What to Do Before and After a Workout
In terms of your fitness regimen, the time you spend in the gym tends to garner the most attention—but that’s a mistake. Before and post-workout routine adjustments may have a significant influence on your development and outcomes if you know what to do before and after each session.
Jay Cardiello, a celebrity trainer and Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute member, argues that “The workout is actually the easiest part of a fitness routine. Either you walk, jog, lift weights, or do CrossFit, one hour is just 4% of your day, and you can’t [prioritize] the other 23 hours.”
It’s important to eat well, get enough sleep, and practice sensible pre-and post-exercise routines to guarantee you’re getting the most out of every session. To enhance your fitness results, these are the 10 items you should include in your daily routine.
Before you workout
1. Prioritize getting enough good quality sleep
When it comes to a fitness regimen, “the most crucial thing begins the minute you go to sleep—when that’s the magic occurs,” adds Cardiello. A good night’s sleep not only gives you the energy you need to complete every burpee or sprint, but it also keeps your hunger hormones in control, preventing you from overeating the rest of the day and sabotaging your workouts.
Everybody I work out with doesn’t show up at the gym until they’ve had seven hours of sleep, adds Cardiello. It’s my job to send them home. (Whoa.) He advises his customers to limit their use of devices an hour or two before bedtime in order to avoid being kept awake by the light. After an exercise, getting a good night’s sleep is essential for muscular recovery.
2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
You already know that drinking your H20 is crucial to overall health, but it plays an especially important role in a fitness routine—when you’re sweating it out, you need to make sure your body is properly hydrated since you’re losing water. Plus, being hydrated will make sure your energy levels are where they need to be, says Cardiello.
“Just look at the parallels between oil in a car and water in a body—a car can’t run without oil, a body can’t run without water,” says Cardiello. You should be sipping it before, during, and after a workout.
Although exact water needs vary from person to person, he recommends aiming for half of your body weight in ounces per day (so, if you weigh 150 pounds, try to get in 75 ounces). If your urine is dark, it probably means you’re not hydrated enough. Here are easy ways to drink more of it.
3. Grab a snack
If you’re really not feeling a pre-workout snack, there’s no need to force food down ahead of time, but don’t ignore your body if you feel like you need some fuel. “If there’s no food in, there’s no energy out,” says Cardiello. He suggests a piece of toast with almond butter to get you going. The sweet spot? “I don’t want you to be starving, but I don’t want you to be feeling full either.”
4. Make sure you’re wearing the right clothes and footwear for the workout you’re doing
Being able to move, jump, run, stretch, and get into certain positions and poses is about more than just your athletic prowess or your mobility and flexibility. It’s also about having the right gear for the job. For example, you might not care much about which sports bra you choose for yoga, but for running, you’ll want a high-impact one. Wearing the right sneakers on a long run will mean way more comfort, which could translate to better endurance and a more enjoyable workout. There’s nothing worse than arriving at the gym or setting out the door only to discover you’re actually a little (or a lot) uncomfortable. Before you head out the door, do a once-over and make sure you’re outfitted properly. Check out the leggings, shorts, and sports bras that SELF editors loved so much, they won the SELF Fitness Awards. Check out more winners (and more apparel to choose from!) here.
5. Work in a dynamic warm-up
Skipping your warm-up is a definite no-no—even if your workout is only 10 minutes long. “[The warm-up] is meant to give your body the opportunity to raise your body temperature, increase range of motion, and prepare yourself for what you’re about to do,” says Cardiello. It also helps decrease your chance of injury when you ease into your workout, rather than jumping straight from a resting state to the hard work.
Increasing your range of motion can help you make the most of your workout because you’ll be able to recruit more muscles during an exercise (for example, getting deeper into a spot means putting more muscles to work). This is done through a dynamic warm-up, which essentially means moving through stretches that aren’t held in place. (Here’s a five-minute dynamic warm-up to try).
After your workout
6. Stretch it out
Use static stretching to cool down and reset after a workout. “A cool-down brings your body back to a resting position—the way you walked into the gym is the way you want to leave,” says Cardiello. Stretching may also be beneficial for joint mobility and range of motion. This is the opposite of the stretches you do in a warm-up—after a workout, you should hold your stretches for at least 15 seconds each, says Cardiello. (Here are some cool-down stretches to try.) And because muscles are best stretched when they’re warm, you definitely don’t want to go straight from your workout to a seated position, like at a desk or in a car.
7. And use a foam roller
According to expert opinion (as well as some preliminary research), foam rolling can help you recover from workouts and might also increase your range of motion. Experts also recommend it as a way to minimize post-workout soreness, which it does by increasing blood flow to the tissues you used while exercising. Foam rolling regularly (and properly) is a great way to speed up recovery.
8. Refuel with post-workout nutrition
A pre-workout snack is more optional than a post-workout one. Giving your body the fuel it needs to recover after a tough sweat is essential. After a tough workout, your body looks for carbohydrates and protein to help replenish glycogen stores and rebuild muscle, respectively, so getting your body the nutrition it needs to recover in a timely manner is important.
Plus, not eating after a workout can leave you feeling ravenous later on. And no one likes to be hangry and tired. To make it easy on yourself, pack one of these post-workout snacks in your bag. Or, if your gym offers this, “pre-order your shake and pays for it ahead of time, so when you’re walking out to your car or the street they can just hand it to you.”
9. Log your workout
Keeping track of what you did in every workout will help you keep challenging yourself each time you exercise. It’s also a great way to make sure that overall your workout routine is giving you what you want. Each week you can look back at what you did and how you felt while doing it and decide when it’s time to go a little heavier or a little faster or do a few more reps, or maybe when it’s time to slow down and take it a little easier. And after a few weeks or months, look back at all the time you’ve put in and the progress you’ve made and pat yourself on the back.
10. Consider a cool shower, especially if you worked out in the heat
The evidence for cold water immersion doing something highly beneficial after a workout is not rock solid; it’s by no means a guarantee that a cool shower after a workout will make you recover quicker or stave off post-workout soreness. However, ice baths after a particularly hot workout or when the athlete is overheated do seem to be helpful. Moreover, some researchers say cold water therapy may contribute to the perception of recovery which, in turn, does actually aid recovery. Basically, if you’re overheated, a cool shower will help your body get back to baseline. And if you’re one of the many people who feel that a cool shower after a workout makes you feel better mentally and/or psychologically, consider making it part of your post-workout ritual. You don’t have to jump in an ice bath like the pros; just turn the shower temperature down lower than you usually do.
By making sure your body’s been warmed up, worked out, and cooled down properly, you can maximize the results you’re working towards. Cheesy as it may sound, fitness really is a lifestyle and one that doesn’t begin and end with your actual workout.