When it comes to exercise, most of your focus is likely on the activity itself, from choosing the right movements to doing the correct number of reps, and completing a set amount of sets. But there’s more to exercise than that. Here’s fitness expert David Dack with tips for before a workout even begins – specifically what NOT to do.
What makes a workout successful?
An effective session isn’t only determined by how hard or long you push yourself during a gym or outdoor session. In reality, what you do before you exercise is just as important as what you do during and after it.
Even with the best intentions in the world, you may unknowingly do things that limit your fitness gains, resulting in uninspired training time or potentially an injury.
To help you make the most out of your sessions, the guidelines below help to shed some light on common pre-workout errors of gym-goers, and how to avoid them to improve your overall performance, strength, and fitness gains.
Sounds good? Then let’s go.
Before a workout at the gym, never do the following:
1. Static stretching beforehand
Aren’t you supposed to stretch before you hop on that leg press machine?
Well, yes… and no.
Holding a stretch for an extended period—the essence of static stretching—can leave you worse off than you’ve been otherwise. Let me explain.
When you exercise, your muscles need to contract as frequently and intensely as possible. But when you put them in a stretched state beforehand, you compromise their ability to optimally perform their function.
Don’t just take my word for it either.
A study reported in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that trainees who performed static stretches before doing squats slashed their strength by 8% and reduced lower body stability by roughly 20%. That’s in comparison to subjects who opted for dynamic stretches instead.
The takeaway here is that to properly prepare your body for your workout, a two-part warm-up is ideal. In Part One, perform a cardio exercise—think jogging, rowing, or slow cycling—for 5 minutes. This activity should be enough to raise your heart rate and core temperature.
Part Two consists of 5-10 minutes of dynamic exercises, performing each move for 20 seconds without resting. Reach, but don’t hold it; that’s the essence of dynamic stretches.
Ideal dynamic moves include inchworms, ankle bounces, arm swings, butt kicks, lunges, leg swings, and high knees. Save the static stretching for the post-workout routine or yoga day.
2. Feasting before a workout
Eating a big meal before hitting the gym is a recipe for disaster.
Consuming too much food—or the wrong type—too close to your workout can result in:
- Stomach pain
- Throw up on the bench press machine or elsewhere
Thus, you wouldn’t be able to give it 100% at the gym if you don’t eat correctly before going to the facility.
For example, banana with peanut butter is likely going to have a good impact on your workout. As for pretzels, fries, or a big pizza? I don’t think so.
Your food intake before exercise depends on many factors, such as your size, fitness level, training intensity, and, of course, personal preferences. As a general rule, aim for a balanced meal that includes both carbohydrates and protein to fuel your body.
Make sure to include in your pre-workout meal some low-fiber, faster-acting carbs to keep blood sugar levels steady during your workout, moderate in protein and fat to help sustain fuel and speed post-training recovery.
Timing also matters. Give your digestive system ample time to process the food before you head to the gym. That typically means at least 3 hours between a meal and a workout.
If you don’t have time for a meal—a morning run, for instance—have a snack 30 minutes before your session. Make sure it consists of 70% slow-digesting carbohydrates, such as a banana with 30% easily digestible protein or fat with a tablespoon of peanut butter.
3. Drinking too much or not enough water
Another common mistake I see many trainees make is either under hydrating or overhydrating before their session.
While exercising, you lose considerable amounts of water through sweat, which can result in dehydration. When you don’t swiftly address your hydration needs, then your performance and recovery will suffer considerably.
Conversely, chugging a gallon of water before a workout would have a similar effect as consuming a heavy meal. It can leading to stomach ache, or worse, hypernatremia. This condition can cause:
As a rule, for your stomach and performance sake, make sure to maintain good hydration throughout the day, not just around your workout times.
Again, how much water to drink depends on your conditions and preferences. As a guideline, drink 20 ounces of water before a workout. To meet your needs, drink your body weight in ounces of water daily. Shoot for more of the clear liquid during intense training days and high temperature days.
An excellent way to measure how much liquid your body needs is by monitoring your weight before and after your session and replace that loss. Thus, if you weigh 180 pounds before your workout and you weigh 178 afterward, then drink 32 ounces of water in the hour following your session.
4. Not having a plan before a workout
How many times have you’ve walked into a gym and had no idea whether to do chest, back, or leg exercises? That’s a classic mistake.
Not planning your sessions always results in mediocre performance because of a lack of focus and direction.
You’ll never be able to reach your training goals this way because there’s no foresight or system. Without a clear plan of action, you’ll roam the sports facility looking for something to do or change your routine endlessly.
To avoid falling into the trap of a mindless workout and ensure that you maximize your exercise time, plan everything.
Whether you’re using a personalized training plan from a coach or a simple online program, knowing the exact number of reps, sets, and exercises to do helps make your training more efficient than it might be otherwise. This strategy is also an excellent way to keep you accountable to your fitness goals.
And it’s not rocket science. You can come up with an exercise routine that targets your entire body with only 6-7 exercises. Concentrate on:
- Your core
- Pulling and pushing exercises
Make sure you know exactly how many reps, sets, rounds, and exercises you’re going to do before a workout even starts. That way you can monitor personal progress over time.
The choices you make before heading to the health club can affect your fitness gains, often without you even noticing it.
Making your fitness vision a reality takes time and discipline both in the gym as well as at home, especially in the kitchen and bedroom.
It includes maximizing your recovery, managing your diet, monitoring your workout routine and progress, etc.
That’s why your fitness gains will depend on the choices you make beforehand just as much as the choices you make while working out.
About today’s writer
David Dack is an established fitness blogger and running expert. When he’s not training for his next marathon, he’s doing research and trying to help as many people as possible to share his fitness philosophy.