When is the best time to work out? This is a question I get asked all the time on Instagram. You know my answer: The best time to work out is the time that works the best for you.
However, I do have a few factors you might want to think about in order to optimize your experience. And they’re not physical factors, or not biological factors. They are, of course, psychological factors.
My business, Body Brain Alliance, is on a mission to reach 1 million people with compassion-first change education. I put out evidence-based behavior change videos every single Monday.
Today in this post we are going to explore workout timing specifically from a psychological, behavior change mindset perspective.
Let’s Talk About Stress
I’m going to talk about 3 things to consider when choosing when is the beset time to work out. The first thing I want to talk about is stress.
Most of us think stress is this really bad thing we need to avoid at all costs. Everything we hear out there is about stress reduction, stress management. In fact, though, the research indicates that’s not necessarily accurate.
And– let me blow your mind for a second—stress, to some extent, can actually be really good for you. So how does this relate to the best time to work out? Think about the times throughout the day when you are your most stressed, and how you feel. You likely feel alert. Your heart rate is elevated, your body is ready to go. You’re ready to essentially spring into action.
Hello! That is the perfect state to enter a workout. In fact, the act of moving can help redistribute that energy, that sense of go mode that you’re experiencing in a way that’s really healthy and empowering, rather than just trying to meditate or take a bath in order to let that energy dissipate.
Do a Stress Audit
Here’s what I would do: I would encourage you to do a stress audit. Break your schedule down into half hour increments. Then rate, on a scale of 1 to 5, how stressed-out you feel at every single point during the day. Schedule your workouts somewhere around those most stressed-out times… preferably right after you get that stress going- so that you have the workout as the way to get through it.
Now, if you want to learn more about the real science of stress, what you might be misunderstanding about it and how it relates to your workout consistency, I would highly recommend you check out my Change Academy membership inside of Change Academy. I do a 2 hour science-backed workshop every single month on a different theme, and this month our theme is how to become a frequent exerciser. Not only do we do the workshop, but we also have resources and a community so you can learn the science and apply it alongside other people all month long. Let me tell you, if you are someone who struggles to get your butt to the gym on a regular basis, do not miss this workshop.
Let’s Talk about Momentum
The second factor I want you to consider when planning or timing your workout during your day is momentum. Often. The hardest part about getting to the gym is not actually going to the gym. It’s getting off the couch or stopping your work or changing the thing that you’re currently doing. That’s why the best time to work out is during a natural transition time.
For example, let’s say that you get up in the morning and you immediately take your dog outside. If you are already moving, add the habit of putting on those workout leggings right after you let him out. Or if you have a commute home from work, look into getting a gym membership that’s somewhere along that route.
Let’s brainstorm together: List 3 times in your day where you’re naturally moving or you’re forced to move anyway. This will help you identify your transition times. Ask yourself, How could I sneak some working out or more movement into that specific period of time?
Let’s Talk About Decision Fatigue
The last thing to consider when debating when you should work out is something called decision fatigue. Decision fatigue happens when we decide, over and over again, when something should be done or whether it should be done at all.
Our brain uses cognitive resources to make decisions, so when we do it repeatedly, it’s sort of like lifting a dumbbell over and over again. Your brain is going to get tired and your decision-making ability is going to go down.
Decision fatigue usually rises throughout the day, so if you have a brain that’s a big negotiator, schedule your workout earlier rather than later in order to make that decision while decision fatigue isn’t too big.
For example, when I wake up in the morning, my brain immediately wants to start a debate. Now, I’ve spent years learning to manage my mind and control that debate so that I can actually move and behave in the way I want to.
That’s what we work with clients on in one-on-one coaching, and that skill has made a world of difference when it comes to my ability to follow through and do what I say I’m going to do.
Avoid the brain debate
But even with these skills, I find it much easier to work out earlier in the day so I’m able to make the decision and get to the gym before that fatigue gets me, and I don’t even have to have that debate in my brain.
Now, lots of you are going to say, Karin. I would love to work out in the morning, but I have such issues getting up in the morning, waking up early, and being consistent with my morning routine.
And if that’s you, don’t worry. I’m going to link a video that’s specifically about getting up early. It touches on your morning routine, and how you can use science to adjust your routine and make it work better for you.
I also want to remind you, there is no magic button you can push to make working out become effortless. There is no magic routine that will automatically make you super-motivated to work out every single day. Instead, give yourself grace.
Remind yourself that workout adherence is the result of mind management, cognitive flexibility and other behavior change skills, and growing those skills takes specific practice and it takes time. It’s not something you develop overnight.