Why am I weak in the morning?

I’ve written about morning workouts before. Some people love them, some people hate them. I’m kind of in the middle ground somewhere.

The Pro’s:

I use this lovely alarm to motivate myself to get out of bed in the mornings

  • It’s out of the way and I can get on with the rest of my day
  • It’s less likely to be skipped because something came up
  • I feel super accomplished the whole day
  • I am more likely to stick to my plan the rest of the day because I started off on the right foot

The Con’s:

  • Waking up super early sucks (for me)
  • It means my meals are more spaced out throughout the day and I’m therefore starving the whole day
  • I’m significantly weaker in the morning than in the afternoon

That last one, being weaker in the morning, has been bothering me a lot. I’m not talking about just feeling a little weaker or the lifts being harder. I’m talking about physically not being able to lift as much weight as in the afternoon. I’ll give you some comparative weights:

Morning (10 reps to almost failure) Afternoon (10 reps to almost failure)
Squat 135-155 165-185
Deadlift 135-155 185-205
Lat Pull-down 70-85 85-100

I’m pretty sure if I ran a regression those would be statistically significant differences and, no, I’m not just being lazy in the mornings, I promise.

Cardio doesn’t seem to be an issue, though sprinting I seem slightly slower, but I haven’t noticed a big difference. Anyways, I decided to look into why this might be. So if you notice this difference you can understand why and not freak out (like I may have) that you are rapidly getting weaker!

Ok, so here are the reasons that I have found:

  1. You have been fasting for 8-10 hours and likely only have one meal in you before you workout. Therefore, your muscles do not have as much energy/stored glycogen to use for the workout. This means that you tire quicker and are not as capable of pushing out that last rep
  2. Your circadian rhythm affects your body temperature. You are generally cooler in the morning after waking up and your muscles are also cooler. A cold muscle is harder to contract and is less flexible making you slightly more prone to injury and not quite as strong in the mornings. This is also a good reason to make sure you do a thorough warm up in the mornings!
  3. The central nervous system (CNS) is still “waking up” along with the rest of you. This is, in my opinion, the biggest factor in the loss of strength. Getting your CNS firing rapidly means that the electrical impulses telling your muscles to contract are getting to the muscle faster and more frequently. In the morning, this process is slower because it has slowed down over night so you can sleep. With a slower firing if the CNS come muscles that are less responsive, less coordinated and overall weaker…. crap!

So what can you do about it? Because let’s face it, working out in the morning is sometimes the only and best option, but you want to perform your best.

The food one is relatively easy to address, eat a quick acting carb like fruit at least 45 minutes before working out to try to restore glycogen levels. In general you should eat before any heavy training, though fasted cardio can be beneficial.

The circadian rhythm is a lot harder to work around. The best option in to wake up a little earlier and make sure that time is consistent every day. Your rhythm will adjust and if you have been up for an hour and a half by the time you get to the gym, your body should be warming up by that point. This unfortunately does not seem feasible to me since I have a hard enough time with my 5:30 wake up to get out the door by 6. So I think I’ll just stick with a really good warm up.

The CNS firing is a challenging one, but there are some techniques to deal with it. After your warm up try doing a couple explosive movements like box jumps, thrusters or burpees. Whole body, explosive movements have been shown to get the nervous system firing better than a steady warm up or slow, heavy lifts. Don’t do too many though as these can easily deplete those glycogen stores which were part of the problem to begin with. You want to do just enough to feel like you have a bit of adrenaline in your veins, but not so many that you need to bend over to breath. I’ll be trying this technique on my next heavy morning workout and let you know how it goes 🙂