7 Essential Things You Should Do After Every Workout

Post-workout recovery is an essential, albeit often overlooked, segment of any fitness routine. After any bout with the barbells or tango with the treadmill, enacting a cool-down phase and post-exercise recovery period is just as important as actually doing the work itself; no matter if you’re focusing on your arms, lower body, or working on that six-pack.

Often, in haste to get out of the gym, we can finish our sets or our last quarter-mile, grab the keys and water bottle, and high-tail it to the parking lot to get back home. But in doing so, you can be missing out on a chance to give your body some crucial TLC. Studies show that people who take certain measures — like cool down exercises and stretching — after workouts see benefits from it. Chiefly, they experience less muscle soreness, and are ready to hit the weights again in a shorter amount of time. There are, naturally, others who disagree.

In order to help, we’ve put together a seven-step post-workout checklist. Some of these entries are common sense, while others can be adopted into your current routine — assuming you have one.

1. Cool-down exercises

exercising on the treadmill

Always remember to cool down. | Thinkstock

As soon as you drop the dumbbell on your last set, or finish your last mile on the track or treadmill, you don’t want to stop completely — you need to cool down. There are a myriad of ways to bring your heart rate down: Engage in some yoga poses and stretching, if you wish, but many people opt to jog lightly, walk, or even jump in the pool for a couple laps. It’s really up to you — just make sure you’re taking 10 or 15 minutes to properly bring your workout to a close.

2. Stretch

a man stretching

Stretching is super important. | Thinkstock

Going right from the cool-down phase and into stretching is often advised by many trainers — and sometimes they are one in the same. If you don’t feel like hopping on the treadmill for 10 minutes (perhaps you just hopped off the treadmill), a targeted stretching routine may be just what you need. Stretching will help you build flexibility and mobility, which is important for your workouts and your everyday life.

3. Use a foam roller

use a foam roller after a workout

Using a foam roller is great for your muscles post-workout. | Marissa Baecker/Getty Images

A lot of you may not be familiar with foam rolling, but once you try it, it tends to stick with you. For the uninitiated, a lot of fitness buffs suggest using a roll, made of foam, and basically rolling around on it on the floor. What this does is work out any “kinks” or knots that you may have and help soothe fatigued muscles after a workout. Hell, you can even do this before a workout to help warm up too. Foam rolls may seem a bit unorthodox at first, but giving them a shot may do wonders for your recovery time.

4. Drink water

pouring water into a glass

Drinking water is absolutely a must. | iStock.com

This one is pretty obvious, but some people seem reluctant to do it. Just drink water! Rehydration may be the most important element of any post-workout routine, and you’re sure as hell not going to recover if you’re dehydrated. After sweating out a ton of your body’s resources and water reserves, your body simply needs to be replenished. So bring a water bottle and make sure you’re downing enough to stay hydrated.

5. Track your progress

a man using a fitness tracker

A fitness tracker may be your next best friend. | Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

It’s literally never been easier to track your fitness routine and diet regimen. There are a ton of apps for smartphones out there, as well as devices like FitBit, the Apple Watch, and other smartwatches that can help you out. Or, if you prefer, you can still stick to the traditional pen and paper, or even use a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel or Google Docs. The key here is to just make sure you know what exercises you’re doing and to track your improvement. If you’re not adding more weight to your routine, or running for longer periods of time, you’ll notice — and be able to make the proper adjustments.

But be sure to do it while you’re still at the gym, as you might forget, or just say “screw it” later on.

6. Fuel up

protein powder

Make sure you’re feeding your body properly. | iStock.com

In the same vein as rehydration, your body will literally be aching for sustenance. You need to answer the call.

One of the most popular post-workout indulgences is, of course, the protein shake. Lots of experts recommend getting a solid dose of protein soon after working out to help kick-off the muscle rebuilding process after they’ve been thoroughly fatigued. Typically, at least 20 grams is recommended, which can easily be found in most protein powders. You can also go for certain foods, like Greek yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, or even beef jerky to get your protein fix. The goal is to give your muscles something to “chew on” as they rebuild themselves and get bigger in preparation for your next bout in the gym.

7. Shower and change

showerhead

A shower is a must. | iStock.com

Even more obvious than drinking water is to use some to spray yourself off. Making sure you take a shower and put on a fresh set of clothes can make a huge difference — for your health, and for those that need to be around you for the rest of the day. Not only can you end up smelling, there’s a chance that certain … things … can end up growing on, or around you. Especially your workout clothes — wash those suckers.

It’s simple hygiene, really. After you’ve cooled down, had some water, and have had a chance to stop sweating, hit the showers.