Admit it–workouts are WORK! You know you need to do them for better health, but it may be hard to stay on track. Here are five tips from Mason researcher Jatin P. Ambegaonkar, co-director of Mason’s Sports Medicine Research and Testing (SMART) Lab, for getting a better workout.
The traditional British Army instructors’ “7 Ps” adage, “Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Pretty Poor Performance,” holds true for all good workouts. Plan what you want from your workout that day, and know how it fits into your overall training plan. This planning starts with realistic goal setting. Stay consistent with your workout schedule, and you will see positive results. Gradually increase your workout time or intensity to advance to your goal.
2. Warm Up AND Cool Down
While workouts can be structured for individual goals, all good workouts should include warming up, exercising, and cooling down. Unfortunately, some individuals will stretch, warm up, workout, and then call it a day, without actually taking the time to cool down. Scientific evidence indicates that stretching before warming up or working out may actually hinder performance. So remember to take time to cool down and stretch after a workout.
3. Proper Nutrition
Proper nutrition is essential to a better workout. A good plan includes both food and fluids before, during, and after workouts. Your body needs multiple sources of energy that come from a combination of simple (e.g., sugar) and complex carbohydrates (e.g., pasta). Eat a good meal with complex carbohydrates around two to three hours before the workout to ensure your body has enough energy. Then, 10 to 15 minutes before the workout, eat some simple carbohydrate-rich food, such as a piece of fruit. If you are working out for less than 45 minutes, you don’t need to replenish your carbohydrates while working out. However, if the workout lasts for over an hour, drink one-half to one cup of simple carbohydrates and fluids, such as energy drinks, every 20 minutes to maintain blood sugar levels. Post workout, eat a protein-carbohydrate meal to replenish glucose stores and repair body tissues.
4. Mix It Up
Multiple workout formats and plans are advertised in popular culture and the media. Similar to trying a variety of food when you go out to eat, try different workout programs (e.g., Insanity, CrossFit) to see what best fits you. Remember that your workout and fitness goals may change over time. If you are experiencing boredom or mental fatigue with a single type of workout, switch it up! Research also suggests that, as compared to only cardiovascular training (e.g., running), strength training (e.g., weight lifting) may result in overall better and longer-lasting fitness. So try interval training, circuit training, or other training methods to remain excited with your workouts.
5. Be Happy
Always remember that when working out, you are improving your overall quality of life. Working out releases endorphins—those feel-good chemicals. So feel happy that you are doing something good for yourself and your loved ones. Also, make workouts fun! Techniques include challenging yourself and setting goals (e.g., run a 5K challenge), working out with family or friends (this is one of the best-known factors for improving long-term workout adherence), and participating in informal workouts, such as playing sports for fun. Finally, find meaningful ways to frequently reward yourself after you reach your workout goals.
Jatin P. Ambegaonkar, PhD, ATC, CSCS, is the academic program coordinator for the Exercise, Fitness, and Health Promotion Program at Mason, and the founding director of the SMART Laboratory and Mason’s Performing Arts Medicine Program.