Some days, just getting to the gym takes serious dedication — and on those days (especially on those days!) I want my sweat sesh to count. The last thing my workout needs is to be derailed before I even hit the spin bike/yoga mat/elliptical. Unfortunately, what we do before and after the gym can sneakily sabotage our workouts.
These behaviors are easily justified in our heads. You might hit the gym on the way home from work with an empty stomach, or give up a few extra hours of sleep for an a.m. workout — things that can actually do more harm than good. Unfortunately, there's no denying science, so we recommend you take advantage of recent findings.
Researchers' experiments show how the ten habits below affect our workout performance. If you're guilty of any of them, you might want to rethink how you're exercising. You'll be surprised by how much better you feel the next time you're at the gym.
You're Not Eating Before Working Out
No one wants to work out on a full stomach, but fasting pre-sweat sesh won't help your performance, either. In fact, if you don't eat, any calories you burn will come from muscle instead, according to research published in Strength and Conditioning Journal. So, not only will you lose muscle, you won't be able to go as hard or long as you would, if you had some real fuel to burn — which basically means the entire point of going to the gym is moot.
You're Hitting the Bottle After the Gym
After a hard workout, you probably feel like you earned a reward. Maybe that reward comes in the form of a frosty pint or bottle of wine.
According to a study by researchers at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, people generally drink more alcohol on days they exercise more (typically Thursdays through Sunday). Hey, there's nothing wrong with a glass or two, but overindulging after a workout can completely derail the next day's gym time — plus, you're negating all those calories you just worked so hard to burn.
You're Fueling With Energy Drinks
Step away from the Red Bull — you might think you need that boost pre-spin class, but we guarantee you'll regret any performance benefits as soon as your workout is over. A recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that consuming energy drinks increased athletes' sporting performance by 3 to 7 percent, but it also upped the frequency of insomnia, nervousness, and the level of stimulation in the hours following competition.
You're Stretching Before You Work Out
Wait, aren't you supposed to do that? You should warm up, of course, but a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that static stretching (that means slowly moving into stretching positions until they hurt just a bit, then holding them) before lifting weights can actually make you feel weaker and wobblier during your workout. It can also make you feel slower when running. Instead, try a quick jog to get your blood pumping, and stretch after your sweat sesh.
You're Super Tired or Stressed
Hitting the gym might be the last box you need to check on your to-do list before crashing on your couch and watching How To Get Away With Murder, but if you're so exhausted or stressed from a tough day at work that you're basically sleepwalking there, you might as well just go home. Chronic fatigue actually makes your workout session less effective, according to new research published in in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology . You're better off heading home to catch some much-needed zzz's, then starting fresh tomorrow.
You're Skipping Sleep to Fit in Gym Time
These days, we're all sleep-deprived. And, according to research published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research , that can have a major effect on how we exercise. By studying judo players, researchers were able to discover that, with a normal night's sleep, athletes were stronger and had greater cardio power in the afternoon than the morning; but when they were deprived of sleep, they were just as tired as when they had just completed a judo match. So, basically, not sleeping enough makes you feel like you just expended all your energy at the gym without any of the actual gym benefits. Womp.
You Don't Have the Right Workout Buddy
Working out with someone is definitely better than sweating solo, but if you can school your gym buddy in push-ups or squats, you're probably not challenging yourself. In fact, a study in the journal P sychology of Sport and Exercise found that working out with someone you think is better than you could make you work 20 percent harder than you would on your own. Bring on the peer pressure!
You're Not Starting your Workout the Right Way
Wait, isn't it enough that you just made it to the gym? Nope. Here's how your workout should go, according to experts at The American Council on Exercise and Western State Colorado University: Start with cardiorespiratory exercise, then do resistance exercise, followed by agility, speed, and balance training, and then flexibility. Starting with cardio keeps your average rate down, preventing injury and cardiac issues; following that with strength training makes it effective without feeling too tough.
You Don't Have a Goal
You know that old saying, "keep your eyes on the prize"? Do that — it'll make your workout so much easier. According to two recent studies published in Motivation and Emotion , visualizing a finish line at the end of a run can trick your brain into thinking that finish line is actually closer than it seems — and increases your speed while reducing your feelings of physical exertion.
You're Hitting the Gym Too Much
Yes, there is such a thing. You might feel accomplished hitting the gym or a different studio class every day, but all that working out can backfire. In a recent study published in the Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences , scientists found that overtraining can cause a decline in performance, as well as muscle damage and physiological responses similar to those induced by infection, sepsis or trauma. Yikes! The lesson here: Take a rest day or two each week, and give your body a chance to recover.