Science shows that each of us has a peak time to strength train each day…
The incessant siren that screams from your alarm clock arouses you from your slumber. It’s 6.30am and time for your next strength session, either at your local gym or at home with your full set of Ignite Neoprene Studio Dumbbells. Your gym and spotting partner will provide motivation but while they’re powering through the session with personal-best ease, you’re struggling to lift anywhere what you did two nights previous. While they’re at the top of the weight-lifting tree, you’re crawling around in the dirt. It’s demoralising. But don’t let it ground you down as research shows that every single one of us has a peak time of the day to train. Welcome to the world of circadian rhythms…
Impact Of Hormones
“There’s scientific evidence to support the idea of circadian rhythms and its impact on training,” says Professor David Bishop, senior sport scientist at Victoria University in Australia and an authority on the subject. “It’s because most of our bodily processes vary over an approximate 24-hour cycle, meaning we have mental and physical peaks and troughs.”
Circadian rhythms have been observed in animals, fungi and plants for years, and attracted global attention in 2017 when Americans Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for their discovery of the molecular mechanisms that control circadian rhythms.
“There’s no doubt that your efforts in the gym change throughout the day,” adds Bishop. “Studies have shown that measures of strength and power are greater in the afternoon or evening than in the morning.
In our own studies, we’ve shown that maximal cycling sprint power is greater in the afternoon than in the morning. This coincides with hormonal changes that raise body temperature, which then increase factors such as how fast nerves conduct signals and pace of blood flow. Endurance performance, like cycling and running, seems to be less affected by time of day than power.”
Owl or Lark?
So that’s it, then – to lift heavier weights and grow stronger faster, pencil in a post-work effort rather than pre-breakfast? Not necessarily – and that’s because of your chronotype. Essentially this is your sleep characteristic and is why some people feel more awake in the morning and some in the afternoon. This is known as the ‘lark’ and ‘owl’ syndrome and derives from circadian rhythms not strictly adhering to the 24hr clock; in fact, they vary slightly by individual with about an hour’s range from 23.8hrs to 24.8hrs.
This ‘slow’ or ‘fast’ clock relates to evening (owl) or morning (lark) types with reportedly 10% qualifying as morning people, 20% night owls and the rest in the large spectrum in-between. That time shift from 23.8hrs to 24hrs doesn’t sound huge but it has significant repercussions with one study showing evening types can see performance levels drop by as much as 26% when training in the morning compared to the evening. It’s why some suggest morning larks peak around noon, in-betweeners around 4pm and night owls around 8pm. You’ll known which you are but you can quantify your self-assessment more accurately by undertaking the Morningness-Eveningness questionnaire.
The world of circadian rhythms and their impact on exercise is a rapidly growing field, so where will future research head and how will it impact on you? “My guess is that the most interesting research will be how disrupted circadian rhythms (for example, jet lag, insufficient sleep…) affect biological processes and what can be done to counteract these effects,” says Bishop. “As for what you can do now, if your training, nutrition and recovery are good, I’d suggest experimenting with what time of the day you train.”
Anatomy of a Gym-Goer
What science says about how your hormones and body changes in an in-betweener over 24hrs…
02.00 Deepest sleep
04.30 Lowest body temperature
06.45 Sharpest rise in blood pressure
07.30 Melatonin secretion stops. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates wakefulness
09.00 Highest testosterone secretion (but studies show no impact on performance)
10.00 Highest state of alertness
14.30 Co-ordination at its best
15.30 Fastest reaction times
17.00 Greatest cardiovascular efficiency and muscular strength
18.30 Highest blood pressure
19.00 Highest body temperature
21.00 melatonin secretion starts
22.30 Bowel movements suppressed