We all look forward to the feeling of finishing a great workout. You feel physically exhausted but mentally energized, physically stronger than before, healthy and more fit, and satisfied with what you’ve achieved! Unfortunately, great workouts are the elusive “white whale” that fitness enthusiasts seek but have a hard time finding. Great workouts aren’t a random occurrence. We have the power to manage and control a number of variables to result in a great workout experience. There are ten steps you can make a part of your pre-workout routine to set the stage for a great workout every time.
1. Get a good night’s sleep.
Many of us put the “cart before the horse” when it comes to our workouts. We train hard at the gym but take sleep and recovery for granted. Research studies have found that elite athletes (i.e. football, tennis, swimming) who slept at least 10 hours per night for 7 to 8 weeks improved sprint performance, experienced less daytime fatigue and had more stamina.
2. Stay hydrated during the day.
Water is the most essential component of the human body as it plays an important role in the function of cells. Water is required for the transportation of nutrients, elimination of waste products, regulation of body temperature (sweating), maintenance of blood circulation and pressure, lubrication of joints and body tissues, and in aiding digestion. More than half of the human body is composed of water, and it is impossible to sustain life without it. A 1% loss of body water can result in changes in the body that can affect performance negatively.
The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate water intake for men is roughly 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total beverages per day. The adequate water intake for women is 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages per day. In preparation for your workout, drink 16 to 20 fluid ounces of water or sports beverage at least 4 hours before exercising.
3. Have a pre-workout snack.
To get the most out of your workout include a pre-workout snack 30 to 40 minutes before you start exercising to optimize performance. Your snack should include a good balance of carbohydrates (70%), protein (20%) and fat (10%). Examples of a 100 to 200 calorie pre-workout snack include:
- Banana and peanut butter
- Oatmeal and sliced almonds
- English muffin and almond butter
- Greek yogurt and strawberries
- Crackers and a hard boiled egg
4. Schedule your workout.
Being conscious of the time it takes to coordinate a workout includes more than just the time you spend at the gym. To effectively plan a great workout you need to schedule the time you need to get to the gym and the time necessary to get to your next destination as well (i.e. shower, travel time). This way you aren’t rushed or distracted before, during or after your workout. Schedule a block of time for your workout that includes:
- Transit time to the gym (including traffic and potential delays)
- Workout time (exercises, sets, reps and rest in between sets)
- Transit time to your next destination (including traffic and potential delays)
Also, wear a watch or check the time regularly during your workout. This ensures you stay on track during your workouts to get everything done on time.
5. Bring your favorite workout music.
The last decade has produced a significant amount of research on workout music, helping psychologists better understand their ideas about why music changes the body and mind during physical exertion. Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency. The results of several studies have shown that when people listen to music, people run farther, bike longer and swim faster than without music.
Whatever your favorite music may be, don’t forget to pack your iPod and headphones before your head to the gym. Music can create a consistent workout environment and pace you during your workout (to keep you on track).
6. Pack the right gym gear.
If you look good and feel good, you are more likely to perform better, too! Choose gym gear with the following in mind:
- Clothing that will keep you dry (despite sweating).
- Clothing that gives you room to move and perform the activity effectively.
- Clothing that makes you feel good.
- Footwear that is appropriate for your activity (good support and cushioning).
Regardless, choose clothing and footwear that won’t hinder your performance.
7. Leave your “baggage” at the front door.
Although you should ideally give 100 percent effort while exercising, distractions can make that virtually impossible. Thoughts about family, issues at work, the dramas of the day or worries weighing heavy on your mind can get in the way of an effective workout. Leave your distractions at the front door and be “present” with every rep, set, exercise or cardio session.
8. Create your own workout affirmations.
- The ability to transform our thinking instantaneously (turning off negative internal thoughts)
- Putting us in the driver’s seat (providing a sense of control over the situation)
- Helping a person initiate a change when it is most difficult (providing focus and direction)
Affirmations can be used at any time, because they are statements you say to yourself in your own head. Use them when you need positive reinforcement and/or motivation to get through an exercise, set, repetition or as a way to generally boost your mood.
9. Set at least one goal for the workout.
A specific workout goal gives you a destination to reach with every workout. Unlike a fitness goal (which may take several weeks or months to achieve) a workout goal can be achieved in just one workout. An effective workout goal must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and measured by time (SMART). Examples of SMART workout goals include:
- To complete the day’s workout in 60 minutes (weight training, cardio and stretching).
- To make it through the day’s workout without feeling any lower back pain.
- To do one more repetition of each of my exercises with good form.
- To focus on effectively contracting my core stabilizing muscles during all of my weight training exercises.
10. Reward yourself!
Everyone needs a reason for doing things. We need to be motivated to take action. It would be very difficult to make exercise a regular part of our weekly routine without a reason to do it. A great way to stay motivated to get to the gym and get the workouts done is a tangible reward after each workout. It doesn’t have to be big … but it does have to mean something of value to you. Examples include:
- A relaxing bath when you get home.
- A cup of your favorite ice cream for dessert.
- Downloading one new song on iTunes (max. $1.99 value).
- Putting one dollar into the “workout reward jar” and saving up for a vacation at the end of the year.
Food for Thought …
Having a great workout isn’t like winning the lottery. They don’t just happen out of thin air. It’s a culmination of how you treat your body before and after each workout, your state of mind during the workout and having a plan in place to get the most out of your time at the gym. Take the time to plan for success and you will reap the rewards in the end!