Despite what you may have heard, you’re not doomed to be out of shape if you’re a night owl and can’t bear to work out when you roll out of bed; research shows the benefits of exercise at various times of the day. Read on for tips about what exercises to do hour by hour to get in a good workout, recover fast, and feel your best (all day long).
1. DO: ROLL IT OUT FIRST THING IN THE MORNING
If you go to the gym often, you’ve probably noticed people rolling around on the floor with foam cylinders. Rubbing against these inexpensive tools helps loosen up your muscles and fascia (a web of connective tissue around your muscles and organs)—and that helps give you a bigger range of motion and allows you to move more comfortably. “Rolling in the morning will help you set up your day,” says David Reavy, physical therapist and founder of React Physical Therapy in Chicago. “It releases tight muscles and allows for your weaker muscles to kick in, helping change your body's reflex pattern.”
2. DON'T: TOUCH YOUR TOES BEFORE A WORKOUT
No matter how stiff you feel when you get to the gym, resist the urge to stretch before you warm up. This kind of static stretch done before exercise can actually hamper your performance by reducing your strength and endurance, according to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. A better bet: Do a dynamic warm-up, or one that keeps you moving—like jogging at an easy pace for 5 minutes.
3. DO: STRETCH AFTER YOUR WORKOUT
You shouldn’t hold a stretch pre-exercise, but yes, it’s still important to do so after you get sweaty; being flexible lowers your chance of injury and also helps muscles move more efficiently, which can help you get more out of your workout. Stretching after exercise just once a week will help you maintain your current level of flexibility, says Reavy, who advises holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds before moving on to the next. Wish you were even bendier? “Bump up your stretch sessions to three times a week to make lasting changes,” he says.
4. DO: TAKE A WALK THROUGHOUT THE DAY
By now you’ve likely heard all the recent research about how sitting around at your desk all day is just about the worst thing you could do to your body; slumping in your seat for prolonged periods makes you more likely to get conditions like heart disease, breast cancer, and colon cancer. But standing more frequently can also help you have a better workout. “Sitting causes tight hips as well as poor posture—so the more you can stand up and walk around, the better for your workout and your overall health,” says Reavy. He recommends getting up and walking a bit every 15 minutes during the day.
5. DO: STRETCH AGAIN AFTER WORK
Sitting at a desk all day can make your muscles tight all over, especially those in your hips, back, and chest. Reavy recommends combatting that tightness by stretching your hip flexors, back, and inner thighs—at the very least.
6. DO: GO HARD A COUPLE HOURS BEFORE BED
It’s a myth that nighttime exercise can disrupt your Zs. Having a vigorous workout about an hour and a half before going to bed can actually lead to better, deeper sleep, research published in the journal Sleep Medicine in 2014 found. Plus, your muscles and joints are more flexible later in the day, so you’re less likely to get hurt, and lung function peaks in the evening, too, helping you breeze through a hard workout.