Physical fitness is an important part of overall health and wellness. Being active increases energy, boosts mood and helps us live longer, healthier lives.
Chances are, you already know all that. If it were that simple, we would all be fitness buffs. While you could just hop on a treadmill and work up a sweat, there’s a lot more to a successful fitness regimen than just working out.
Though the exercises you complete during your workout routine are integral to achieving your fitness goals, the things you do before and after your workout play a role in the overall success of your program.
BEFORE YOUR WORKOUT
Make a plan
Consistency is perhaps the most important key to a successful workout regimen. Including exercise in your week is the first step anyone should take when starting — or maintaining — a fitness routine.
Lisa Smith, a wellness director and personal trainer at the Wenatchee Racquet and Athletic Club (WRAC), has plenty of experience helping people of all fitness levels develop exercise routines that work for them.
“I’m a huge advocate of scheduling your workouts. We schedule everything else in our lives,” said Smith, “so it’s funny that people don’t schedule fitness when that should be one of the important things to schedule.”
Choosing the best time to schedule your workout is a personal decision. It’s important to be realistic about your own tendencies and responsibilities. A person who struggles to wake up early, for example, might want to reconsider an early morning workout, and someone who works 9 to 5 probably shouldn’t schedule exercise for while they are on the clock. That doesn’t mean that you can’t challenge yourself to try working out at a time you aren’t immediately comfortable with.
“I never used to be a morning person, but now I am,” said Smith. “That’s the first thing I do every morning because then I don’t miss it. As your day starts, things can get off schedule or out of control.”
Get some sleep
It is incredibly important that you come into your workout well-rested.
“If you are not getting enough sleep,” said Smith, “then your workout is going to suffer too.”
Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night to feel well-rested. Because your body uses its time in bed to repair itself, failing to get enough sleep before a workout can increase your risk of injury. Coming into a workout overtired can also reduce your coordination and decrease your stamina — both of which can negatively impact the quality of your workout.
Don’t forget to hydrate
An hour or two before your workout, you should be focusing on hydration, said Smith. Proper hydration helps to ensure optimal performance during a workout. Water lubricates your joints, regulates your temperature and helps improve stamina by maintaining energy levels. Making sure you are hydrated will also help to prevent muscle cramps and weakness.
Drinking 17 to 20 ounces of water two hours before exercise is a good place to start, according to the American Council of Exercise.
Keep in mind that the harder you work out, the more at risk you are for dehydration. It’s a good idea to continue sipping water throughout your workout.
Fuel your body
Even if your goal is to lose weight, you shouldn’t exercise without fueling your body. Before a workout, Smith recommends eating both carbs and protein to provide your body with the energy it needs.
If you like to work out first thing in the morning but have trouble eating so early, a banana will help you get the carbs your body needs without feeling nauseous, Smith said.
“I’m always a fan of peanut butter and banana, either on bread or rice cake,” said Smith. “That’s a combo of all your proteins, fats, and carbs.”
Most people are aware of the need to warm up before a workout, but how you warm up is equally important. An improper warm-up won’t provide your body with the things it needs to exercise well.
Before a workout, you should focus on a dynamic warm-up, Smith said. The goal of a dynamic warm-up is to get your heart rate up, and get blood flow to muscles and joints.
You should do the same movements you do in your workout, Smith said. If you are doing a strength workout, that means doing the same movements you would be doing in your workout with a smaller range of motion and only your body weight, followed by a first set at a lighter weight. If you are doing cardio, a movement warm-up is a good idea — starting with a walk instead of a run, for example.
AFTER YOUR WORKOUT
Time to stretch
While warming up before a workout is all about getting your heart rate up and increasing mobility, cooling down afterward is all about stretching those freshly tightened muscles back out.
Especially during strength workouts, muscles tend to get contracted, Smith said. The most important thing is to get them lengthened so they aren’t pulling on joints or causing injury. Anything that lengthens those muscles is good for injury prevention. Yoga can be great if you are able to work it into your routine, Smith said. And while foam rollers aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, they can really get the job done.
“I love [rollers],” said Smith. “I picture it being like a rolling pin for dough, so you are just rolling your muscles out. You can actually feel where you’ve got a knot.”
Replenish your muscles
Carbs are great for energy before a workout, but afterward, protein is king. It’s important to replenish muscles with protein, Smith said. Protein contains the building blocks essential to creating muscle mass. Without it, muscles won’t have the ingredients needed to repair and grow.
There are plenty of ways to get protein in your system after a workout. A couple of eggs or even a glass of chocolate milk will do the trick.
“I’m a protein shake person,” said Smith. “I like those because I don’t usually feel like eating a huge thing after.”