Staying on top of your fitness game is tough enough. Training hard in the gym, eating properly, and managing stress and recovery all require precise calibration and constant vigilance if you really want to get the most for your efforts. On top of all that, twice a year, daylight savings time asserts itself as yet another variable to account for on your journey.
Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, adjusting the clocks back — or forward — can have a strong impact on your athleticism, sleep habits, and nutrition. You just might not notice it at first. Here are just a few of the ways that tuning your clock affects your fitness, as well as some practical solutions for taking advantage of this time-honored tradition.
Daylight Savings and Workouts
Your body’s natural rhythm is a potent but delicate mechanism for performance. An unexpected adjustment to something like sleep schedule or training time, even by a single hour, could have significant ripple effects on how you feel with a barbell in your hands.
It’s no secret that good sleep hygiene is important for pushing big weights in the gym. Disrupted or deficient sleep patterns are strongly associated with fluctuations in muscular strength and power, and an hour lost — or even gained — could be a noticeable consequence. (1)
However, there are ways to mitigate the “clock problem” from a performance standpoint. If changing your clock has inspired you to work out in the morning, science suggests that increasing your core temperature and going through a good warm-up sequence can help improve your lifting in the early hours. (2)
Conversely, if daylight savings forces you to train after dark, you might be in for a pleasant surprise. Your natural strength capabilities maintain a strong relationship with your body’s personal circadian rhythm. Research, while not extensive, has revealed that your strength potential may be at its highest between 4 and 6 p.m. (3)
Changes to your sleep behavior could wreak havoc on your strength program, but there are ways to make progress at any hour of the day. What’s most important is being consistent, as regular fluctuations in sleep or exercise habits could slow down your muscle or strength gains. (4)
Once the clocks are turned, pick a routine and stick to it. You can make this process a bit smoother by getting in front of the issue, too — adjust your personal sleep schedule a week or two in advance so it isn’t such a shock when it comes time to change the clock.
The winter months unfortunately mean less sunlight. Turning the clock back may even inadvertently have a negative impact on your next leg day due to diminished exposure.
While you may not draw power from the sun the same way that Superman does, not seeing the light could potentially affect how your muscles function in the gym. Ongoing scientific research studying the relationship between vitamin D and exercise points to its importance with respect to physiological performance markers.
In practical terms, this means getting less sun — and thus less vitamin D — could have a negative impact on muscular function. Specifically, your muscles’ ability to produce energy and regulate waste products. (5)
To get around the lack of sunlight, you can take a few steps to ensure that vitamin D isn’t getting in the way of your performance in the gym. A good multivitamin supplement can help by directly supplying the nutrients you might be missing.
If you prefer to seek the source, take your lunch breaks outside if you’re able to do so. Research suggests that effective minimum dosages of sunlight exposure should be at least three days per week (6). A brisk walk outdoors can help with vitamin D levels and provide a bit of cardio training to boot.
Winding the clocks back might impact more than just your physiological performance or muscle behavior. Slogging through your morning commute in darkness only to leave the office to find — surprise — more darkness can be more than a little detrimental to your motivation.
There’s some valid research backing the correlation between evening daylight and motivation to be physically active, too. (7) it can be all too easy to associate a setting sun with the end of the day, making it hard to pack up your gym bag and head to the deadlift platform.
If you feel yourself slipping into apathy thanks to darkening skies, there are ways to stay on track. Make sure you take time to remember your “why” — relying on intrinsic, deterministic goals that you generate yourself are often more effective for keeping motivation high and initiative up. (8)
Beyond the conceptual, be sure that you’ve got a solid program to stick to. The right workout routine for your fitness level can provide the necessary structure to keep you coming back to your workouts when it’s tempting to skip a day of training. If you know what you’re doing in the gym beforehand, all you’ve got to do is get yourself there.
Most people are slaves to the clock in one way or another. If you’re accounting for the changes brought on by daylight savings, you might’ve had to tweak your habits or workouts accordingly. Getting a workout in before — or immediately — after the workday isn’t always easy, so here are a few tips to help you make it all fit.
Work More, Rest Less
If you’re training for a powerlifting meet or want to test your one-rep-max, you need to rest well between sets. However, you can shave plenty of time off your training session and still see results by condensing your workload.
Supersets and cluster training are two ways to double down on your volume without adding extra minutes in the gym. Depending on your fitness level, a full-body routine might be easier to do in an hour than an advanced body part split. When it comes to cardio, sprint intervals or circuits beat the treadmill for efficiency by a mile.
Plan and Pack Ahead
If you want to get to the gym before the sun goes down, the last thing you need to do is spend half an hour getting ready to train. The same holds true if you work out in the early morning — packing your gym bag at 5 a.m. doesn’t exactly set the tone for the session ahead.
You can avoid both pitfalls by being proactive. Whether you lift in the morning or after work, make sure your gym bag is packed accordingly in advance. If it’s leg day, your lifting shoes and belt should be packed up beforehand. If you’re benching, make sure your wrist wraps are in the bag before you step out your door.
The same goes for your outfit. Don’t get paralyzed trying to figure out a sleek gym fit and waste valuable time. Lay your clothing out next to your bag before you go to bed, so when it’s time to train, you can get right to it.
Prep Your Meals
Meal prep isn’t just for competitive bodybuilders. Unless you’re practicing intermittent fasting, you probably want to get something in before you jump into an early morning workout. The same goes for after work — swinging by the drive-thru doesn’t exactly make for the optimal pre-workout meal.
Packaging some meals in advance can make it easy to get high-quality nutrition right before a training session. Fueling yourself properly before an intense training session is the best way to make sure the work you put in produces the results you want.
The Bottom Line
Shifting the clock was originally about getting more time outdoors in the summer. However, not everyone enjoys the practice of daylight savings — in fact, you might not feel like you’re saving much of anything.
That said, daylight savings doesn’t have to dampen your mood or your fitness routine. Changing your sleep habits can affect your performance and motivation, sure. And hitting the gym in darkness after a long day at work isn’t a thrilling prospect. But by taking some clever precautions and understanding how your body responds, you can keep your tempo up in the gym, and the gains will flow accordingly.
1.Vitale, K. C., Owens, R., Hopkins, S. R., & Malhotra, A. (2019). Sleep Hygiene for Optimizing Recovery in Athletes: Review and Recommendations. International journal of sports medicine, 40(8), 535–543. https://doi.org/10.1055/a-0905-3103
2. Edwards, B. J., Pullinger, S. A., Kerry, J. W., Robinson, W. R., Reilly, T. P., Robertson, C. M., & Waterhouse, J. M. (2013). Does raising morning rectal temperature to evening levels offset the diurnal variation in muscle force production?. Chronobiology international, 30(4), 486–501. https://doi.org/10.3109/07420528.2012.741174
3. Mirizio, G.G., Nunes, R.S.M., Vargas, D.A. et al. Time-of-Day Effects on Short-Duration Maximal Exercise Performance. Sci Rep 10, 9485 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-66342-w
4. Küüsmaa, M., Schumann, M., Sedliak, M., Kraemer, W. J., Newton, R. U., Malinen, J. P., Nyman, K., Häkkinen, A., & Häkkinen, K. (2016). Effects of morning versus evening combined strength and endurance training on physical performance, muscle hypertrophy, and serum hormone concentrations. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 41(12), 1285–1294. https://doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2016-0271
5. Wiciński, M., Adamkiewicz, D., Adamkiewicz, M., Śniegocki, M., Podhorecka, M., Szychta, P., & Malinowski, B. (2019). Impact of Vitamin D on Physical Efficiency and Exercise Performance-A Review. Nutrients, 11(11), 2826. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11112826
6. Lee, Y. M., Kim, S. A., & Lee, D. H. (2020). Can Current Recommendations on Sun Exposure Sufficiently Increase Serum Vitamin D Level?: One-Month Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Korean medical science, 35(8), e50. https://doi.org/10.3346/jkms.2020.35.e50
7. Goodman, A., Page, A. S., Cooper, A. R., & International Children’s Accelerometry Database (ICAD) Collaborators (2014). Daylight saving time as a potential public health intervention: an observational study of evening daylight and objectively-measured physical activity among 23,000 children from 9 countries. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 11, 84. https://doi.org/10.1186/1479-5868-11-84
8. Duncan, L. R., Hall, C. R., Wilson, P. M., & Jenny, O. (2010). Exercise motivation: a cross-sectional analysis examining its relationships with frequency, intensity, and duration of exercise. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 7, 7. https://doi.org/10.1186/1479-5868-7-7
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