If we are taking the time to workout, might as well maximize what you are getting out of it! Here are 4 critical steps to get the most out of your time spent exercising.
1. Warm up.
Read that again. This is a crucial component that many people overlook and is a big cause of many sprain/strain injuries that occur. Warming up allows our brains to transition into a place where we are more tapped into our body, where we can prepare our joints to take on a higher load capacity, and where we get our muscles ready. It is a better option to warm up for just 5-10 minutes and cut out a few minutes of your workout if you’re short on time.
In a society that is so full of group exercise classes, that’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to show up early, or at least on time. When you’re not in charge of the workout timing and you show up even 2-3 minutes late, chances are you’ve already missed the warm up and are jumping in and can hurt yourself. Tip: if you have to show up a few minutes late and they let you in: do your own warm up while the class is going on and then match the exercise when you get your body warm.
Dynamic warm ups are key. All too often I ask people how they warm up before a run or before a workout, and they will show me static (long holds) stretches. This has also been shown to decrease power output when done before a workout. On the other hand, a dynamic stretch with maybe a 1-2 second hold is great. You are increasing the range of motion of the muscles and joints but not overstretching. For example: butt kickers, leg swings, bodyweight squats, jumping jacks, are all great full body ways to warm up the body.
2. Cool down.
Again, this seems so simple, yet in the fast- paced life we live, we are in a rush to get to the next thing and we skip cooling down our bodies. I can tell you right now that you are not getting as strong as you could if you are not putting your muscles through their full range of motion. This helps our muscles receive the necessary oxygen immediately post workout. Stretching post workout is known to decrease soreness the next day. During a workout we are constantly breaking down muscle tissue to rebuild stronger and by stretching we are allowing that reorganization to happen in a linear fashion.
We know this, but do we really practice this. Are you getting 7-8 hours of good sleep every night? You know the outlet next to your bed? Try not using it, but using one across the room or, even better, in the next room, to charge your phone overnight. Or plug your phone in an hour or two before bed so you don’t have to charge it and can place it on the opposite side of the room while you sleep. Make sure you're not eating too close to bedtime so your body can focus on resting and not on digesting the pizza you just ate in bed (we’ve all done it). Get into a nighttime routine that is not centered in front of the TV. This could be playing cards, taking a bath, reading a book, meditating, whatever that will turn on your parasympathetic nervous system and allow your body to start to rest. This is the ONLY time your muscles recover; not during foam rolling, not after stretching, not after a massage or Epsom salt bath, only during sleep—adequate sleep.
4. Fuel & Recovery
Too often we use food as a reward. “Oh I worked out today I can get to eat _____ tonight” or “I deserve that 2nd beer because I burned 600 calories at the gym earlier”. If you want to eat something, eat it. If you want a 2nd beer, drink it (responsibly). This mindset sets us up for an unhealthy relationship with food. If you eat to fuel your body to perform well, that’s exactly what will happen. Load your body with lots of whole foods, fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, etc. and you’ll be amazed at how you feel! Water, the good old-fashioned hydrator, is key as we all know. You don’t need the fancy electrolyte waters, the sports drinks, etc. unless that is what you want. A super easy way to immediately get some ounces in is to pour yourself a tall 16+oz glass before bed and it is right there for when you wake up. Minimum requirement for someone who does no exercise is half of your body weight in ounces, so for those of us who are active you have to drink even more! Set a goal and try to reach it for one week straight. Then do it again the next week and soon it will be a habit! Drink in between meals and less during meals for improved digestion, too)
Recovery is tricky. Depending on your workout habits, your type of workout, your performance goals, this will look different for most people. People look at pro athletes and wonder how they can perform at the level they do when in reality they have chiropractors, athletic trainers and people in their back pockets at all times. They are getting worked on once, twice, sometimes three times a day. Most of us put our bodies through so much work and live with multiple aches and pains and wonder why we aren’t performing at the level we want to be. Proper foam rolling and stretching a few times a week, cryotherapy, Epsom salt baths, and/or professional soft tissue are all great options for targeted muscle recovery.
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