Benefits and drawbacks of early morning exercise

A-listers swear by it, but does putting in work when it's dark add extra spark to gym sessions? Here's what the experts think

Dwayne Johnson has previously spoken about his love of hitting the gym before the sun comes up. Photo: Dwayne Johnson / Instagram
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What do stars Mark Wahlberg, Akshay Kumar, Jennifer Lopez, Khloe Kardashian and Dwayne Johnson all have in common?

They’re all super-rich and famous, yes, but they’re also all fans of waking up very early to hit the gym.

Wahlberg went viral in February when he shared his workout regime on Instagram, revealing that he is up at 3.30am and in the gym by 4am. The Transformers star said he focuses on weight training, spending 90 minutes doing so, and follows an intermittent fasting eating regime.

Johnson went a step further recently, posting a video to social media of his 2.30am workout, in which he was using the rowing machine.

“2.30am Saturday night training,” he wrote. “Not my usual workout time, but it was just one of those long, long days … Honestly, I wound up having one of the best workouts. Completely rejuvenated and able to clear my head and energy.”

Should you work out at 4am?

“The time of day at which you train will not determine your results,” says fitness professional Rob Sharpe, owner of Train Sharpe. “The best time to train is the time when you can be consistent. When you can put it in your calendar and know you won’t miss it.”

In a recent Instagram post, Kardashian shared that she sets her alarm for 5am to be in the gym for an early morning workout. “Before I get my girl up for school, I get it in and done with for the day,” she wrote.

For many, early morning workouts are a way of getting their daily exercise done before work or the school run.

“Consider arranging your day in a way that gives you the most value which doesn’t always necessarily mean starting with training or work, but starting with the activity that will make you most productive,” says personal trainer and Asics FrontRunner Islam Sallam.

“So if training in the morning puts you in a good mood and sets you up for the day, then this is your right time to train.”

The benefits of early morning workouts

Early morning workouts might not burn more calories than exercise at any other time of day, but there are other benefits.

“Working out in the early morning will help you start your day with more energy, focus and optimism,” says Jessie Bremus, manager of F45 Dubai Motor City.

“Making your workout your morning priority means that you’re more likely to stay consistent. When your workout is finished before the sun comes up, it’s easier to avoid the unexpected schedule interruptions like meetings, phone calls, school pickups and more.”

Exercise releases the pleasure hormone endorphins which put you in a good mood. Studies have also shown early morning workouts can help create routines, boost productivity and create better sleep patterns.

Sharpe adds: “For men, testosterone levels are higher in the mornings, so you will be a little bit stronger for your workout.”

Nutrition, safety and after-effects

For those who prefer to work out outside or go for early morning runs when it’s still dark, Sallam suggests wearing reflective clothes, especially for road running, sticking to well-lit areas and carrying your phone in case of an emergency, adding: “It’s essential to warm up before exercising, especially in the morning when your body may still be stiff from sleep.”

“Some of us take a little bit longer to wake up and get warm for early morning training sessions, and that’s okay,” says Bremus. “Allow a bit of extra time for this if needed, so that you feel warm and loose to tackle your workout.”

Nutritional intake, especially if you are pairing your workouts with a diet regimen, can also be affected by the time you choose to work out.

“If you train early, you need to get nutrition right,” says Sharpe. “You might feel hungrier as you have a longer time frame in the day when you’re active. Be sure to consume the right amount of protein and don’t skip carbohydrates as they are important for energy, clear thinking and recovery.

“Don’t train at 4am then wait until 11am to eat. Eat within two hours after training to replenish muscle energy and help recovery.”

Bremus adds: “When you start your day prioritising your health, you are more likely to make healthy choices throughout the day that will positively influence your lifestyle.”

Updated: April 20, 2023, 3:04 AM