Sunday, April 7, 2013

Do You Need To Stop Lifting In The Morning?



Morning workouts, like so many other things in our community, can become almost a religious ritual for some athletes. Many feel that lifting in the morning sets a tone for their entire day, leaving them feeling charged and ready for whatever a case of the Mondays might throw at them. Others train in the early morning simply because it is the only time they can find the time because of school, work, kids, a commute, etc. But, what if there are physiological disadvantages to training in the early morning? Let's take a look at some of the potential drawbacks to early morning lifting, and how to find ways to work around them.

Body Temperature
The temperature of the human body tends to be the lowest roughly 1-3 hours before waking, giving the muscles that stiff, sore feeling that most lifters are very familiar with. For me, I feel like there is a brick between my erectors that wont go away for about 90 minutes after I wake up, or until my body gets warmer.Many injuries stem from not being properly warmed up, and this tends to happen in the morning, especially if you are waking up at 5am to rush to your 6am training session. In the afternoon, the body temperature is much higher, more blood has been flowing to the muscles, and unless you are hunched over a desk ALL day, you will probably be more warmed up than if you went to a 6AM practice, half awake.
 
Cortisol Levels


 
Cortisol levels tend to be highest in the early morning, which is when a lot of lifting or fitness classes tend to occur for the 9-5 crowd. Cortisol is necessary for morning wakefulness.  A study found that lifting heavy things at night, as opposed to in the morning, resulted in a more anabolic (strength and size-building) testosterone/cortisol ratio. This may explain why afternoon or evening training is better for strength and size gains.  Testosterone is low in the morning, while cortisol is high, and the opposite is true in the evening. If you are working out with an already elevated level of cortisol, intense training will only raise it more, which can result in diminishing returns for you.

Performance Levels.
For low impact, do relatively easy exercises such as long runs or walks. Morning tends to be the best time for these exercises because they aren't adversely affected by cortisol and testosterone levels, and are easier to do while still the body is waking up. However, in a recent study, 10 and 11 year old males performed noticeably better in the afternoon than in the morning. They improved 5% on the jump test, 3.5% on the squat jump test,  grip strength improved 5.9%, and overall performance increased 5.5%. Now this may not sound like much, but if you are deadlifting 500 pounds, that is a 30lb difference. The study also suggested that the difference in performance levels between morning and afternoon could be made up by a longer warmup in the morning. Although, most of the time (myself included) morning workouts are done as quickly as possible in order to get home and eat/ get ready for work.
 
Spinal Fluid


This is an aspect of early morning lifting that isn't talked about too often. Basically the discs between each of the spine's vertebrates is made of a jelly-like substance that is designed to fill up or expand in order to absorbs shocks that are put upon the body. These discs also fill up greatly at night while asleep, and this expanded size is maintained for about 60 minutes after waking. The team Chiropractor and I talked about this last week, and discussed how discs that are engorged with fluid can actually negatively affect a deadlift and possibly leave one susceptible to a slipped disc or herniation. One way to correct this is to warm up the spine more than normal in the early morning, to drain some of the fluid out of the area. One of the ways is the cat back/ camel back stretch, a very quick and effective tool for warming up the thoracic spine. Unfortunately, some who lift in the morning because of time constraints choose to skip a lengthy warmup, and that can leave you having a bad time.

My goal here is not to dissuade you from lifting in the morning if that is the only time you can. Instead, it is good to educate yourself on the potential risks of early morning workouts if you don't take the adequate steps to prepare yourself for the rigors that will occur. If time is not an issue for you, try switching your workouts to the afternoon to see if you have noticeable differences in strength, flexibility, and focus. Does this switch work for you? Let us know!

15 comments:

  1. Thanks for this great post, it's very interesting. I can confirm from my experience that my lower back issues (with disc) went almost away when i decided not to do heavy squats/deadlifts in the morning. If I have to train in the morning, i try to do upper body workouts.

    One question though - you mentioned that for about 60 minutes after waking expanded size of discs is keep up. Do you have maybe any sort of info or chart to see how long that spinal fluid is getting rid of?

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  2. Switched from 5am to 5pm sometime ago after having to do some workouts in the afternoon due to scheduling reasons. I just felt stronger in the afternoon, and quickly learned that I could DL an Snatch better then too. This confirms my suspicions about morning vs evening training. 5am training is brutal anyway, I also tweaked my back attempting heavy squats in the morning too. Great post!

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  3. This switch definitely helped me! I was working out at 6am everyday last year but due to school and work schedules changing I've been forced to workout in the afternoons around 2 or 3 and I have seen and felt so many differences in my performance! Great article!!

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  4. I work out at 5:30am before work, and I NEVER miss a workout. I've tried to switch to a PM workout in the past and missed many. Unexpectedly working late etc.

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  5. Well how about some tips for those of us who have no choice but to work out at 0400? But don't go thinking we don't LIFT BIG THEN EAT BIG!

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  6. Switched from doing early morning workouts to evening. Found there was quiet a difference. Seemed to be able to power through lifts harder and generally be more productive with my gym session.

    Wouldn't go back to morning lifts

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  7. "Testosterone is low in the morning" lolwut? Please do proper research, high early morning testo is common knowledge. Testo is produced while you sleep.

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  8. Have you discussed Cortisol and the T/C ratio in previous posts? I Know nothing about the role cortisol plays,and why it would limit, or inhibit, growth.

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  9. I definitely feel stronger and have better performance when training in the evening, but unfortunately I'm one of those who fit the workout around everything else and mornings are the only time I can consistently get in 4 times a week. Eye-opening article, though, and certainly going to add another 5-10 minutes to the warm-up!

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  10. It's not that testosterone is low in the morning but the T/C ratio is lower in the morning. In regards to cortisol, it's a catabolic hormone. It increases the levels of glucose in the bloodstream through gluconeogenesis in the liver. Gluconeogenesis is essentially the creation of glucose by taking other compounds such as glycerol, lactate, amino acids, etc. Though with that said there isn't any peer reviewed scientific evidence to show that Strength training in the afternoon/evening vs. the morning leads to greater gains in strength as long as the morning group has had an adequate warm up.

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  11. Goes in line with the Circadian rhythm.

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  12. I do my best work in the morning, no 5am morning but 930\10am. I feel if I train anytime after 3pm I just feel as good as I would in the am.

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  13. I used to workout in the morning only. switched up a year ago, all of my lifts increased dramatically (30-75 pounds).

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  14. How long is an adequate warm up to compensate for a morning workout?

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