Sunday, March 27, 2011

Weight Training: Not Just What, But When

Since starting to hit the gym hard a couple of years ago, Kelly and I have been working out as a start to our days -- usually between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m.

We never questioned whether that time was right.  It simply fit into our schedules.  We got our weight training in and then would do our cardio at the end of the day at about 6 or 7 p.m.   It worked and we never questioned whether there might be a better time of day to workout.

Then, on the way to the circus as it were, we found ourselves out of town and in a situation where early morning workouts didn't fit our schedules.  In making adjustments we found it easier to get up early and get the cardio in and then show up at the gym about noon.  We never thought it would be permanent or even make a difference.  It was simply the way it was.

But, we discovered something important:  It's not just what you do that is important.  It is when you do it.

What we found was that we were both noticeably stronger at noon than we had been at 7 a.m., even after doing our cardio session earlier in the morning.  And that was an important discovery.  The stronger you are the more weight you can lift.  The more weight you can lift, the more micro-tears in the muscle and the bigger the muscle will grow (assuming proper nutrition, protein balance, etc.)

This caused me to do a little research when we got back home and here's what I found - the pros and cons of working out early in the day . . .

Pros of early morning workouts:
• The majority of people who exercise consistently do so early in the day. It is easier to form the exercise habit through morning exercise.
• Fewer distractions and schedule interruptions.
• Can make time for exercise by getting up a bit earlier.
• Raises your heart rate and metabolism to burn more calories earlier in the day.
• Gives a feeling of physical energy for hours.
• Improves your mental acuity for hours.
• Cooler temperatures in summer.
• Air pollution is lowest in the morning.
• The body adjusts to your exercise time, so if you are training for a morning sports event, train in the morning.

Cons of early morning workouts:
• Body temperature is at its lowest 1-3 hours before awakening, making morning a time of naturally lower energy and blood flow.
• Cold, stiff muscles may be more prone to injury - be sure to warm up well before doing a higher intensity workout, and do gentle stretching.
• If you do not enjoy morning exercise, you won't easily form a habit by choosing a morning workout time.
• Because body temperature and hormones are higher in late afternoon, you probably get the same or better calorie-burning effects later in the day.

Bingo!  That explains why morning workouts were great in the beginning -- it got us into a habit.  It, unfortunately, also perhaps explains why I was suffering more injuries than I needed to.  Most importantly, it explains why later in the day (about noon) works for us best now -- we're more energetic, can hit it harder and heavier, and get in more sets.

Does that mean "noon" is the time to workout?  No.  It just means it is the best time for us now.  As we move through our development, it may be that we move the workout even further forward in the day, to say 5 p.m.  After all, some of the best bodybuilders in the world workout late in the day.  Or, we may find that we'd like to take advantage of the metabolic effects of working out in the morning and move it back to sometime early in the day.

Lesson:  Experiment!  See what's best for you and always be willing to try something new -- whether it is a new exercise or a time to exercise.

Train hard; diet harder!