These Are The Most Important Minutes of Your Workout
The most common question I get from clients regarding exercise is, "What's the best exercise to do?" While I know people would love one definitive answer, there isn't one. My most common response is, "The one that you'll do." I could talk extemporaneously about how vital weightlifting is for your metabolic health, your immune health, your cardiovascular system, your bone health, etc. But if you are completely uninspired to pick up a somewhat heavy object repetitively, I would be wasting my breath. So, instead, I encourage people to find the exercise that gets them excited and motivated to actually do it on a regular basis. Once you're on the workout wagon, then we can talk nuances of the workout.
So, at this point, you are probably already on the workout wagon and ready to dive a bit deeper into how to get the most out of your workout. And there are definitely ways to be efficient and maximally effective. The way to do this is focus on what part of the workout you are in and treat it as its own unique endeavor.
- First, the warm up. Every workout should start by easing into the movement. If you've ever experienced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) a day or two after a workout, then an inadequate warm up could have been the culprit. Make sure you ease into the movements you'll be doing once you hit the hard part. If you'll be doing weights for your shoulders, for example, make sure you have arm circles in your warm up to get the blood flowing into your upper extremities and start to gently move the shoulder joint. This will also get fluid in your joints moving. If you're going for a run, do easy walking lunges, starting with a smaller range of motion and getting deeper into the lunge after a few reps. Regardless of the workout, take a moment to focus on your breathing. This will help you get more oxygen and detox more carbon dioxide. It will also help warm up your diaphragm and intercostal muscles that move your ribs.
- Second, focus on dynamic stretching after your warm up. You never want to hold a static stretch before your body is warm. This can cause injury during your workout. Get the blood flowing into your muscles first, and then start to push the limits of flexibility. Dynamic stretches include peddling your feet during a downward dog or gently looking over your shoulders one at a time without pausing at the end point. Leave the elongated holds for post-workout.
- The workout itself should build over the course of time. If you're doing multiple sets of an exercise, don't go straight to your heaviest possible weight. Sometimes you may even want to do the movement without any weight for the first set or few repetitions to get a feel for proper joint mechanics and posture. Then pick up the weight and see if you can do the same quality movement. If you're running or swimming, wait to attempt your fastest speed. Give yourself a few laps to familiarize yourself with the movement.
- Be aware of your output over the course of the workout. If you're going for time and you realize halfway through that you might not have X number of reps left in you, slow down or lighten your load for a set and then get back into it so you can still achieve your goal.
- Cool down after the workout. Going straight from maximal effort - or even light effort - to zero abruptly can cause lightheadedness or muscle cramping. Keep your body moving for a few minutes at the end of your workout. If you were riding a bike, give yourself at least 5 minutes of slow, easy peddling to bring your heart rate down slowly and allow blood to flow back to the rest of your body.
- Once you have your breath rate down again, ease into your stretching. At this point, feel free to go for the longer holds at further ranges of motion. See how it feels now versus at the beginning of your workout.
- And the most important minutes of your workout? The 30 minutes after you're done. This is the prime time to refuel your body with complete protein to build up reserves and lean muscle. Even if your goal is fat loss, you'll need to focus on some muscle gain.