Few things feel as good as working up a sweat. With the adrenaline pumping, your heart racing, and your favorite soundtrack in your ears, you might feel positively invincible. Alas—you’re not, and without a proper routine before and after your regular exercise session, the joy of today’s workout even when you are equipped with the right orthotics and equipment could still lead to aches and pains tomorrow.
Wondering what to do before exercise and after exercise to maximize the benefits of your exercise routine? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but modern science and time-tested results have given us plenty of guidance.
This article will tackle everything from before workout warms ups to post workout fuel-ups. Read on to find out the best way to make every set and rep count while you prioritize and protect your health.
#1 Get Rest and Relaxation
Your body doesn’t function properly without proper sleep. That means 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night is an absolute must if you’re looking to make headway in the gym and start seeing results.
Unfortunately, it’s estimated that more than 100 million Americans don’t get an adequate amount of sleep each night, effectively cutting into their potential for exercise success, and negatively impacting their health in general.1
It’s important to make sure you are following the proper recovery timeline for both before and after your workout.
Before the Workout
Sleep is your body’s time to recover from the day. If you haven’t gotten your nightly Z’s, you’re likely to start feeling it when you start working out. Muscles may become sorer without the proper rest, and you may even increase your chance of serious strains and injuries.
Getting adequate sleep before you hit the gym can help on several fronts:
- Motivation – Consistent exercise requires the motivation to persevere and stick to a routine, and that’s a lot harder if you’re totally exhausted. While it’s important to be gentle with yourself when you’re tired, inactivity can compound the problem.
- Performance – In the case that you do make it to the gym (or just to your at-home exercise mat), sleep deprivation can have an enormous impact on your overall performance. Whether you’re winded on the treadmill even with your favorite slip on sneakers or unable to bench your best weight, a lack of sleep may have something to do with it.
After the Workout
What you do in the gym can make bedtime a little (or a lot better). After you’ve pushed yourself to make gains, you may notice a big boost in the quality of your sleep.
That said, it’s important to take steps to ensure high-quality sleep that enables muscle recovery and leaves you ready for tomorrow’s activities. To that end:
- Limit late-night exercise – Some people report that vigorous exercise before bed can impact their ability to go to sleep. It’s recommended to stick to less grueling workouts if you’re doing them an hour or two before bed. You don’t want to rile yourself up before you hit the hay.
- Set yourself up for success – After a workout, you want a sound night’s sleep, so avoid substances that can affect the quality of your sleep and post workout recovery, especially alcohol and caffeine.
Prioritizing sleep is hard; there are only so many hours in the day. If you’re struggling to fit in a proper night’s sleep, consider rearranging your schedule to make more time for shut-eye. It could mean a world of difference for your physical fitness.
#2 Fuel Your Body with Proper Nutrients
Your body is a machine—a very hungry machine. Everything you eat has a direct impact on how you feel both in and outside the gym.
Plan your meals and snacks with your workout routine in mind.
Before the Workout
If you’re wondering about the essential aspects of pre-working fueling, consider the following rules of thumb:
- Get carbs, protein, fat – Give your body what it needs by hitting these three major categories. Carbs will give your body the energy to burn while you workout, while protein can be used to boost muscle growth. Fat is useful for long, endurance-heavy workouts that may be less intense.
- Don’t eat too much – Overloading on food before a workout can leave you feeling slow and sluggish. It’s best to leave the buffets for later and focus on easy-to-digest and highly nutritious options for your pre-workout meal.
- Don’t eat too soon – Eating right before you exercise is a recipe for disaster. To avoid cramps, nausea, or worse, allow yourself a minimum of an hour to digest your food before hitting the gym.
If you’re looking for specific inspiration for pre-workout meals, we’d recommend:
- Greek yogurt
- Nuts and fruits
After the Workout
Now that you’ve burned off all those carbs and pushed your muscles, you’ll want to focus on foods that promote muscle recovery.
Some favorite post workout meals include:
- Lean meat sandwiches
- Eggs and toast
- Veggies, rice, and fish
Choose high-protein ingredients that will aid your body in building muscle. Then, add starches and grains that can satiate your hunger.
There’s no reason to feel sore and hungry. Healthy eating by maintaining a consistent diet of quality food is one of the best ways to ensure steady fitness progression and solid long-term heath.
#3 Warm Up and Cool Down
Do you know how to stretch? Failing to properly warm up and cool down can increase your risk of injury and fatigue.
It takes extra time to stretch and limber up, but the benefits to your long-term mobility and health are more than worth it.
Before the Workout
With proper sleep and a belly-full of nutritious food, you’re probably ready to strap on your walking shoes for men or women and jump into the action and show that squat rack what you’re made of. While you may be raring to go, it’s essential to warm up before diving headfirst into your more strenuous exercise routine.
A warm-up is the best way to avoid potential injuries and acclimate your body to your routine. While many people still advocate for static stretches as an important warm-up activity, fitness experts today are less likely to recommend them. Beginning your workout with static stretching is actually more likely to cause an injury than prevent one.
Instead, consider these dynamic options for your pre-workout warm-up:
- Arm rotations
- Light jogging
- Leg lifts
Bodyweight exercises are a great way to begin a workout. You’re less likely to get injured and the only thing you need to begin is a mat.
After the Workout
Cooling down after your main workout—whether it’s weightlifting or high-intensity interval training—is just as important as warming up.
Now we get to stretch. Following a full workout, your limbs should be nice and warmed up, making injury far less likely. The benefits of post workout stretching include:
- Lowering your heart rate – Does it feel like your heart is about to beat out of your chest after a particularly vigorous workout? Jump into your cool-down routine to lower your heart rate and blood pressure. You’ll start breathing normally in no time.
- Reducing muscle soreness – Exercise causes a build-up of lactic acid in your muscles. This is what causes the stiffness and muscle aches associated with intense workouts. A solid cooldown can greatly reduce this build-up, making the next day less painful and allowing you to hit the gym regularly without discomfort.
- Increasing flexibility – More stretching leads to better stretching. With a consistent post-workout routine, you can expect to increase your flexibility and protect yourself against potential strains. Plus, there’ll be no more grunting when you bend down to pick something up.
#4 Plan for Future Progress
Following a proper warm-up, your body should be well prepared for a serious workout. The problem is that without a proper plan, a workout can be ineffective or even dangerous.
Want to see real gains?
Hit the gym or fitness studio with a concrete plan, and evaluate it after you finish.
Before the Workout
To make the most of your routine, take a moment to do the following:
- Understand your equipment – Any piece of exercise equipment from stair-climbers to dumbbells has the potential to cause serious injury. If your workout involves more than bodyweight exercises, it’s imperative that you have an understanding of how the equipment works and how to use it properly.
- Set realistic goals – Physical fitness should be about promoting your health, feeling your best, and potentially even enjoying yourself. When you set realistic and positive goals for your workouts, you’ll be more likely to keep coming back week after week.
After the Workout
How did it go? Take stock of your results so that you can plan for the future.
Keep the following guidelines in mind:
- Evaluate your options – Did you run into any obstacles after your workout? Maybe you felt off-balance, or perhaps you noticed aches and pains in your joints. With modern exercise science, there are plenty of ways to reduce the likelihood of injury while finding greater balance and stability. For example, wearing supportive, properly fitting shoes might help you make gains without risking your knee or foot heath.
- Progress isn’t a number – While the readings of a scale or the amount of weight on a barbell are easy to quantify, they’re not necessarily the best way to measure progress. How you feel, both physically and mentally, are more complicated markers of progress. Try to see the big picture when it comes to physical fitness.
Hit The Ground Running with Vionic
Working out is less about doing everything perfectly and more about putting your best effort in. When you make a plan to care for yourself before and after your workout, you can set yourself up for success every time you exercise.
For one more way to put your best foot forward, there’s Vionic.
We’re making a difference in the gym and on the street with fashionable active sneakers and innovative design. At Vionic, we’ve developed orthotics and shoes that excel in keeping you going through even the toughest workouts. Visit Vionic today and see how we’re redefining comfort from the ground up.
- Everyday Health. The Intimate Relationship Between Fitness and Sleep. https://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/intimate-relationship-between-fitness-sleep/
- Healthline. 16 Cooldown Exercises You Can Do After Any Workout. https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/cooldown-exercises#for-seniors
- Healthline. Pre-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat Before a Workout. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/eat-before-workout#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2
- Very Well Health. Adenosine and Sleep.https://www.verywellhealth.com/adenosine-and-sleep-3015337