What time do you work out? In the longer term it does matter
Do you work out in the early morning or late in the afternoon? For your progression, the time of day when you train has no consequences. Not if we're talking about a period of a 2-3 months, we wrote a few days ago. But what if we're talking about a longer period? In 2016, Finnish exercise scientist Maria Küüsma, from the University of Jyväskylä, published a study that provides an answer to that question.
Küüsma and her colleagues looked at the effect of a training that consisted partly of strength training, and partly of cardio training. The researchers experimented with 42 healthy men who had no experience with resistance training training.
The strength training consisted of three basic exercises for the leg muscles - leg press, leg curl and leg extension - and five exercises for the upper body - lat pull down, triceps push down, biceps curl, military press, dumbbell flies, crunches and hyper-extensions.
The cardio training sessions lasted 30-50 minutes. Sometimes they consisted of a moderate-intensity steady state session, on other occasions the consisted of an interval training with 4 high-intensive intervals, interspersed with periods of active recovery.
During the experiment, the workouts gradually became more intensive. The weight became heavier, the amount of workouts per week increased.
The researchers divided the men into 5 groups.
mE+S This group trained between half past seven and ten o'clock in the morning; cardio first, then strength training.
mS+E This group trained between half past seven and ten o'clock in the morning; strength training first, then cardio.
eE+S This group trained between half past five and 8 o'clock in the evening; cardio first, then strength training.
eS+E This group trained between half past five and 8 o'clock in the evening; strength training first, then cardio.
eS+E These men did not train.
Using ultrasound the researchers made a scan of the participants' vastus lateralis before the training period, after 12 weeks and after 24 weeks. The Fins discovered that during the first 12 weeks of the study the muscle size increased by about the same amount in all active men.
In the second half of the training period things were different though: during that period muscle growth was greater among the subjects who trained in the evening. The order of the workout parts was not a significant factor.
The weight with which the active subjects were able to leg press just 1 rep increased equally in all groups. The timing of training and the order of the workout parts was not a significant factor.
Before the training period started, and after 12 and 24 weeks of training, the test subjects had to cycle to exhaustion. When the test started, the men had to produce 50 Watts. Every 2 minutes the researchers increased this intensity with 25 Watts.
The time of training was not a significant factor here, but the order of the workout parts was. The subjects who first did cardio, and then strength training, built up more stamina than the subjects who had organized their training in the other way.
"This study showed that whereas no major between-group differences were observed over the first 12 weeks, the strength and endurance training order and time-of-day of the training may be important factors to optimize the magnitude of adaptations to combined strength and endurance training, when the training period is extended beyond 12 weeks", the Fins concluded. "The present combined training program in the evening led to larger gains in muscle mass compared to the same training program in the morning hours."
"The mechanisms for these dissimilar gains after morning and evening combined training, however, are unclear."
"The improvements in strength performance did not seem to be related to the strength and endurance training time or order, while performing strength training regularly before an endurance session may interfere with the quality of the endurance training adaptations. Therefore, when improvements in endurance performance are sought, it is advisable to perform an endurance session before a strength training session [...] if the training period is prolonged."
"To improve strength performance, strength and endurance training sessions can be performed in the desired order in the morning or evening based on the personal preferences. However, gains in muscle mass might be larger, when regularly performing combined strength and endurance training in the evening."
Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2016 Dec;41(12):1285-94.
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