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Muscle for life

Can Your Workout Schedule Help You Build Muscle?

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Can Your Workout Schedule Help You Build Muscle?

Should you do morning, afternoon, or evening workouts? Is there a “best” workout schedule for building muscle?

 

Everyone has workout schedule preferences, and many have various theories as to why they think their schedule is best.

Some of us like to wake up early and start our day with working out, whereas others prefer to train later in the afternoon or in the evening.

Are certain times better than others for building muscle, though? Is the time of day that we train important at all?

Let’s find out!

Workout Schedule and Muscle Strength

Generally speaking, most people are weakest in the morning, and strongest in the late afternoon and evening.

One study found that maximal power output during cycling sprints was higher in the early afternoon than the morning. Another cycling study found that power output was about 6% higher at 6 PM than it was at 6 AM.

These effects have been seen with weightlifting as well.

Research conducted by The College of William & Mary looked at the time-of-day effect on training with ten healthy, untrained men. Subjects performed strength tests at 8 AM, 12 PM, 4 PM, and 8 PM, and force production was greatest in the evening.

Other studies demonstrated similar findings. Research conducted by the University of Bourgogne found that subjects’ non-dominant quadriceps were strongest at 6 PM. A study conducted by the University of Jyväskylä showed that peak leg torque was lower at 7 AM than 5 PM.

The bottom line is if you do your strength training in the late afternoon or early evening, you’ll probably perform a little better than the early morning.

It’s worth noting, however, that using caffeine before your early morning training can boost your performance to afternoon levels.

Furthermore, research has shown that if you consistently train at a certain time of the day, your body will eventually adapt and perform best at that time

Personally, I like to train early in the morning, even if I’m a tad weaker than I would be training later in the day. The weights are completely free at 7 AM, and I get a huge energy and mood boost that lasts the entire day. And I’ve never had trouble making gains on this schedule.

 Workout Schedule and Hormones

Some people hear that testosterone peaks in the morning and drops at the end of the day, and worry that training in a lower-T environment could be problematic.

Well, while it’s true that testosterone reaches its daily low point in the evening, research has shown that the exercise-induced rise in testosterone can actually be greater in the evening than the morning.

 

 

 

There’s also the hormone cortisol to consider, which is released in response to stress, and which is a “catabolic” hormone (meaning it breaks substances down, including muscle and fat).

Resting cortisol levels are highest in the morning, before waking, and progressively decline as the day goes on, reaching a low point in the evening. Research has also shown that the cortisol response to exercise is lower in the early evening (7 PM) than the morning.

Because higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol means a more anabolic environment, researchers from the Charles Stuart University theorized that the evening may be the optimal time to perform resistance exercise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How does this theory hold up in practice, though? Will we actually make better gains by training in the evening?

The short answer is probably not.

How can that be, though? Surely more strength and a more anabolic hormone profile must result in more muscle growth, right?

Workout Schedule and Muscle Growth

Let’s first talk about the hormone profile. Higher testosterone levels and lower cortisol levels sounds like a recipe for building more muscle.

It’s not though.

Research conducted by McMaster University demonstrated that natural (the key word here) variations in exercise-induced spikes of hormones doesn’t affect–positively or negatively–muscle growth and strength progression.

 

This is why testosterone boosters, even if they worked (most don’t), are a waste of money if you’re looking to build more muscle. And this is why the relatively small, natural hormonal fluctuations that occur throughout the day aren’t likely to affect much either.

Similarly, small, temporary (remember that your body will adapt to your training time) differences in strength don’t matter much, either.

A study conducted by the University of Jyväskylä lends some insight on the matter. The subjects participated in a 10-week training program, with one group performing their workouts in the morning (between 7 – 9 AM) and another performing their workouts in the afternoon (between 5 – 7 PM).

At the end of the 10 weeks, researchers found no significant difference between the strength and hypertrophy gains between both groups. The morning group gained an average of 2.7% muscle in their quad, and the afternoon group gained an average of 3.5%.

The .8% difference wasn’t enough to register as statistically significant, but it’s possible the difference would have been larger, or smaller, with more people, or longer training.

 The “Best” Workout Schedule

All things considered, choosing the right workout schedule is like choosing the right dietary protocol: the best one is the one you’re going to stick to.

The bottom line is you can be very flexible with your workout schedule. It is, however, smart to stick to a schedule once decided upon so your body can fully adapt to the training time.

 

What workout schedule works best for you and why? Have anything else you’d like to add? Let me know in the comments below!

 

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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  • Gabe

    This was always something of a conundrum for me over the years. I like the idea of getting a workout done early in the day without waiting for people to get done curling in the squat rack but I have no energy in the morning.

    Conversely I feel much better in the evening but it basically makes a pre-workout supp a terrible idea if I hope to sleep again. So most days I go around 11am and then treat myself to a big lunch.

    • Michael Matthews

      Me too–early lifting is just my favorite all-around time.

      True with the late pre-workout. I’m fairly immune to caffeine so it probably wouldn’t bother me, but the early caffeine is a nice way to get going…

  • Miles Spangrud

    I love to lift in the evenings. I find that my motivation and drive to hit that ‘one more rep’ mentality is much more prominent during that time of day. However, that mood boost you receive from morning workouts you mentioned it spot on, which is why I do cardio in the A.M. Good article!

    • Michael Matthews

      Nice. I have it reversed: I lift early and find the cardio relaxing in the evening.

  • Ignacio Colautti

    I do it when I can, midday or afternoon. Midday when I have football practice on afternoon.
    I prefer mixing than not going.

    • Michael Matthews

      Great, just keep getting it in.

  • CPANinjaDoug

    I’ve found the older I’ve gotten the harder early mornings have become. I tend to workout after work for that and many other reasons.

    • Michael Matthews

      Great, glad you have a schedule that works for you.

  • cody

    man I love your articles. always learn so much. ive always had better workouts in the morning. I get up eat my eggs and oatmeal, take pwo and ride my bike to the gym and hit it hard. seeing great progress with this system. I work as a machinist so a lot times after work I just don’t feel motivated so mornings workouts have really been the answer to that.]

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Cody!

      Really glad to hear it’s going well. I also like morning workouts the most.

  • Chris

    Since having my daughter I have much less time in the evenings. I prefer to work out at 7am cause it’s 100% my time, also there’s less chance of my schedule being disrupted by social events etc.

    • Michael Matthews

      Same here!

  • Dave Thomas

    I train after work cause it helps me to release all that crazy work stress so I can focus on my daughters.

    • Michael Matthews

      Haha nice. 🙂

  • Chinski

    I like working out in the evening but mornings don’t bother me as long as I can get it in

    • Michael Matthews

      Nice, whatever works for you!

  • Steph

    I work out in the mornings. Many times I’m in the gym before 5, mostly out of necessity since so many things are going on with work, family, etc. in the afternoons I can’t have a consistent schedule then. Plus I feel extra good about myself walking into work at 8 knowing I already accomplished more that morning than most people would the entire day!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Nice. I get there by 715/730 for the same reason. Keep up the good work!

  • Ben Hunt

    I workout starting around 2PM. This is simply a necessity. I work night shift. Trying to maintain an energy level that will carry me through my day and this works best for me. Trying to balance everything so I can go back to gym after work a do cardio.

    • Michael Matthews

      Nice, keep it up!

  • The Swiss Miss

    I work out different times of the day, as I work shifts… 1 week of earlies, 1 week of later and 1 week of nights. Then I get two weeks off. So basically I aim to work out within about an hour or two of waking up. The only time I don’t is when I’m on earlies.. a 7 am start would mean getting up at stupid o’clock and I draw the line at that. I then work out after work instead. Its particularly challenging with getting your eating right as times change every week and it’s simply nuts when I’m on nights. Still, I plug away at it 6 times a week, one way or another. This is why I only work out at home. No 24 hour gyms around here!

    • Michael Matthews

      Ah yeah I email with quite a few shift workers. Keep up the good work!

  • Preston Ray

    I always work out as soon as my gym opens, at about 5:45 am. I just feel the best when I work out at this time, as I find that my energy tends to feel lower as I progress through my day if I don’t workout early. Also, like you said; weights are free and I feel amazing throughout the rest of my day when I jump start it with a session of lifting!

    • Michael Matthews

      Nice. I’m there around 7 am. I really like how it sets me up for the day as well.

  • Tetsuo Shima

    I workout at around 10am every weekday before work. Not too early to still be feeling weak. I can not stand the gym after work hours. It’s completely rammed! Much prefer being there when it’s quiet and I can use a rack.

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s a great time. I hit it really early when it’s empty and I just like to start my day with it.

  • Pingback: 8 Proven Ways to Break Through Weightlifting Plateaus | Muscle For Life()

  • phoenix

    I work at an actual gym so I usually just train straight when I get off at 2:30 I find its a good time because I’ve had breakfast and lunch was two and a half hours ago. So I still have some energy from the food then I go from my workout to my martial arts classes three times a week for an hour each. Which provides good cardio since we run for about ten minutes and the class helps stretch out the muscles a bit then I go eat dinner, shower and a couple hours later sleep.

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah that’s a great time.

  • Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

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  • Bailey

    Hey I’ve got a question. I’m a junior in high school I’m 17 and weigh 150. I love working out. It is what some may call my passion. I haven’t taken any thing in about 2 years not even protein. I do eat a lot though lol. But I have a weight lifting competition coming up and I was wondering if could tell me if I would do good for my class. I bench 230, squat 395 but hope to get 400 by the time it gets here and power clean 250 but hope to get about 260 before it gets here. Also I’ve been think about taking a supplament again but not. Sure what. I don’t really want any bad sideofects. Just some thing to help me with my maxes.

  • Bailey

    P.s. U should email me ur opinion.

  • Bailey

    Hey I’m 17 and a junior in high school I already posted a comment but it looks like it did stay. Well it was kinda long any ways I’ll make this one short. Well I have a weight lifting competition coming up and I was wondering if u think I would do good. I way 150 bench 230, power clean 250 hope to get 260 before the competition and squat 395 but hope to get 400 before the competition also. Also Haven’t taken any thing in alittle over 2 yrs like not even protein and I’m think about taking some thing to get a little bit big. But not just in fat mostly muscle. No then that would hurt me though. Hahaha this ended up being long too lol

  • Bailey

    P.s u should email me ur opinion.

  • Bailey

    O and sorry this wasn’t relevant to morning work outs

  • Hey Mike, I know you train fasted at 7am. Two things:

    1) Do you always train fasted, whether your bulking or cutting?

    2) Do you put anything in your stomach at all before training at 7am?

    I’m thinking it might be best to start training in the mornings now that I have a son. I just want to make sure that I’m utilizing that time in the gym the best I can… Especially nutritionally.

  • Bree

    Hey Mike,

    I’ve been doing your TLS 5 day schedule and love it but because I’m a shift worker I find it so hard to workout before or after morning shift; usually because I don’t get a solid 6.5-7 hrs sleep the night before and can’t nap when I get home or I won’t go to sleep for the next morning shift.

    So basically I am desperately trying to cut and keep up the routine but really getting difficult to lift on those morning shifts (caffeine and napping not an option).

    Essentially I can’t do the first 2 days but have the next 8 days available where I have the energy and ability to do it before I hit the mornings again for 2 days, is there any routine you could recommend for that? I love the exercises on the 5 day routine in TLS and really would like to get to 20% BF.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated 🙂

    Bree

    • Hey Bree!

      Just so I understand your schedule:

      2 days where you can’t train followed by 8 that you can followed by 2 that you can’t and so on?

      Lemme know and I’ll advise!

      • Bree

        Hey Mike,

        Thank you for replying, yes that is right…some days I
        am fine- but after a long shift and a little one at home sometimes time
        is limited.

        Looking forward to your reply!

        Bree
        Sending thanks all the way from Australia 🙂

        • YW! Okay cool.

          In your case, I’d recommend just following the 5-day split but instead of doing it every 7 days, you can do it every 10 days. So, it’s a bit less frequency, but you can still get great results on it.

          Thoughts? Happy to help. 🙂

  • Fakhar UL HASSAN

    Hi,

    I am 19 years Old and my weight is 48.5 kg having 5.7 ft height & I have attached an image file so you can understand my body structure

    I want my body to look like a healthy structure not a skinny one.

    Thats Why I want to start workout , I need your help because I am a beginner I have no idea to have a good diet which will make my body healthy so please recommend me a “healthy diet plan” and “workout tips” for beginners so I will gain weight .

    Thanks.

    Fakhar

  • AK

    I used to lift light weights in the evenings 4pm-5pm for a year and put on on 20-25 lbs weight/muscle. After wife had a child, had to start lifting weights in the morning 4am-5am, but ended up loosing 20-25 lbs and over a year could only put on a few lean pounds of weight/muscle. I don’t take any supplements and food intake is same.

  • Farzaneh

    I have lifted in the mornings from 6am-8am for a year now. Due to new work, I can change workout hours to a more “optimal” time (if you consider the studies) from 3pm-5pm.
    I have tried to lift weights in the afternoon for some weeks now, but I am definitely weaker at that point (which contradicts the studies). Do you have any idea how long before my body will adapt to the new workout hours?

    • That’s interesting. Similar effects have been seen in studies–some people ARE stronger in the mornings for whatever reason.

      • Farzaneh

        Do you have links to those studies?
        What would you do in my situation? Simply stick with the mornings or change?

        • I don’t, no. I’ve come across them randomly in my travels, haha.

          If you’re stronger in the morning, stick with it.

          • Farz

            I understand.

            Basically, I will stick with the new hours for a month, to give my body time to adapt. Maybe it will trigger even more growth. If not, I go back to mornings.
            Thanks!

          • Sounds good. LMK how it goes.

            Welcome!

          • Farzaneh

            Well.. I have now done afternoon workouts for a month or so. I seem to never adapt, I am weaker and not in the “mood” as in morning workouts. I am simply going to switch back again.
            One benefit tho, was having a nice dinner after a evening session. Other then that, I see no benefit for myself 🙂

          • Cool! Whatever works best for you.

  • Zend HetMij

    Training in the morning? sounds like a nice enough idea to start the day. Going to try it starting tomorrow.

    @Mike, how to you schedule your morning? eat something and hit the weights 10 minutes after that? Or do I need more time between my food so my body is not still in a fasted state?

    • That’s what I did for years. I’ve actually just recently started working out in the late afternoon/early night to workout with the guys here at MFL and Legion.

      I’d give a bit more time between your pre-workout meal and your actual workout. 30 minutes is good.

      • Farzaneh

        Any noticable difference for you beetween the workout times?

        • I feel much stronger working out in the late afternoon/early evening TBH.

          • Farzaneh

            Interesting! How long did it take to adapt?

          • My performance improved right away.

          • Farzaneh

            In terms of gains, any particular noticable difference so far?

          • Not really. However, I’m eating at maintenance cals. I’m not trying to get any bigger. I’m pretty happy with where I’m at.

            That being said, the primary driver of muscle growth is getting stronger. So, if I were trying to get bigger and on a proper bulking meal plan, I’d probably see an increase in results over the long term.

      • Zend HetMij

        Thanks! Appreciate you took the time to answer my question. In the mean while i started working out in de morning before going to work and it unexpectedly feels very good. Although i read everywhere that most people are stronger after 13.00 hours, I defenitly feel stronger in the morning and more motivated. Also Its easier to handle with my social live, don’t have any commitments in the evenings this way, just need to go to bed a bit sooner, which was the first few days a challenge. Even had to set an alarm on my smartwatch for this ;).

        Eating 30 minutes before the training doesn feel any different, but i’ll do it anyway because of the reasons you mentions in your books (we own first and second edition of bbs and lfs, excellent books).

        Now using the time in the morning to do stuff i normally do in the evenings: preparing food for the kids, wife and myself, etc. Works fine this way, Thanks for the suggestion. Life changer for me :).

  • Scott Wood

    Mike,

    Can you break down an ideal eating schedule for training at 6pm/waking up at 6am?…including macros guideline for each meal/and pre/post workout? If you’ve done this somewhere already….sorry for asking. I have been unable to find it. Seems like BLS only addresses how to break it down for morning training (at least the copy I have). Thanks!!

  • Ali Kaz

    My goal is to build more muscle mass. If I go to the gym in the mornings on an empty stomach, will the energy needed be drained from my muscles since I don’t have enough carbs to fuel myself or is that all a myth?

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