So you’ve formed a wonderful habit of working out on the same schedule. Congrats! Making the gym a priority is your first step to success.
What you do before and after your workout, however, can be just as important as regular exercise. There are plenty of post-workout habits that can help you make the most of out of your workout.
We made a list of our top 10 to help you take your workouts to the next level.
1. Fuel Up
There is a window of about an hour after you workout where a post-workout snack has maximum effectiveness. Eating soon after you workout will help your body recover faster and in particular, build more muscle, if you’re looking for gains. Ideally, you choose a food or a shake that is chockfull of protein — up to 40 grams if you’ve done a gruelling, all-over body workout. Avoid too many sugars and carbs, as they’re more likely to be stored as fat. Ideally, you squeeze in a workout right before a balanced meal with lots of protein, vegetables and some complex carbs, or first thing in the morning so you can easily grab that protein-laden breakfast shake.
Stretching is essential for improving your range of motion, increasing circulation and improving muscle control. Make it a habit to do a light stretch after your warm up before diving into your workout. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll want to take the time to stretch it out thoroughly immediately following your workout, too. Dynamic stretching has been shown to help prevent injury and increase performance, so make sure the stretches you do immediately after working out should be focused on the muscle groups you just used. And never stretch further than you’re actually capable. Flexibility can be built over time, so be patient. Consider joining a restorative yoga class once or twice a week to maximize the benefits of your harder workouts (and de-stress all at once).
3. Enjoy A Cooldown
Cooling down is an important step that many people nonetheless skip out on. Just finished an intense sprint on the treadmill? Take five minutes to jog slowly or walk slowly on an incline while your heartrate returns to normal. Completed a gruelling, all-over, HIIT-style workout? Give yourself five to ten minutes at the end for active recovery, which can include low-impact ab work followed by dynamic stretching. Keep moving and allow yourself to cool down naturally, instead of immediately sitting down. Cooling down and letting your heartbeat return to a resting rate at a slow place will prevent undue stress on your system.
4. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Staying hydrated should always be part of your mental checklist as you exercise. Take a re-useable water bottle with you to the gym, re-fill often, and drink generously. If you’re not a big water drinker, there are tons of diffusers out there that can offer a hint of fruit flavour without adding loads of sugar and calories.
For some top-tier athletes, runners and trainers, water alone may not cut it in the hydration department. Your decision to drink a sports drink instead of water will depend on whether your aim is hydration (keeping your body cool and with the right balance of fluids) or energy (replenishing sugar and electrolytes), but be careful: Sports drinks tend to be full of sugars and empty calories. For most people, the best choice before and during your workout or run is water, a heavily diluted sports beverage (for some added electrolytes), or water with electrolyte tablets, particularly for runners.
5. Try A Contrast Shower
There are varying opinions on whether or not cold water therapy actually does a body good, but some people absolutely swear by it. There’s anecdotal evidence to suggest that various combinations of hot baths and ice cold showers can help reduce pain and swelling after tough workouts. Give it a try by alternating very cold, with very hot water during your next shower, or enjoy a steam session at the gym to treat yourself after your next workout. You may find that the cold and hot water has varying effects on your muscles, increasing circulation and reducing inflammation. Again, this isn’t for everyone — but those who swear by a hot bath truly believe in it.
6. Write It Down
If goal-setting (and achieving!) is your end-game, it helps to write down what you’ve done and how you got there. Having a notebook dedicated to your workouts to track your progress is a great way to keep your eyes on the prize. Write down what exercise you did on which day, how much weight or what machine you used, and how long you did it for. Keep note of any personal records you may have achieved, whether you ran a mile in your fastest time or beat your former personal best on the bench press. You’ll feel accomplished when you look back to see how far you’ve come, and you may feel motivated to push your workout that much further knowing that there’s a written record of it out there.
Focus on your breathing, sit quietly or perform some gentle yoga poses and reflect on your workout. What worked, and what didn’t? Did you feel good about your workout? Think about your technique, your goals, and your state of mind. If there’s anything you can change to improve your performance or your health, make a mental note and be sure to act on it next time, but mostly, try to stay in the moment and feel good about your body. Chances are you’ve broken a sweat and got those feel-good endorphins coursing through you; this is the ideal time to centre yourself, harness that energy and enjoy that rare, post-workout glow.
8. Get Some Sleep
Okay, so you may not be hitting the hay immediately after your workout, but getting a good night’s sleep is absolutely essential to great fitness and overall health. Aim to go to bed at around the same time each night, and give yourself a good half an hour before lights out to shut off your electronic devices and enjoy some “you” time, whether that means reading a book or quietly listening to music with a cup of chamomile tea. If you wake up feeling refreshed and energized, you’ll be much less likely to reach for sugary, carb-filled treats for energy, and you’ll have a much better workout, too.
9. Congratulate Yourself
Making it to the gym and having a successful workout deserves celebration, so give yourself a pat on the back. Sticking to a workout regime may sometimes seem like an overwhelming goal, but each time you make it to the gym, you’re one step closer than you were before. This is not the time for negative thoughts, or to chide yourself for not doing enough. Remind yourself that you’re making progress, even if it doesn’t seem like it. You’re a champion.
10. Plan Ahead
Once you’re done with today’s workout, it’s time to start planning for tomorrow. Hopefully you already have an established schedule, but you should still take a second to make sure you’re on track for another successful workout. See when the next gym class is coming up, or take a look at your work schedule for the next week to ensure you can squeeze in your workouts. Think about what your specific goals will be for the next session. Planning ahead is always the first step to great fitness.