Weight training is a way of life for many people. Many swear by their after work session, whereas some believe strength training in the morning is the key.
Lifting weights first thing in the morning can quickly become an engrained habit. But is it any good?
For me, weight training in the morning is a winning formula.
Tackling a strength session first thing in the morning is the perfect time for me and for many others too – no distractions, nothing to get in the way, wake up excited to train and then you’re set up for the rest of the day.
Let’s take a closer look at lifting weights in the morning, why you should consider it, the benefits and the things to look out for.
Weight training in the morning – should you do it?
I’m a big advocate for weight training first thing in the morning.
If it suits your lifestyle and helps you consistently get to the gym, then absolutely you should strength training in the morning. There are plenty of benefits to it, which I’ll get on to shortly.
I’ve been weight lifting early in the morning regularly for over 7 years. I plan in a couple of rest (growth) days, but a solid four times a week I’ve been getting up between 5-6am to head to the gym for a weights session.
For me it gets the day off to a great start. I not only feel like I’ve accomplished something first thing, but it helps keep my nutrition and other healthy habits in line for the rest of the day. Of course, it also gives you plenty of time to follow other pursuits, go to work and spend time with the family.
The important thing is that it fits in with you and your priorities.
To make morning weight lifting effective you have to prepare properly the night before. This means going to bed early. You need at the very least 7 hours of good quality sleep.
I go to bed excited that I’ll be up early to train. If you can make the most of the early nights, you’ll be on to a winner.
Can I do weight training in the morning?
Absolutely you can lift weights and build strength in the morning.
Yes it may take a bit of getting used to, especially if you’re not naturally a morning person, but it can be a learned habit and well worth it.
This all comes down to your body’s natural cycle of biological activity, also known as your circadian rhythm.
The circadian rhythm is an innate, natural cycle of hormone release, chemical activity and subconscious bodily functioning over a 24 hour period. Through certain behaviours and actions throughout the day, you can adjust your natural rhythm over the course of a few weeks. This includes training your body to rise up earlier in the morning.
When you train comes down to individual preference. Many people feel better heading to the gym in the evening with a day’s worth of food inside them. Some people, including me, feel fresher and more awake in the morning.
Both of these points intrinsically make you more motivated and enthusiastic to train, which is important in itself.
7 Benefits of weight training in the morning
So, now you know that you can weight train in the morning, let’s take a look at the benefits as to why you should lift weights first thing.
- Very solid start to the day – by attacking the day with a weight lifting session early morning, you’ve already got a big win before it hits 9am.
- Free time – it gives you plenty of productive time left for the rest of the day. Whether this is for work or your own endeavours.
- Drills in a good habit – it’s not often that something crops up before 6am. This means once you’re up, nothing is going to get in between you and your weight training. It’s consistency and habit that give you compound interest over time.
- Mood booster – a morning session means you leave the gym feeling great. This filters into the rest of the day, giving you more enthusiasm and more motivation to follow a better diet and keep up your healthy habits.
- Dedicated morning crowd – There’s a certain type of person that sticks to an early morning lifting session. These people are dedicated, serious about training and want to get stuff done.
- Get on the equipment you want – the early morning gym scene can be busy, but not as busy as the bumper evening crowds you see. This means you can get on most pieces of kit fairly easily, which means your session doesn’t suffer.
- Helps you sleep at night – as unconventional as it sounds, rising early at a consistent time helps set your sleep pattern. Even better, seeing the sunrise or early morning sunlight (which has a specific wavelength) really does go a long way to keep your body’s circadian rhythm flowing in the right way.
Is it bad to weight train in the morning?
No, it certainly isn’t bad to weight train in the morning.
Once your body gets used to waking up earlier than usual (and if you’ve had enough sleep the night before), you’ll be feeling great hitting the gym in the morning.
Plenty of research suggests that there are fairly minimal differences in strength output and muscle gain when training in morning and evening are compared (more on this shortly).
There are a few things you need to be aware of when lifting in the morning to make it as effective as possible.
For example, you need to make sure you warm up properly.
You’ve hopefully been asleep in bed for 8 hours just before your session where the vast majority of your muscles, plus your spine, have been inactive. So, it’s vital to warm up and mobilise your muscles and joints in a progressive manner.
Get your blood pumping first on a piece of cardio equipment to elevate your heart rate. Then when you are ready to get weight lifting, work your way up to your working weight by doing progressively heavier warm up sets.
Is it safe to weight train in the morning?
Weight training in a safe manner is important. Nobody wants to get injured and but themselves out of action for a number of weeks.
Lifting weights in the morning is perfectly safe but you need to follow a few protocols to make sure you and your body are up to speed before you start throwing the 20kg plates on the bar.
Before your early morning training session you need to bring your body up to speed. Let’s take a look at the major areas to consider.
Water is your true fuel.
When you first wake up in the morning, it’s likely that you’ve not drank much water for the past 8-10 hours. So, the first port of call upon waking should always be a glass of cold water.
I try to have around 500ml of cold water from the fridge within the first 10 minutes of getting up.
Being efficient in the morning is all about simplifying things. To make it easy for myself, I put my stainless steel water bottle in the fridge the night before, along with my intra-workout drink so it’s nice and cold.
What to eat before early morning weight lifting?
When you wake up, your blood sugar levels are likely to be low. If you’ve had a good meal the evening before, you should have glycogen (stored sugar) in your muscles.
However, it’s still important to take on nutrition – particularly in the form of carbohydrates and protein – before your training session to raise your blood glucose levels. Because of the strain on the body and energy requirements need, fasted weight lifting is not recommended. I’ve been to the gym in the morning on an empty stomach a couple of times and it does not feel good.
Some of the best foods to have in the morning before weightlifting are:
- Crumpets or whole grain toast with peanut butter and jam
- Protein shake
- Banana (and peanut butter)
- Oats with milk and fruit
- Malt loaf
- High protein smoothie (maybe made the night before)
Some people might have a protein shake, piece of fruit or a chunk of malt loaf. A protein shake first thing in the morning never sits right in my stomach, so my go to early morning pre-workout meal at the minute is two crumpets, peanut butter and jam. Ideally you need to give yourself at least 30 minutes to digest any pre-workout food.
With early morning training, taking in caffeine or a pre-workout mix is also a good option.
Results from this study suggest that taking in caffeine in the morning increases neuromuscular performance in people (men in this case) that are used to weight lifting, and raised performance to the levels of the afternoon trial.
Elevate your core body temperature
Your core temperature drops as you sleep and hits its lowest levels in the very early-mid hours of the morning.
As soon as you wake up this will start to elevate but there are a few things you can try and do to push it along. One of these is getting early morning sunlight. If it’s in the depths of winter and it’s still dark outside, turn on the overhead lights in your house. If your body knows or thinks it’s day time, which is where light levels are a major signal, it will release the appropriate hormones to make you feel awake and focused.
When you get to the gym, raise your temperature by getting your heart rate elevated. This will help prepare your body for weight lifting.
Prime up your mobility
Whilst you’re asleep, the fluid in your spine settles and pools towards the back of your discs. Being immobile for the best part of eight hours explains why you might feel stiff.
Once you get up, it takes a little while for the fluid to rebalance again until your spine is feeling good to go.
It’s for this reason why heavy squatting and heavy deadlifts can be tricky to do first thing in the morning. These moves put your spine under a lot of load, so you need to be primed up properly before you attempt them.
Can you build muscle working out in the morning?
Of course you can build muscle by training in the morning.
You may hear and read that you can’t put muscle on by working out in the morning as you’re body isn’t in the ideal state.
Over the past 8 years, I’ve been dedicated to getting up early and lifting weights before work. In this time, I’d estimate that I’ve added at least 10 kg of muscle mass whilst maintaining a similar body fat percentage. This rate of muscle addition is fairly slow as I’m already relatively well-trained, but if you’re not used to lifting weights, you’ll be able to pack on muscle fast.
Many weight lifters and strength athletes have a preference for afternoon training.
Previous studies have shown that most people are slightly stronger in the evening than in the morning. Comparison studies have shown that generally speaking, the groups training in the evening gain a little more muscle mass.
If you’re a full time athlete then sure you might be at a slight advantage to train in the afternoon.
However, the differences in strength and muscle mass between morning and afternoon training are often minimal and not statistically significant. Even more, differences generally disappear after several weeks of morning workouts. So, for the likes of you and me, training time may not have a huge impact on performance.
Some studies have also suggested that similar levels of muscle strength and muscle growth could be achieved regardless of time of the day in previously untrained men over an 11 week period.
If you want to build muscle as fast as possible you may have a slight advantage of training in the afternoon/evening.
The bottom line for me is that a couple of percentage points in difference at best is not as important as a good training routine at a consistent frequency that suits you and your individual preferences. This is going to benefit you more over the long term.
Wrap up on weight training in the morning
There’s no scientifically proven perfect time to train for maximise gains and strength.
The best time to train is a time that suits you, your personal lifestyle, family and work routine.
The most important aspect is that you lift weights regularly.
Weight training in the morning is fantastic for a number of reasons – it becomes a habit, it sets you up for the day and given a good pre-workout routine, your strength will not suffer.
If you do choose to train first thing in the morning the best habit you can form is to get between 7 and 9 hours sleep.
Sleep is the best natural performance enhancer there is. No question. It’s vital for weight lifting performance, mental wellbeing and pretty much everything else in life.
So, is weight training in the morning good? It’s a categorical yes from me.
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