Understanding your body rhythm will help training and performance
When elite athletes are preparing for competition, they don’t leave anything to chance. All factors are taken into account in an attempt to give them the edge, including things that may appear trivial to some observers. One concept that may come under this category is the idea of when is the optimum time to train. For those of us who are just happy to get a bit of exercise when we can squeeze it into our busy routine of work and family, such ideas don’t come into our planning. However, it is something that most athletes factor into their training schedule.
Many studies have been conducted into this area in an attempt to pinpoint the best time of the day to exercise, with various conclusions. However, while many of those examples provide useful information, given the unique and individual nature of our physical make-up it is impossible to come up with a ‘one-size fits all’ exercise clock
To help us understand why it is an area that may influence our training routine, we can look at the notion of circadian rhythms that influence our daily lives. The circadian rhythm is a definite cycle of biological activity that occurs in our body in a 24-hour period. This rhythm affects our nervous system, cardiovascular system and musculoskeletal systems including hormone production, and as a consequence it has a huge influence on when we carry out specific tasks during the day.
Although it is sometimes assumed that the circadian rhythm affects only our wake/sleep cycle, it has a much greater role in determining our body temperature, blood pressure, mental acuity and metabolism. Judd Jones in ‘Your Best Time To Work Out’ explained why it is important for athletes:
“These complex 24-hour rhythms conform to daily cues such as sunlight, meals and other triggering factors. The time of day that we typically exercise can be one of those cues”
Window of optimal performance
It is not surprising, therefore, that many studies have been carried out to learn more about how a greater understanding of this rhythm can help an athlete. So far, there is no study that gives conclusive proof that, in general, one particular time of the day is better than another. What we learn is that depending on our disciplines, goals and schedule we can get different advantages at certain times, and the real benefit of these studies is that they provide broad recommendations that helps an athlete plan a schedule. Paul Moore’s article ‘What Is The Best Time Of Day To Go Training?’ outlines the advantages of the studies as we learn that there is a window close to the peak in core body temperature in which optimal performance in sports involving gross motor tasks can be attained. This window can extend for four to six hours provided that meals and rests are suitably fitted in during the daily routine.
“Sports that require fast explosive efforts tend to peak earlier and may be dependent on the sleep-wake clock rather than body temperature. Consequently, practices where skills have to be acquired should be conducted early in the day or around midday, but more severe training drills and “pressure training” practices are best timed for later in the day”
For those competing at the highest level, he reminds us that most athletic records are set in the late afternoon or evening. However, this may be partly due to the fact that the top races are generally scheduled for later in the day when the temperature is more favourable, while television schedules are also a factor. Overall, it is true to say that athletes consistently achieve their top performances at this time of day. This will back up the argument that athletes should train at the times they will compete.
Set your body clock
As there is no conclusive results from the various studies as to what is the best time of the day to exercise, the best advice would be to have an understanding of your body’s natural rhythm in order to optimise your workout. This should be done in tandem with a routine that will take into account the particular time of day at which you will be competing. Being able to adjust your body clock to your own particular needs should help give you another advantage when it comes to competition.
Having looked at the various studies available, Judd Jones, provides a guideline on how we can adapt our training schedule in order to get the optimum benefit, as different exercises work better at different times of the day. He points out that most running coaches are in favour of early morning runs despite the fact that flexibility and core body temperature is at its lowest at this time of day. However, if the training involves short distance speed runs or interval runs, then the afternoons are best. He suggests that weight training is best between 2pm and 8pm, while greater benefit will be had by swimming in the evening. His final bit of advice makes a lot of sense in that we need to listen to our bodies when you are organising your training schedule.
“The very best thing you can do is get a feel for your circadian rhythm. Once you have an idea of what feels right, make your workout times a habit and your body’s clock will adjust and become comfortable with a consistent exercise schedule”
The best time to exercise – Eat Clean Train Clean
How Does Time of Day Affect Your Workout? by Doug Dupont
Perfect Timing: When to train, eat, stretch, and do everything to run your best by Michelle Hamilton
Your best time to work out by Judd Jones
What Is The Best Time Of Day To Go Training? by Paul Moore
Should You Work Out In The Morning Or Evening? An Investigation by Kyli Singh
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Emma Hawke, PhD Exercise Physiology
Coach - Sweden Climbing, Olympic Offensive - Female Coach Swedish Olympic Committee, Senior Lecturer - Coach education programme (Sweden)
Dr. Dale Richardson
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Tino Fusco, B.Sc. ChPC
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