When you see the word ‘fit person’, what’s the first image you conjure up? Chances are it’s someone who bounds out of bed at 5.45am to go for a run.
Exercise and mornings aren’t strictly synonymous, but seeing all those sunrise runs and weights room selfies on Instagram at 7am is enough to make any non-morning person feel pretty crap about their fitness habits.
Of course, there are many benefits to a.m. exercise – for one, you get it out of the way first thing, and it’s a healthy start to the day.
However, if you really struggle to get out of bed in the early hours, and you have time available at night, there’s no reason why you can’t get your sweat on after the sun’s gone down. Here are eight benefits of doing so:
1. The gym might be less crowded.
Generally speaking, the morning peak time at the gym starts at around 6:30am and lasts through to 9am — meaning you're dragging yourself out of bed to fight for a spot in spin class or wait for a treadmill to free up. That's probably not going to put you in a great mood for the rest of the day.
Depending on where your gym is located, there's a good chance it'll be quieter in the evening. According to Joe Bonington, a Sydney-based strength and conditioning coach and former senior trainer at Fitness First, inner-city gyms in particular tend to be empty during the evening because workers are trying to get home.
You might have to wait a little later in suburban gyms, as the post-work rush is likely a bit later than that as people return from the city. If you hit the gym at these times, you'll have a lot more space, equipment and time to work with — and you can try out that new machine you've been eyeing off without being too self-conscious about how you look. (Post continues after gallery.)
2. Same with your favourite public place.
The gym isn't the only spot that'll be less crowded — you'll also have less unwanted spectators when you're exercising outdoors."If you go for a run at night it's quite calming as less people are out and about and you don't feel watched," one of our resident evening joggers says.
If you're running/walking/cycling outside when it's getting dark, remember to be aware of your surroundings and wear clothing that's going to be visible — reflective panels on leggings and jackets will help alert vehicles to your presence. If you feel uncomfortable going it alone, take a mate with you or see if there's a local running group you can join.
3. Exercise feels great after a long day at work.
After a stressful day in the office, it's tempting to slump on the lounge and watch TV until bedtime rolls around. That's okay — but a workout could actually be more therapeutic, if not more.
Firstly, the average Aussie is estimated to sit for between 8-12 hours a day, and as you probably know by now this can have some serious implications for your health — along with your anxiety levels, according to a new study.
A night-time netball game or spin class will help you get that stiff body moving again, and as one of our colleagues says: "I love the burst of energy it gives you after a long day in a chair".
Bonington — who founded the adventure gym Joe's Basecamp — adds that exercise can serve as highly beneficial mental transition between 'work' and 'home', allowing people to switch off from their working day.
"They can relax better, which means their recovery will be better, which means their performance is better the next day. It has a direct correlation with performance at work the next day as well," he explains.
"You can either do a workout where you zone out [like cardio] and so it becomes an almost meditative experience... Or the opposite, where you do something very skills-based like a CrossFit workout or boxing where you can't think about anything else, you have to focus on what you're doing. That cathartic experience is going to relax you and get rid of your stress hormones."
4. Sleep is important, too.
If you're capable of getting out of bed in the wee hours without too much trauma, why wouldn't you use that time to work out? However, if you're a creature of the dark who finds waking up in time to make it at work by 8:59am challenging, it's probably not wise to force yourself to set the alarm back even earlier.
Research indicates adults need a minimum of seven hours' sleep a night to function at their best, so if you're not falling asleep until after midnight, waking two hours earlier than usual will cut into your sleep time. That's not an excuse to forgo exercise altogether — sleep and exercise have a symbiotic relationship — so opt for a night workout instead if that suits you better.
As for how evening exercise impacts on your quality of sleep... Bonington says the scientific jury is still out: "A whole lot of evidence papers say it does affect your sleep; there's also a whole lot that say it doesn't."
Generally, he recommends doing any exercise involving strength-based training in the late afternoon or early evening, rather than the morning. Generally speaking, a lot of people swear by yoga as a way to calm their bodies in preparation for sleep. (Post continues after video.)
5. Your body is ready.
Exercising in the afternoon or evening has some proven benefits for strength training in particular.
"If you're doing strength training in the evening, you've been able to fuel your body by having two or three small meals by that time. So we've got more fuel in the fire that we can train harder to get the results we want," Bonington explains.
Those who train in the early morning, on the other hand, are generally operating in a "fasted state", meaning their bodies have less fuel to work off.
Another plus: Bonington says your likelihood of injury decreases as the day goes on because your enzyme and muscular function progressively improves. It's a different story when you wake up after lying in just a few positions overnight — especially if you launch straight into a workout without properly stretching and warming up.
"Your muscular function doesn't actually peak until 6 in the evening. That means your range of movement and the intensity with which you work are improving during the day, so anything that's strength or muscular endurance-based is going to have lot less likelihood of injury if it's done in the afternoon or evening," he says.
6. It could be a less stressful workout.
Without the working day looming, you have the chance to put a little more time into your workout and be a bit more experimental. For instance, you can teach yourself how to use different equipment or techniques, and ask for guidance from gym staff, without feeling guilty for holding up other patrons.
7. You can still watch TV at the gym.
In the battle of watching TV vs. slogging it out at the gym, the latter rarely wins. However, as that cute kid in the Old El Paso ad says:
Many gyms have TV screens and if you coordinate your workout with your favourite free-to-air show it can spur you on. Take it from one of our own gym night owls, Zoe: "I watch Masterchef while I run, which is an excellent motivator because if I leave I might miss something important. If I arrive at 7.30pm I feel like I need to run until 9 to find out who wins."
If you'd really rather not leave the house (because it's, you know, winter) you can even turn your favourite show into a workout. Just invent some rules — for instance, do five squats whenever Suzanne's eyes bulge in Orange is the New Black. (Post continues after gallery.)
8. You can bypass the gym shower.
Unless you work night shifts, you don't need to head straight to work looking all polished and professional following an after-hours workout — which means you can skip the hasty gym shower and have one in the comfort of your own private bathroom. No thongs required. Then you can go to bed all squeaky clean!
When do you prefer to work out?