day to work out is simply the one that fits into your routine. "Some people work out in the morning because their schedule only allows that time to work out," she tells POPSUGAR. "Others work out in the morning because they genuinely love being active in the morning. I have always enjoyed working out in the evening because I have the most energy in the afternoon and early evening."
However, morning and evening workouts do have unique benefits that may influence you to choose one over the other. "Some research has suggested that people who exercise in the morning tend to have better habits of establishing exercise as a routine," says Sarah Pelc Graca, a NASM-certified personal trainer and founder of Strong With Sarah. Rees adds that working out triggers the release of endorphins, which can help you feel more alert and prepared for the day. Plus, getting your workout in early may help you feel more settled in the evenings, which can improve your sleep and energy levels.
There are other physical benefits, too. A 2022 study suggests that women who work out in the morning may lose more abdominal fat than those who work out in the evening, although participants saw increased health and fitness benefits in both time blocks. Jess Rose McDowell, an ACSM-certified trainer in sports medicine and cycling, and founder of Kinetic Sweat, adds that working out in the morning gives you more opportunity to continue to burn active calories throughout the day and to properly fuel your body to build muscle mass.
On the other hand, working out at night gives your body ample time to recover and more opportunity for muscle development overnight. It may even improve your sleep, McDowell adds, in part because it allows you to release the stress that's built up throughout the day.
In fact, if you tend to feel less anxious or more tired after a workout, Rees suggests exercising at night. "When the body expends energy in excess at night, it can relax the mind prior to sleep allowing for deeper rest," she explains. Exercise typically creates a burst of energy and endorphins, though, so aim to finish a night workout at least two hours before bedtime.
Do You Need to Work Out at the Same Time Every Day?
The trainers agree that it's OK to work out at any time, on any given day, if that's what you need to do to fit it into your schedule. However, they do say that planning ahead is the best way to stay consistent.
"It's best to choose a time when you're feeling the most energized and ready to take on a workout. This is a personal decision that will look different for everyone," Pelc Graca says. No matter your goals, "what's most important is that you find the time of day to exercise when you'll feel your best, be motivated to complete your workout, and that fits nicely into your daily routine so you can remain consistent."
Pelc Graca suggests working out one day in the morning and the next at night, then seeing how you feel and which timeframe better suits your needs and schedule. "This will determine what time of day you should be working out," Pelc Graca says, though she notes that if you can't stick to your normal routine one day, it's fine to switch things up.
It's also totally OK to skip a workout if you're just not feeling it that day or have other things weighing on you. "Listen to your body and mind," McDowell explains. "If you're on the verge of burnout, do not work out. Rest and recovery are key to experiencing the physical and mental progress you're investing your time in." However, she does encourage people to get moving at least 15 to 20 minutes a day, whether that's getting in a workout, going for a walk, doing something else outside, or just stretching. "As you continue to show up for yourself through physical activity, it's more likely you'll continue and start experiencing results that will drive you to want more," McDowell says.
— Additional reporting by Maggie Ryan