5 Things to Do Before Your Workout for Better ResultsArticle posted in: Fitness
Exercise does awesome things for your health and body: It can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers by as much as 50 percent, not to mention improve your mood, increase your strength and make moving around easier overall.
But how effective your workout is depends on what you do before you start: Diving right into a workout without the right fuel and preparation can result in reduced performance or worse, injury that keeps you out of the gym for an extended period. Start your exercise regimen by doing these five things—they’ll help your performance, recovery and enjoyment of the experience, and will also serve as a ritual that gets your mind ready for what your body’s about to do.
1. Eat a small, balanced meal two hours before your workout.
Eating before your workout is important to keep you fueled during exercise, and also to make recovery easier on your body. The American Dietetic Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend a pre-workout meal that includes faster-acting, low-fiber carbohydrates to maintain blood sugar levels during your workout, low in fat to reduce the chance of gastrointestinal stress, and ample protein (and fat) to help sustain energy and speed post-workout recovery. And the meal should be made up of foods you normally eat.
The part about “low fat” and “ample fat” seems confusing, but basically boils down to this: Fatty, greasy foods before a workout can give you a stomach ache. But fat from nut butters and similar sources can provide a small amount of protein with fat that can keep you fueled. For this balanced, pre-workout meal, you might eat a grilled chicken sandwich with a slice of cheese a few hours before your workout—carbs from the bread, protein from the chicken, fat from the cheese.
If you’re a morning workout person and don’t have two hours before your sweat session to chow down, you should still eat something. The American Council on Exercise suggests a small snack 30 minutes before your workout that is 70 to 75 percent low-glycemic carbohydrates, like a banana, with 20-25 percent easily digestible fat and protein, like from a tablespoon of peanut butter. Combine those two—or an apple with string cheese, another favorite—for an easy, fast pre-workout snack.
2. Drink 20 ounces of water.
If you’re dehydrated as little as two percent, your workout performance can suffer. And if you’re dehydrated five percent, experts suggest that your power output can be reduced by 30 percent. And it’s not just performance: Exercising while dehydrated can result in dizziness and cramps, ruining the exercise experience entirely.
And you may not even realize you’re in need of a drink. In studies, most athletes don’t experience feelings of thirst until they’ve reached that two percent dehydration—where performance has already been hindered. But chugging a giant bottle before you exercise could backfire, too, resulting in a stomach ache or rare, worse conditions of over-hydration. Instead, drink 20 ounces of water before you start. That’s the recommendation of the American College of Sports Medicine, and it should be enough to keep you hydrated until your first water break.
3. Perform an active warmup instead of stretching.
Static stretching—the reach-and-hold we learned in gym class—can result in a decrease in exercise performance and stability during the workout. In a 2013 study, static stretchers felt 22 percent less stable during a leg workout, and the maximum weight they could lift fell by eight percent when performing static stretches before exercising.
A good warmup should prepare your body for the moves you’re about to do, and most important, get your blood moving. Not doing so can result in cardiac abnormalities: In one study, 70 percent of men who ran hard without warming up showed abnormalities on an electrocardiogram, a measure of heart function. After warming up for two minutes, only two of 22 study subjects were still showing such abnormalities.
Perform a two-part warmup before your next workout: In part one, perform a cardio exercise—fast walking, slow cycling, or easy rowing—for three to four minutes, elevating your heart rate. At this point, you may want to foam roll (see point four below). Then do an active warmup for two minutes. Try this 6×10 warmup: Perform each exercise for 10 seconds, then move to the next exercise in the warmup without resting. Do two total rounds, which will take two minutes.
Exercise 1: Jumping jacks
Exercise 2: Knee hugs: Walk forward, bringing your knee up towards your chest with each step. Grab your shin below your knee and pull it up a little bit, creating a stretch in your butt and hamstring.
Exercise 3: Chair squats: Stand in front of a chair and slowly sit down into it without using your hands. Then, without using your hands, stand back up. As you stand and sit, try to keep your weight in your heels, not in your toes.
Exercise 4: Side shuffle: Without crossing your feet, shuffle to the right for five seconds, then left for five more.
Exercise 5: Hip swings: Holding a chair, table or railing at your right side, swing your right leg forward and back for five seconds like a pendulum. Switch sides and repeat for five seconds on the left side.
Exercise 6: Ankle circle: Hold one foot in the air and circle your foot five times clockwise, then five times counterclockwise. Repeat on the other leg.
4. Foam roll.
This one’s optional, but using a foam roller to massage your muscles before you exercise can reduce muscle soreness and increase range of motion in your joints. It’s thought that rolling the dense foam on “fibrous adhesions,” or knots, in the connective tissue that surrounds your muscles can help rehydrate the tissue and “break up” these knots.
In several small studies, rolling in this way to loosen the tissue has been shown to reduce soreness one, two and even three days after hard exercise sessions. And in one study, rolling helped participants increase the range of motion in their knee—that is, how far the knee could bend—by 20 percent.
If you decide to incorporate rolling into your workout, put the practice between your three to four minute treadmill or cycling warmup and the 6×10 active warmup. Check out this guide to learn three ways to use the roller on achy knees, tight IT bands and your hips.
5. Crank up some tunes!
Upbeat music can improve your workout performance and make you feel less like you’re working. In multiple studies, people doing cycling workouts pedaled faster when the music was faster, keeping in time with the tunes. But they didn’t always realize they were working harder: In a 2009 study from the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, exercisers listening to upbeat “workout music” of their choosing perceived their level of exertion as lower as other participants who were listening to a comedy recording or something soothing—and both groups were actually cycling at the same rate!
For best results, the American Council on Exercise recommends music at a pace of 135 beats per minute or higher. Some examples of songs at this pace include Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony,” Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” Megan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” and, of course, faster songs like Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” The website jog.fm has a beats per minute calculator that can help you build a playlist of your own favorites. Turn them on and have your best workout ever. Check out these other benefits of listening to music.