Exercise sure does seem to come with a lot of rules. Do this, don’t do that, avoid these moves at all costs, but be sure you don’t forget to include these essential components. It can all be a bit much, and, at times, maybe even dissuade you from wanting to hit the gym.
Well, don’t let it get to you. There are definitely some things you should and shouldn’t do, whether they be to increase your workout’s effectiveness, or to help you avoid injury. Typically, it all comes back to a few basic, core principles that experts are trying to ingrain in your mind.
With that said, we here at The Cheat Sheet have covered many of these things ourselves, ranging from workouts that specifically target your arms, abs, lower body, to what you should eat, when, and why. It’s a lot of information to process, but it’s all important — and can make a huge difference to someone who’s actually trying to see results from their time spent in the gym.
To ensure you’re making the most out of that time, we have compiled a list of things you might be doing that are setting you up for failure. You’d be surprised by what behaviors could be setting you back before you pick up a single dumbbell, or spend a single second on the treadmill. So, that’s what we’re discussing today.
On the following pages, you’ll read about nine things you should avoid before hitting your gym or fitness center. You may or may not engage in any or all of these activities — but being aware of how they’re impacting your fitness routine is important.
So, without further ado, here are nine things to avoid before hitting the gym.
1. Eat (certain things)
For some people, it’s a grave mistake to eat before working out. It may be because they’ll throw up, or simply because they can get more out of their body on an empty stomach — but what you choose to eat may be making all the difference. For example, oatmeal or some dried fruit is probably going to be a positive attribute to your workout. A cheeseburger, some fries, or a pretzel from Auntie Anne’s? Not so much.
If you do choose to scarf something down before picking up the barbells, make a wise decision and go with something small and dense with nutrients. Your body will be able to use the resources as you expend them, as opposed to just pushing them through your system.
2. Drink (certain things)
Just like eating, tossing back a beverage before working out can impact your routine — depending on what, exactly, you’re pouring into your body. A lot of people go for protein shakes or other supplements before hitting the gym. And according to Bodybuilding.com, that’s not a bad idea, but ideally, you’ll want to slurp down the whey during your post-workout cool-down. Water and sports drinks are a good idea, but sports drinks like Gatorade are better during or after your workout, as your body can refuel on the salts and sugars they’re composed of.
As for what you should avoid, WebMD says it’s definitely soda and alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant, and can screw with your system, while soda’s sugar will spike your insulin levels, and throw your system off balance. Your best bet? Stick with water.
3. Drink too much water
There’s no denying the importance of staying hydrated, but being overly hydrated before your workout can be counterproductive. In particular, Women’s Health says downing too much water (in an attempt to make up for a lack of consuming enough earlier in the day) could put you at risk for a rare, yet serious condition called hyponatremia. When this occurs, your kidneys can’t process all that water fast enough. If this does happen, you’ll be left feeling weak, with a loss of energy, and will likely experience cramping. To avoid this completely, make sure you’re drinking water consistently throughout the day, so you’re not left slamming a bunch right before you hit the gym.
4. Static stretch
Wait, aren’t you supposed to stretch before a workout?
Well, yes, but you’ll want to steer clear of static stretching. Stretching before working out can actually leave you worse-off than you would’ve been otherwise, as your nervous system is tricked into activating some muscles and not others — or your body might think it’s time to take it easy. Studies have found that instead of helping you avoid injuries, stretching may actually increase your chances of getting hurt, flying in the face of traditional wisdom.
5. Skip the warm-up
Instead of static stretching, do a simple warm-up. Jog for a few minutes, do some jumping jacks — just get your body moving and the blood flowing. This will get your body into “go mode” much more effectively than stretching. Skipping a warm-up just because you’re short on time, as PopSugar says, won’t do you any good in the long run. So, just be sure you plan at least five minutes of easy warm-up into your pre-workout routine.
6. Sleep too much
Sleeping, like eating and drinking, may or may not impact your workout. Again, it depends on the details. Catching a quick nap — no more than 20 or 30 minutes, Muscle & Fitness says — will probably get you recharged, and feeling refreshed heading into the gym. Longer than that, however, and you may become lethargic.
If you can time your naps, and get in a quick power nap before heading off to the weight room, then yes, get some shut-eye. But if you’re one of those people who fall into a deep sleep for a couple of hours, then you’re better off fighting the sleepiness until after you’ve completed your routine.
7. Skimp on sleep
On the flip side, skimping on sleep will equally put you at a disadvantage during your workout. We all know quality sleep is absolutely essential to any healthy lifestyle, and making sure you’re well rested before stepping foot in the gym is key. “You are better off catching up on sleep and giving your body time to recuperate,” The Active Times says. “Rest will help with your metabolism, bettering your workout and fitness goals.” If you’re overly tired, you might want to rest your eyes, rather than spending that time in the gym. You can return fully rejuvenated tomorrow.
8. Take NSAIDS
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Advil and Ibuprofen, can be a tempting preventative measure. After all, you’re anticipating some sort of discomfort, and planning on going so hard at the gym, you’ll be left feeling sore. But popping these pills isn’t the best idea. In fact, one study advises against it, as doing so “aggravates exercise-induced small intestinal injury and induces gut barrier dysfunction in healthy individuals.” There’s no sense in putting your GI tract at risk.
9. Over or underdressing
Proper apparel depends on what you’ll be doing, and where you’ll be doing it. But still, it’s important to reach the appropriate gear decisions based on your individual workout routine. Would you pack heavy sweats to wear to the resort gym during your tropical vacation? Probably not. Similarly, it’s unlikely you would do the same when you hop on the treadmill at your gym.
When it comes to workout attire, choosing the right fabrics is key. If you’re exercising outside in hot temperatures, you’ll want thin, breathable fabrics that will also protect you from sun damage. If you’re working out in colder temps, however, you’ll want fabrics that properly wick away sweat, while being careful to not overdo it with the layers. Why? Your sweat will eventually just make you even colder.
Additional reporting by Julie Peirano.