With working from home becoming increasingly common, the old schedule of cramming in a workout before commuting, sitting at your desk all day, commuting home, and then wrapping up with a late-night post-office sweat session is becoming obsolete. With less rigid 9-to-5 work schedules, it makes sense that our training schedules need to become more flexible now, too. While many of us are still on dawn patrol, we also have to figure out how to fit in a workout in between Zoom meetings and what’s the best way to get in that late session (and get back to work if we have to). Fitting in our workouts at any time of day simply requires some pre-planning and logistics, and knowing what’s best for you.
Carl Valle is a sports technologist in Rhode Island. He coordinates with sports scientists to make their findings useful to regular athletes and he’s worked with all kinds of athletes from Olympians to age groupers over the past 14 years.
“I’ve done some work with sports scientists about the best time of day to workout for individuals,” Valle said. “It can get really complex, factoring in everything from is the athlete a morning person or night owl to if they’ve recently traveled to what their at-home environment is like.”
As you consider what your own schedule may look like in the coming months, here’s how to fit in your workouts no matter what.
Morning people, or “larks” as they’re sometimes called, tend to enjoy waking up and hitting the ground running (pun entirely intended). But for many, it isn’t natural or pleasant to face the music—uh, alarm clock—before even the sun has awoken.
“It’s a bit more complicated than simply deciding you’re going to train in the morning,” Valle said. “You need to factor in if you plan on eating before the workout, if you’ll be able to tolerate food after, and even when you might use the bathroom.”
If you are someone who needs to or prefers to log miles while the rest of the world is still snoozing, consider the following:
- Set your alarm clock or phone across the room. This ensures you’ll get out of bed to turn it off.
- Lay out everything you need for your workout the night before. This includes your outfit, gear bag, and nutrition.
- Consider purchasing a headlamp or reflective gear for running. This helps keep you safe and warns other pedestrians and drivers that you’re out there.
- Eat a good dinner the night before. Eating a healthy meal the evening before an early workout preps your body to wake up and get moving the next day. If you end the day low on energy, that’s how you’ll start the day, too.
- Keep a consistent wake-up time. Although it may be tempting to sleep in on certain days of the week, maintaining a fairly consistent (within 60-90 minutes) wake-up time each day makes it a tad bit easier to throw back the covers and greet the morning.
“Early morning is my favorite time to train,” said veteran triathlete Jenny Harrison. “The feeling of being outside as the sun rises and accomplishing something important first thing is what I enjoy most.”
Working from home certainly makes logging midday miles much easier, but some lucky people are even able to accomplish a lunch session while at the office.
Valle noted that a mid-morning to early afternoon workout can be beneficial for speed or power workouts like weightlifting. Your muscles are a bit more warmed up and you’ve been able to get down some fuel. It’s a good time to consider a shorter yet higher intensity meetup with some other midday-inclined friends. It can also be a natural break in your work day, and ultimately make you more productive later—instead of hitting a mid-afternoon office slump.
Should you wish to join the lunch run (or swim or bike) club, here are some takeaways for how to fit in a workout this time of day:
- Think carefully about what you eat leading up to the workout. A heavy or late breakfast may bog you down.
- Maximize your time—even if telecommuting, lunch hours go by all too quickly. Setting up a “go bag” of swim, bike, or run stuff in advance can help you knock that workout out and get back to the grind before anyone’s the wiser.
- Consider hydration and post-workout food. Wherever you live, midday can be the warmest time of day. Hydrate accordingly and have your actual lunch ready for after (since you used lunch time to workout).
- If you’re at an office, consider how long it will take to shower or clean up post-sweat sesh. Looks aren’t everything, but serious goggle eyes can definitely be distracting.
“I prefer to workout in the late morning, after my body wakes up and I have time to stretch, eat, and digest,” said multi-time Ironman finisher and nutritionist Jenn Giles. “This also allows me to get a few hours of work in before training, and it means the workout can serve as a mental break.”
After Dark Dream Chasers
Although triathletes are known to have comically early bedtimes (Is 7 p.m. too early? Asking for a friend…), there is still precious time at the end of the day where you can fit in a workout like a watt-busting bike ride or flip-turn-filled swim. And for many of us, that evening time from 5 p.m. to whenever is the only time to really get in a longer or bigger session on the weekdays.
Valle did caution that evening workouts can be detrimental to quality sleep: “Some people are very adrenaline sensitive, and they find they have trouble sleeping after a late-in-the-day workout.” Physical activity boosts adrenaline and cortisol, two naturally-occurring chemicals in the body that are the antithesis of the sleep-related substance melatonin.
However, if after the sun sets your motivation rises, here are some ways to make the most of pre-bedtime training:
- Meal prepping in the morning or at the start of the week will ensure you eat a nutritious, easy dinner when your evening workout is finished. Or have easy-to-make (or easy-to-heat-up) meals on hand for after your done. Post-hard trainer ride, at 8 p.m., is no time to become Martha Stewart in the kitchen. Fast, healthy, and filling is key.
- If you are outside as the sun sets, wear safety gear like lights and reflective vests.
- Take a warm shower after your session. This helps relax the body and mind and can better prepare you for sleep.
- Limit the duration of evening sessions to about 90 minutes. Too much longer than that and you may be up very late and will likely fall victim to high adrenaline and cortisol levels.
- Block off your work calendar starting at 5 or 6 p.m. This ensures no colleagues can sneak you into a late evening meeting unless it’s urgent.
“I love training right after work,” said triathlete and full-time human resources professional Julia Quirk. “It helps me calm my mind and shake off the nagging thoughts of the day.”
When all is said and done, what matters most is that you find what works for you and your schedule, regardless of what the clock says. And block it into your schedule—even if your schedule is WFH and Zoom school. Putting a “meeting” on your calendar (especially if it’s a swim appointment) will help you ensure that you really get that workout in.