Just like everyone seems to have an opinion on the best type of exercise, there's also lots of chatter regarding the best time to get your sweat on. (For the record, a.m. time frames seem to reign supreme.) And while we're big proponents of just doing what feels good for your body—despite the habits of your IG feed, friends, or S.O.—we couldn't help but feel a bit curious. What are the benefits of morning workouts, and why is setting an aggravatingly early alarm so widely favored?
Being the brave souls we are, we decided to take one for the team and try it out for ourselves (in addition to talking to some of the best fitness experts in the biz and consulting some of the well-researched literature on the topic, of course). So what are the benefits of morning workouts according to three editors who typically prefer evening workouts? Keep reading to find out what we discovered from the experts, the science, and our own 8 a.m. experiences.
What Science Says
Like most topics to fall under the umbrella of health and wellness, research regarding the best time of day to exercise is mixed. Some studies make the case that our bodies might perform better later on in the day due to an increase in strength and flexibility (who knew?), while other research correlates morning exercise with a lessened appetite and healthier diet choices. (However, we've also heard the opposite—that one of the drawbacks of exercise, especially cardio, is an increase in appetite, which can ultimately negate an earlier calorie burn.) As we said earlier, everyone has an opinion, and in all likelihood, you're the only person who knows what will work best. Our suggestion: experiment.
Courtesy of CruBox
What Experts Say
"The idea of starting your day off by taking care of your body and 'filling up your tank' so to speak, knocks it off your list and sets you up for a successful and more energized day," Burn 60 Master Trainer Katie Jo Zayon tells us. "If you're not a lover of fitness, a morning workout may also help eliminate the excuses you could potentially come up with throughout the day to skip your evening workout as well."
Plus, it automatically awards you with designated "me" time you might not ordinarily make for yourself in the morning in favor of those extra few hours of sleep. "By working out in the morning, I'm also preventing interruption," explains Bebe Ding from CruBox. "I'm not rushing back to my phone worrying about how many calls or emails I've missed because everyone is still asleep."
Another perk: Experts believe squeezing in a morning workout can increase productivity and energy levels based on not only their experiences but also from client feedback. "A solid morning workout can help with productivity, mood, stress, and energy levels," confirms Zayon. "Most of my clients say they can focus better throughout the day after our morning workouts and when they skip it, they see a huge difference in their mental performance."
Body By Simone founder Simone De La Rue agrees: "I like to say that a morning workout is better than a morning cup of coffee. Your body and mind have been stimulated by the exercise and you are more present. It's easier to be productive when you feel alert and full of energy."
Their main takeaway: Make a plan and do your best to commit to it (even if it involves cultivating an evening workout routine instead of a morning one—you do you!).
"The truth is that everyone is so different," Zayon tells us. "If you know you're not ever going to be a morning workout person, accept it and find ways to commit to a time that you know you will be able to follow through on. It's about being realistic and committing to a time that works for your schedule. Showing up is half the battle for most people."
As a parting tip, if you're going to go the morning workout route, it's also strategic to pick a workout you'll actually want to go to. "When it comes to what type of workout to do in the morning, I leave that up to you. However, it is important to have a game plan," advises Jeni DelPozo, a trainer at SPEIR Pilates. "Just like you would plan your outfit or meal prep the night before, know what workout you are going to crush and make it happen. In all likelihood, your body will start to crave a morning workout once it becomes a habit."
Courtesy of CruBox
What Editors Say
Considering that both myself and two of my fellow L.A.-based Byrdie editors are perpetual evening exercisers, I figured we'd be the quintessential guinea pigs to try a morning workout. So to make it as scientific as possible, I convinced them to join me for an 8 a.m. Thursday morning workout at CruBox—one of L.A.'s trendiest boxing workouts and uncharted territory where our exercise vernacular was concerned. (Kaitlyn and I were CruBox novices and Victoria had been in for an abbreviated 30-minute class as part of an event about a month prior to the experiment.) Curious to see how the rest of our days went down post-workout? Read on.
Victoria Hoff, wellness editor
Times per week you work out: four to five
Favorite types of workouts: Mostly yoga and hiking, but I like to throw in other dynamic workouts a few times a month to mix it up: Rowing, pilates, boxing… anything but boot camp or distance running, and I'm there.
Time of day you prefer to work out: I'm a steadfast evening workout person. I start my workday at 7 a.m.—sometimes earlier—and I like hitting the ground running in terms of my focus and productivity. When I wrap up in the late afternoon/early evening, I love the ritual of breaking a sweat as a way to unwind and forget about any stresses from the day.
Energy level before class on a scale from 1 to 5: -12
Energy level right after class: 4. I definitely needed another cup of coffee, but I also felt very clear-headed and ready to tackle the rest of the day.
Did you notice any differences in productivity? I was pleasantly surprised—even though working out is scientifically shown to help you focus and find some mental clarity, I had assumed I'd actually feel really stressed since I'm used to starting my work day a couple hours earlier. But it put me in a calm and focused mood and I walked into the office with a smile on my face. (I got shit done today, too.)
What other interesting benefits did you notice? I'm usually cranky about electronic dance music in general, much less at 8 a.m. But I ended up just kind of stepping outside my brain and letting myself fall into the experience. I found myself dancing while wailing on that punching bag.
I guess this is all to say that it was a good exercise in forgetting yourself and the bullshit that tends to rule your day and remembering that we choose to let that affect us.
Energy level at the end of the workday: still have a couple hours left, but I'm feeling fantastic—and even more so knowing that I'm going to sleep *very* well tonight.
Kaitlyn McLintock, news editor
Times per week you work out: three
Favorite types of workouts: I jog, hike, and do yoga
Time of day you prefer to work out: I typically work out in the evenings because I'm naturally a night owl, so I have more energy (and motivation) at night than I do in the morning. Plus, I have a habit of hitting snooze too many times and missing workout classes.
Energy level before class on a scale from 1 to 5: 2 (It would have been a 1, but I had nervous energy from waking up late.)
Energy level right after class: 4 (I felt surprising energized afterward. I'm thinking it could be due to the fact that it was a boxing workout, which I really enjoy!)
Did you notice any differences in productivity? I felt much more energized in the morning than I normally do and that was without coffee, which was really surprising. Toward about 2 p.m. though, my energy dropped and I felt pretty drained. (I came so dangerously close to taking a nap). That continued up until about 7 p.m. and then my energy levels returned to normal. I feel like the afternoon slump was compensating for that rare morning energy buzz.
What other interesting benefits did you notice? My productivity in the morning was higher than normal and I felt like I didn't have the morning brain fog that I usually do. Also, I felt significantly less stress about answering emails, deadlines, etc., than I normally do. Interestingly enough, I felt hungrier than normal throughout the day. Maybe it's because I always work out at night, after dinner, and then go to bed, so I'm not used to feeling hungry after a workout.
Energy level at the end of the workday: By the end of the day, I was coasting around 2. I was still in my energy slump at the end of the workday. It wasn't until about 7 p.m. (after dinner) that I felt normal again. This could just be because I'm not used to waking up extra early or working out in the morning, so it threw off my normal schedule a tad.
Erin Jahns, assistant editor
Times per week you work out: four to five
Favorite types of workouts: I can start to get really bored with workouts, so I need to constantly switch it up to keep up the routine. But I especially love dance-inspired workouts, classes that combine strength and cardio like HIIT, and most recently, Victoria has gotten me completely addicted to rowing.
Time of day you prefer to work out: I can do both. If I didn't have a 9-to-5, I would exercise in the morning because that's when I have the most energy. So on the weekends, I'll channel that into an early workout. But on days when I have a big to-do list (aka Monday through Friday), I feel like I have to use that initial burst to plow through emails and my first tasks of the day. So evening workouts have become my standard.
Energy level before class on a scale from 1 to 5: My first thought when I wake up every morning is one word: coffee. However, I resisted the urge so I could have a more accurate gauge on the impact of the workout. (Not easy.) So, head pounding because caffeine addiction is real, I was at about a 3.
Energy level right after class: 6—I was sweaty and tuckered out from the class, but I was definitely awake. I was also happy to have my daily workout under my belt and felt ready to take on the day.
Did you notice any differences in productivity? Whenever I work out before a full day at the office (which again, is pretty rare), I always notice I have less of that initial brain fog delay and sometimes I *almost* forget I have a borderline "life or death" caffeine dependency, and this experience was no different. I felt much more alert throughout the day and almost forwent my cup of cold brew (but I love it, so I didn't). I also felt like I was able to think, type, respond to emails, and communicate my ideas and copy more quickly. I still was tired, but my fingers were flying, and I would say I was also more efficient with my time management.
What other interesting benefits did you notice? Interestingly, I felt a lot more calm and relaxed. There's something wonderful about kick-starting your day with adrenaline and then knowing you can kind of settle in for the day and relax. I love to work out and appreciate the stress-relieving benefits, but I don't necessarily look forward to it at the end of a long day. I never regret it and am always happy after the fact, but the allure of Netflix or whatever book I'm reading is usually more tempting. I also felt more patient? Not sure what that was about.
Energy level at the end of the workday: I'm not going to lie, I felt pretty depleted by the end of the day. However, it's worth pointing out I think this had more to do with the fact I'd a had a couple of consecutive weeks with less sleep and more to-dos. Plus, it was just one of those days that feels like a marathon, and being that I had an afternoon appointment for a story I was working on, I didn't close my laptop until about midnight. However, I was surprised I was physically able to keep chugging for that long. Perhaps the workout helped?
Perhaps it's cliché, but as far as cultivating a workout routine that leaves you feeling energized, confident, and clear-headed, the key seems to involve a touch of experimentation. True, it can be helpful to ingratiate yourself and understand the literature and expert opinion on the topic, but just because a 6 a.m. or 8 a.m. workout might be religion for some doesn't necessarily mean it's going to rock your world. In fact, it could very well drain your cup, and hey, that's okay!
Even though many of the trainers and fitness experts we talked to felt there were many legitimate benefits of a morning workout, like increased energy, productivity, and metabolism, they also made it clear that just the act of making time for yourself (and during a time that feels energizing) is all that matters. After all, what's the point of forcing yourself to wake up if you'll only feel depleted, cranky, and hangry all day? Thought so.
And though both my co-workers and myself noticed some incredible benefits from our early morning sweat session, it was also fairly obvious that we typically work out in the evening for certain strategic reasons: stress-relief, more natural energy, and scheduling. And really, why should we change that if only to service the status quo? Sure, I might be mean and schedule more morning team workouts in the future (just for the sake of team bonding), but all in all, I think we each appreciate the benefits we feel from our evening or afternoon workouts just as much.