There is always that one super motivated person in the office that everyone envies. The one who wakes up at 4:30am, get to the gym and complete a high-intensity session before commuting to work. These people are often the ones we look up to – if only we had that much discipline! We’d always achieve our goals! 

So, is there a right time to workout? Should I be setting my alarm before the sun even rises? 

What Does the Research State?

A study examined the link between the time of day a person exercises and how consistent they are likely to be with their workout routine. 

The study looked at 375 adults who had previously lost 30 pounds and kept it off for a whole year. These people already performed exercise 2 days a week and were fairly solid and consistent with their programs. Interestingly, 68% of participants worked out at the same time daily and of those, 47.8% who trained at consistent times did so in the mornings. 

What does this mean? Is there something particularly special about working out in the early hours of the morning? The evidence suggests maybe

The authors put the higher levels of consistency down to one thing; automaticity. This is simply the idea that we perform activities with a lowered amount of conscious awareness. It’s a habitual process that somehow drags us out of our beds and beckons us to throw on some sneakers. 

In the study, this idea of automaticity was the main reason for consistent exercise routines. Those that exercised more had a significant relationship with those that had a sense of automaticity. 

So how do we create this feeling of automaticity? 

The authors in the study suggest that having cues or “priming”, can achieve this. For example, going to the gym immediately after your morning coffee would prime your brain into thinking that morning coffee equates to a workout. This type of habitual conditioning leads to less motivation and attention required to get the job done. 

So, doing the same exercise, at the same time of day in the same location has a strong relationship with a consistent exercise routine. The most important takeaway though, was that cues relating to time were most important. 

The study found that daily exercise, at the same time, is linked with a regular exercise routine and more minutes of exercise weekly. This suggests that simply having a consistent time to work out maybe more important than any other cues – including the time of day. In fact, the authors suggest, “exercising at the same time of day, regardless of whether it is during the morning, afternoon, or evening, may help with achieving higher physical activity levels.” 

So, before you go to bed tonight with your exercise clothes on, ask yourself, what would be the most convenient time for you to work out consistently. If that’s immediately after work, during your lunch break or in the wee hours of the morning, it doesn’t matter. Find something that works, something that you can stick to, and this then becomes your most important time of day.