Working out by definition means that one expects results—good results. We all have our goals for exercising, but in order to make sure we produce the results we want, we have to make the most of our workouts. Just like any type of work, there is a way to do it in a smart and calculated manner. Here are my top three tips to get the biggest benefit out of every one of your training sessions.
Prepare and fuel up
Preparation sets you up for success. I consider being fully ready to work out just as important as the workout itself. There are three things I check off to make sure I am ready to get started: rest, nutrition, and workout routine.
Being well-rested not only energizes you through every sprint or push-up, but it also keeps your hunger hormones at bay, so you’re not undoing your efforts in the gym by overeating the rest of the day. When you have a full or high body battery, you are more likely to push yourself harder through the session.
Know what you’re getting into
Next, have a routine prepared even if you’re doing it on your own. Actually, it’s even more important to have a plan when you’re doing it alone, as compared to joining a class. Don’t waste your time with an ineffectual workout or half-hearted commitment. If you don’t know what to do or don’t want to plan, join a group class.
It’s also extremely important to be hydrated and fueled for your workout. Although there are cases for fasted workouts, the general rule of thumb is to have some protein and carbohydrates (either a meal or small snack) at least 45 mins to an hour before working out, especially when lifting weights and HIIT. This allows you to have the energy to push yourself and make the most of every rep and sprint.
Dress the part
Also, I highly encourage wearing proper active attire. Wearing the right clothes—sweat-wicking and proper fitting—allows you to be comfortable while you exercise. If you’re not comfortable, you’ll be distracted from your routine, and we don’t want that! And, don’t forget to warm up—a dynamic warm-up. This means to warm up through movement. Go through the muscle groups you’re going to use to make sure areas like the shoulders, knees, and wrists will be warm and ready.
Focus, focus, focus
Now you’re in the gym and ready to start. Whether you are working out alone or joining a group exercise class, it’s important to come in with focus and determination to make every second count for the next 45 minutes or hour, or however long the session is. A really great tip to keep your eye on the prize is to put away any distractions. I would even put away your phone. The only exception is if you need to use your phone for your workout music or to time your sets. If so, I encourage it. Music is great! With that said, I would put your phone on airplane mode so you’re not disturbed by emails, calls, messages, and social media. Those can all wait.
Distractions are put away, and now it’s time to follow the plan either you or a trainer have prepared, or follow an instructor of a class you may have joined. Be present and follow the plan. If you’re training alone, monitor the timing of your reps and your rest in between. Keep your momentum going and focus unwavered. For every exercise move, think of the specific muscle you are working. Focus on engaging that. Being highly focused allows you to be hyper-aware of your body–how it feels and how it’s moving. This allows you to push when you can, and turn it down when needed as well.
Gym face on
Another thing I do that helps me a lot is the gym face. The gym face is the face we make when we tense up and push to the fullest and give our all with every move. It is commonly characterized as unpleasant and “ugly” and it can be a bit embarrassing to do at a public place, but I guarantee you, it helps! Believe me–when you are at that last rep and you think you have no more left you to give, throw away poise, scrunch that face, and I bet you, you can do it. Embrace the gym face!
Have a post-workout plan, and do it!
You’ve pushed your mind and body to the fullest, congrats! Now it’s time to make sure your body recovers appropriately. If it wasn’t already part of your workout routine, take a few minutes to cool down and stretch. Stretching improves flexibility, releases lactic acid buildup lessening muscle soreness, and allows you to bring your heart rate and breathing back to a normal pace.
Next, you need to refuel and do it ideally as soon as you wrap up your routine. The key is to get it in within 30 to 45 minutes—the earlier the better. It’s crucial because you’ve essentially emptied your fuel tank and created micro-tears in your muscles. It is after a tough workout that your body looks for carbohydrates and protein to help replenish glycogen stores and rebuild muscle, so getting your body the nutrition it needs to recover in a timely manner is important. Plus, if you don’t have a proper meal after a workout, the tendency is to be more ravenous later. No one likes to be hangry!
Part of refueling is also hydration. Drinking water is an absolute must! In one hour of exercise, the body can lose about a quart of water, depending on the air temperature and exercise intensity. That’s a lot! Getting enough water into our system after a workout helps with muscle recovery, replenishing electrolytes, and nutrient digestion and absorption. So, drink up that H2O!
Catch them zzz’s
Lastly, make sure to get enough sleep. Anyone who knows me knows that this is one tip that I myself struggle to follow. Although getting sufficient sleep is a no-brainer, it is sometimes the most overlooked when it comes to working out. While we sleep, our body works to repair and restore our muscles, bones, and tissue from the strain we put on them during the day. Recovery is one thing, but good quality sleep also improves physical performance and mental health and hormonal balance. When you give yourself a chance to recover adequately, you are more likely to come back stronger than before!
Have fun with it
For many years, I worked out to enjoy (Love those endorphins!) and to simply sweat it out. It is fun, therapeutic, and I like the idea of doing something good for myself. This is great and all, but if you’re after some serious, clear-cut goals, like specific weight-loss and muscle gain, I highly recommend having a plan in place. If you’re a newbie to working out, these tips may seem a bit overwhelming. My advice to you is to just get started. Start working out regularly, and incorporate these learnings as you go. Before you know it, it’ll be all routine. As for those working out for a while, if you haven’t already naturally come to learn these tips, I encourage you to apply these little tweaks. I promise you’ll see those results!