Exercise is polarizing—some people love it, some simply tolerate it, and some dread it. But one thing we can all agree on is that optimizing our workouts sounds pretty good. Whether you can’t live without your early morning spin classes or you have to force yourself to go on those bi-weekly runs, you can benefit from giving your workout a little boost. If you don’t believe us, we have the research to back us up. And here’s the best part: these handy tips and tricks won’t make your go-to workout anymore expensive than it is right now. (And most of them won’t add any time to your workout—some will even save you time!). Keep reading for seven things you can do for a better workout.
1. Stretch it out
When you’re rushing to squeeze in a workout, stopping to stretch before and after is easy to skip. (Kind of like flossing. Oops.) Stretching is imperative for maintaining muscle health, strength, and flexibility. A few 30-second stretches can help you get ready for a workout, and you should try to stretch again after an aerobic or weight-training workout.
2. Snack right
It seems there are two types of pre-workout foods people reach for: some choose to carbo load and others rely on protein-packed shakes to get the job done. It turns out that both groups are right, but there’s no need to choose one or the other. In fact, an expert panel report in Nutrition Today reminded readers that carbs, proteins, and fats are important energy sources for workouts. Protein is especially important for strength training athletes, carbohydrates are a necessary energy source for high-intensity performances, and fats are key for sustaining active people during lower-intensity training bouts. That’s right, a well-rounded diet will do more good for those looking to improve their performances than loading up on just protein or carb heavy meals. No more playing favorites.
3. Drink water
When you sweat, your body loses water, which can lead to dehydration and workout struggles. Let’s say you lose just 2 percent of your body weight in fluids: a study from the University of North Carolina found that will make your workout feel harder, make recovery post-workout more challenging, and will reduce exercise performance. Here’s the real kicker: their study found that gym-goers typically sweat out a whopping 6-10 percent of body weight in fluids. Chances are, some of us are dehydrated before we even hit the gym. Be careful and drink some water before, during, and after your next workout.
4. Get balanced
It’s all about the core strength. According to a study in Current Sports Medicine, exercising in a way that incorporates balance can stimulate more core muscles than if you did the exact same exercise in a stable position. In turn, having a strong core improves your overall balance and stability, which is a benefit you will feel outside the gym as well. Planks, sit ups, and fitness ball exercises are all easy examples of how you can give your core a little love. Did we mention that having a strong core can lead to rock hard abs and make physical activities easier in general?
5. Mix it up with high intensity
For all you busy gals out there—aka all of us—it’s time to speed up your workout a bit. No need to cut corners though—high-intensity exercises are harder to do, but are done for a shorter amount of time than similar workout methods. If you’re short on time but are willing to give it your all, you might just be able to wrap up your workout early.
6. Head outdoors
Let’s give a shout out to the journal of Environmental Science and Technology for pointing out that heading outside for a workout can lead to the exerciser feeling more energetic than it does to those who work indoors. Next time you need to blow off some steam, blow it off outside.
7. Enjoy a cup of joe
Last, but not least, this may just be our favorite finding. If you’ve been looking for a justification for that second—OK third—cup of coffee, then incentivize yourself with a nice pre-workout caffeine buzz. As you know, caffeine boosts your energy, and it turns out caffeine is as helpful during a workout as when you’re about to fall asleep during that 3pm meeting. A study in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that drinking a cup of coffee before a workout can improve performance and energy expenditure. If you really need help in the motivation department, a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that simply drinking a cup of coffee pre-workout can actually make your workout feel more enjoyable. Bottoms up!
Since many of us have to work indoors right now, check out these great online workouts!