As tempting as it might be to rush into a workout so you get more fitness time with less prep work, there’s a ton of value in slowing down and creating a pre-workout routine.
“If you pay attention to professional athletes, you’ll notice that they usually have a routine they follow before any competition,” says Brad Leavelle, a physical therapist and orthopedic clinical specialist at Viverant, a Minneapolis-based physical therapy and sports performance firm. “But they also have that routine before training. It’s what helps them work harder and see more progress.”
But you don’t have to be a pro to turn a pre-exercise routine into a secret workout weapon. Here are five strategies that can get you ready to crush it:
General stretches and light cardio tend to be a common warmup combo, but a better approach would be to warm the muscles you’re going to work, Leavelle says.
That means if you’re lifting weights, you should warm up by doing a super light set that gets your body used to the movements you’ll be doing for heavier sets. This also helps you set your form and identify any areas that feel especially tight or weak.
If you’re doing cardio, the same rule applies. Go very light beforehand, getting your body ready for harder work. That’s why many marathon runners tend to walk or do an easy jog right before a race — it allows you to ramp up to full effort, giving you the warmup you need.
The mistake many people make with pre-workout food and supplements is to consume them too close to exercise time, says Shawn Khodadadian, MD, of Manhattan Gastroenterology.
If your body is working on digestion, you may struggle to get enough energy to workout. Even worse, you might be setting yourself up for stomach cramps or sprints to the bathroom. Khodadadian suggests eating at least an hour before exercising, and for some people, two or three hours is advisable. Keep track of when you’re eating and how your workouts are going — you may need to tweak timing based on what’s working best for you.
Sometimes, it takes such effort to get to the gym or a workout that there isn’t time to think about what will happen when you get there. Cue the “drift around” syndrome of picking up weights, doing a few half-hearted sets, then wandering over to the treadmills.
This is the hallmark of non-planning, and although there are a few benefits — some exercise is better than none — it’s much better to know exactly what you’re going to do and even estimate time blocks for your workout.
There are plenty of words and phrases that are meant to be motivating —many of them printed on gym wear, like “Sun’s Out, Guns Out,” and “I Can and I Will.” Yes, they can seem pretty cheesy and eyeroll-worthy. But do they work? Absolutely.
“It doesn’t matter if something sounds ridiculous, as long as it inspires you,” says Jen Sincero, author of “You Are a Badass.” Your subconscious, which will absorb that mantra, isn’t usually as cynical as your conscious self, she says. In other words, it loves the cheese.
“The more emotion you feel around what you’re saying, the more power it will have to bring about positive change,” she says, suggesting you play around with different words and phrases to see what resonates through a whole workout.
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One of the toughest things to do is stay focused during a workout, even though that yields the best results. Many times, we’re so used to multitasking that we bring that tendency into the gym, says Loretta Graziano Breuning, PhD, author of “Habits of a Happy Brain.”
“That leaves us feeling distracted and lowers the amount of effort we’re willing to put out,” she says. “When that happens, you don’t get all of the physical and mental benefits of exercise.”
Make it a regular habit to put aside work duties, chores, errands and other to-do list items. Some people have found the easiest way to do this is tying it to a pre-workout moment — for example, as soon as you open the gym door, tie your running shoes or grab your first set of weights. Creating a “trigger” helps your brain to recognize you’re ready to focus, Breuning notes.
Most of all, take the time to create a pre-workout routine that works for you. Play around with different strategies until you find one that gets you motivated and energized for whatever fitness adventure you have planned.